Best books on workplace wellbeing and mental health

Wellbeing books: Black man reading a book

In this collection of book reviews, we ask our diversity, inclusion and wellbeing consultants for their picks of the best books on workplace wellbeing. Also discover three of our favourite podcasts that have helped us to better understand wellbeing and mental health.

It’s no secret to many of us that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. As mental health becomes better understood, more of us realise how important it is to care for our mental wellbeing, just like we do with our physical health.

Our professional lives play a huge part in how we feel psychologically. After all, we spend a lot of time at work – an average of 3,515 full days in the office during our lifetime to be precise.

A higher awareness of wellbeing and mental health will help us to better manage the sometimes-overwhelming emotions we feel at work. And managers can better understand both their own challenges and how they can support those of their team, especially with the impact on work of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the second blog in our book series, so make sure to check out our blog on the best books on diversity and inclusion as well. Check back on this guide as we continue to add more of the best books on workplace wellbeing and mental health as we read them.

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson

If there is one thing we know about life and especially life as we know it now, change is guaranteed! What is not guaranteed is that we can cope with change, and yet for us to succeed, we not only need to cope, we need to be able to thrive in an ever-changing environment. This requires us to develop the kind of mindset and attitude that makes adapting to change less frightening and more rewarding.

This book has been around for a while, in-fact nearly 20 years and boasts of being ‘one of the most successful business books ever’! It’s certainly one of the most simple business books I have ever read and a very short read that you can complete in one sitting, so simple that I have now passed it along to my 10-year daughter to read! In one sense its simplicity is what can make it so effective and in another, it can make it a little boring and maybe a little patronising at times.

However, given all the books and articles written on the topic of change with philosophers and thought-leaders conveying their perspectives on change and “Change Management” the simplicity of this book is a refreshing break from a topic that is otherwise very serious. It attempts to deal with change in a fun way and the lessons of the book hold principles that go a lot deeper when it comes to handling change in a positive and productive way. I could certainly reflect on the many changes I’ve encountered in my life and see some of the books characters in myself, it seems obvious but often when you apply these lessons and principles to our own complicated lives, you’ll notice it’s not so obvious anymore.

If you are already well versed in the psychology of change, this book will not hold many revelations for you but will serve as a simple and fun reminder of the obvious.

Reviewed by Zara Sloane

Wellbeing ‘Lunch and Learn’ Workshops raise awareness of workplace wellbeing and mental health. Your teams will be introduced to these important topics at work. Ask us if you are interested in running a wellbeing session in-house.

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

This book is full of psychological insight, new understandings of the brain and exercises to reinforce the learning points. Gilbert begins, “life can be tough and perplexing, can’t it?”. I’m sure there will be moments in everyone’s life when the answer to that question is yes. So, how do we cope? I remember asking a friend suffering from depression, what helped? His response was ‘insight’. He was so right: it is what helps us live, and this book is jam-packed with insight.

We are all now coping with our own fragility as we live through the pandemic and its aftermath. It helps to find books like the Compassionate Mind that make us recognise our limits whilst showing us that by developing compassion for ourselves and others, we grow and we help others to do the same.

Reviewed by Teresa Norman

Take a Moment: Activities To Refocus, Recentre and Relax Wherever You Are in partnership with Mind and Michael O’Mara

We all have mental health, which is why it is hugely important that we take steps in caring for it. We should all feel encouraged to do this regardless of our background with or without mental health challenges. Learning how to manage feelings like stress, worry, or being constantly switched on, as well as more serious conditions such as anxiety and depression, will help us to process them.

I picked this book of exercises and techniques as it’s approved by the leading mental health charity Mind. Take a Moment is full of simple and helpful ways to help us focus, retune and relax our minds throughout our hectic and busy days. It demonstrates how mindfulness takes many forms – you don’t need to be meditating in a dark room to be practicing it! – and how you can use techniques throughout the day to process often irrational and unhelpful feelings. This book will help you deal with the emotions you might experience whilst travelling into work, in the office, or when you are trying to switch off from work to enjoy your personal life. Skip to the section which will help you, or read it cover-to-cover.

Buy your copy of Take a Moment.

Reviewed by Mitch Price

Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work by Kathyrn Jacob, Sue Unerman and Mark Edwards

We should all know what it feels like to belong, to be confident in offering our views, to feel accepted for who we are, and to know that disagreement with us comes from the best of intent. The book describes all the emotions people feel about work and that is what makes it very real and unique.

Belonging illustrates why it is so important that organisations create a sense of inclusion for its workforce. The authors share experiences, interviews, and research about what it means to belong at work. I have read this book three times and I gain something new from it every time.

Reviewed by Teresa Norman

69% of line managers say that being able to support employee wellbeing is a core management skill but only 13% have received training in mental health. Learn more about why mental health awareness training will support your managers.

It’s Not OK To Feel Blue (and Other Lies) curated by Scarlett Curtis

This is an anthology from over 70 writers about mental health. Stephen Fry called it “the freshest, most honest collection of writing about mental health”. It is an easy and light read which you can pick up on your lunch break and be reminded that it is OK to feel blue and to ask for help. The book brings together celebrities, workplace mental health activists, psychologists and a range of other voices to explore why mental health matters in all aspects of our life. It is filled with chapters focusing on different pressures our lives – from society, family and relationships, to work – and that opening up and talking about our challenges will help us to flourish.

A friend, family member or colleague might have opened up to you about their mental health or you might not know anyone openly struggling with poor mental health. This book is for everyone, whether you want to learn more and become more empathetic about mental health and how we can be impacted in various ways, or whether you are living with mental health problems. It is honest and open about mental health and will help you to be the same about yours.

Reviewed by Lisa Jobson

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxanne Gay

This book is a compilation of essays that provides a raw, personal window into the nuanced experiences of survivors of sexual violence. Not That Bad expertly illuminates the diversity of individuals who experience sexual assault, rape, and domestic abuse in a way that challenges myths about victim/survivorhood and pushes the reader to understand the physical and emotional toll of trauma across different identities and backgrounds.

Reviewed by Sam Goober

Grit: The Power Of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Grit, written by pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth, is another must-read for anybody who has felt lost, inadequate, or down on their luck. Through her own enlightening story, and dozens of interviews with inspiring individuals, she demonstrates that it’s not a brilliant mind, but the right mind-set, that enables us to endure life’s storms and become the people we want to be.

For an insight into Angela’s theory of grit as a predictor of success, listen to her fascinating TED Talk on the subject.

Reviewed by James Hogg

Training in Mental Health First Aid helps your teams to spot common signs and symptoms of mental ill health at work, making them able to provide help on a first aid basis.

Letter To My Daughter by Maya Angelou

As a black mother with a male teenager, I identify with the daily challenges of raising a child into a young man, who is open and brimming with ambition, yet knowing there is inequality and injustice which may well dim his hopes and sparkling moments.

Letter to My Daughter is an essay of poetry dedicated to the daughter who Maya Angelou never had but who she recognises as being all around and part of her lived experience of being the daughter of a mother full of positive affirmations for her.

When thinking about some of the most useful books on workplace wellbeing, this read surprisingly rose to the surface of my mind. It helps us to understand that it is OK not to know everything and that by being present and living a life of passion and purpose, we will find our way. Angelou centres around living a life of gratitude and looking forward to awaking to what tomorrow brings. These are important to remember when we are at work as this book demonstrates that having these outlooks will ultimately help us to accomplish our ambitions.

It also explores how we can use our light to illuminate those of the people around us and how we can use our position to help to raise them up. This book has helped me to reflect on why it is important to be thankful and reflective – like waking to the sound of traffic on my road telling me it is 6:30am, then hearing my son groan and stir knowing that a new day is about to ensue.

The audiobook especially adds that dimension of Maya singing those poems that connect her to history and adds colour to Letter to My Daughter.

Reviewed by Yvonne Howard

How To Be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax

Since lockdown I have found my love of books has now encompassed audio books enjoyed on my daily walks, combining two of the things I enjoy most – learning and movement in nature.

One of the books that I thoroughly enjoyed is How to be a Human by Ruby Wax with a neuroscientist and a monk.

Interspersed with stories from Ruby’s journey with input from a monk who talks about how our mind works and a neuroscientist who talks about how our brain works. They cover everything from thoughts, emotions, relationships to the future with a whole chapter on exercises that you can start to put into practice straight away. You are aware of the seriousness of the topic they are discussing but cannot stop yourself laughing at the interaction between the three of them.

Highly recommend adding this to your summer reading/listening of some of the best books on wellbeing.

Reviewed by Caroline Arnold

The Person You Mean To Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh

Regardless of where you are in your inclusion journey, whether a seasoned activist or completely new to the fight, social psychologist Chugh, in her engaging way, holds up a mirror and encourages us to start from where we are: by taking a deep inward look.

Through her compelling stories and her solid research findings, Dolly drives us closer to being the person we actually mean to be, whilst making the world (and ourselves) a better place along the way.

I’ve always been a firm believer in equality, diversity and inclusion but I have often found myself paralysed by fear, shame, and discomfort at the sheer enormity of the inequality problems we face. Standing up for those values in our ever so turbulent world is an act of courage in itself and this book basically unearths the blunt version of ourselves to make the leap and be a change catalyst.

Packed with specific, tangible, respectful ways to make a difference through our very own “ordinary” privilege, you’re taken on a scenic route from blissful ignorance to intentional awareness and are offered a myriad of practical tools for our everyday lives.

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of those books that stays firmly on the shelf (and doesn’t get lent to anyone!).

Reviewed by Sam Hernandez

Learn more about Unconscious Bias training and the impact that it has on the mental health and wellbeing of those around us at work.

The Storm by Ikenna Henry Onyebuchi

At first glance this book appeared to be a poetry collection, but as I continued to unpack it, I discovered a whole lot more. Being of African heritage, I always subscribed to the idea that the only true definition of a man was the so-called “alpha male”: the type of man who seldom shows emotion or vulnerability because that would in some way diminish his masculinity. This book made me reflect on my own upbringing and to begin challenging some of those limiting beliefs.

Ikenna’s captivating style takes the reader on an introspective journey of self-discovery. The storytelling is almost autobiographical at certain points and delves deep into various aspects of human vulnerability. In a time of increased awareness around mental health and wellbeing, The Storm is an unravelling of the emotions we all face daily. This book is a beautiful demonstration that, despite the programming we are constantly subjected to, it is possible to develop the resolve to live your truth every day.

Reviewed by Winston Clements

The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala

Emma Seppala explains why the speed of our lives is reaching overwhelming levels, leaving us stressed and burnt out. Drawing on the latest findings from neuroscience, psychology and her own ground-breaking work as science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, she offers practical tips on resilience, positive stress and managing wellbeing at work.

This book explores why it is important to live and work in the moment and to focus your energy on what matters to you. Reading this outlines why setting aside downtime boosts your creativity. Seppala explores why we should turn self-deprecation into self-kindness and shows why we should do the same to those around us at work and in our lives. The book focuses on key components that help us to build a happy and constructive work life – finding happiness and fulfilment may be the most productive thing we can do to thrive professionally.

Review by Mitch Price

Mental Health and Wellbeing Workshops equip leaders, managers and all-staff with a heightened understanding of workplace mental health challenges.

Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain by Ian Fraser

This might not be a predictable pick if you are looking for books on workplace wellbeing but reading Shredded certainly spells out why you should work to build a work culture that is inclusive of wellbeing whilst taking measures to prevent workplace bullying. I have chosen this book because when we talk about bullying and harassment, we often rightly talk about the moral case. Shredded makes it absolutely clear that there is also a strong business case for tackling individuals who exploit their positions in organisations. A bullying culture inside the Royal Bank of Scotland was part of the reason it failed. Its failure then became a factor that led to the financial crisis.

Ian Fraser tells the story of RBS brilliantly and it’s a gripping and shocking read. This is essential reading for anyone working in HR. Pay particular attention to Chapter 12, ‘the fear culture’. It highlights that if the organisation incentivises the wrong behaviours – which impact on workplace wellbeing – through its performance management system, it is storing up trouble.

For me, the book demonstrates the importance of wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, and that we must encourage and hear different voices. Failing to do this will expose organisations to unnecessary risk.

Reviewed by Teresa Norman

Support in Strategy and Policy Design can strengthen your policies around performance and mental health, enabling employees to access guidance and help if they experience a mental health problem.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Leading neuroscientist Matthew Walker staged a public intervention: proclaiming that we’re in the midst of a ‘catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic’. And it’s costing the UK economy over £30bn a year.

From disease to concentration to depression, sleep impacts everything we do. But it’s not all bad news. Matthew Walker is on hand to dive into ‘The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ and offers insightful life hacks to remedy what ails you and harness the power of sleep to your advantage. Expect a healthier work-life balance and greater productivity as a result.

I’ve always had a strong awareness of the power of sleep, but this book collects all of the evidence – mental and physical – and explains in detail how fundamental sleep is to us. It explains how our sleep patterns have evolved alongside evolution. It explains the different types of sleep and how we sleep differently as we age, from our time in the womb to later life.

Reviewed by Rachael Wilson

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Listen to BBC Sounds’ podcast adaptation of Matt Haig’s number one bestselling book, Reasons to Stay Alive. Haig shares his experience of overcoming crisis and battling with mental illness as he rebuilds his life.

Reviewed by Mitch Price

Just One Thing, with Michael Mosley

This is a brilliant podcast on BBC Radio 4. In short, fifteen-minute episodes, Dr Michael Mosley explores how a certain activity can improve our health and wellbeing. He investigates the science behind it and gives great recommendations on how you can make ‘the one thing’ an important part of your daily routine. So far, I have learned how cold showers can boost your immune system and why press-ups are great for the brain.

Listen in for some straightforward tips on what you can do.

Reviewed by Teresa Norman

Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper

I’ve always been fascinated by the Westboro Baptist Church’s existence. For those not aware of Westboro, they are a notorious hyper-Calvinist hate group, known for their deeply homophobic, anti-Semitic and hateful protests, including those at the funerals of American soldiers. I’ve followed their work for some time and it both intrigues and terrifies me that the younger members born into the Church adopt and become normalised to these acts of prejudice and hate. In the eyes of a child, when does it become normal to protest a funeral of someone who died of HIV/AIDS? But not all of its members remain in the Church.

This podcast adaptation follows the story of the granddaughter of Westboro’s Founder, and how she went about leaving behind her entire family and the Church to sow a new life advocating for tolerance and equality.

Reviewed by Mitch Price

See our workplace guide to discover the cost of sleep deprivation at work, with steps for organisations to take in promoting healthy sleep and wellbeing habits.

So here are our top picks of the best books on workplace wellbeing and mental health. With more employees opening up about the struggles they face, it’s a priority that mental wellbeing is recognised and embraced in the workplace.

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