Organisations have made clear progress on improving employee mental health and wellbeing support in recent years. A YouGov poll found that a third of UK employers improved their mental health support during the pandemic, and CIPD’s latest Health and Wellbeing at Work survey shows that most (53%) organisations now have a standalone wellbeing strategy.

Undoubtedly, this is a step in the right direction. Yet there is still a lack of genuine human connection in many of the mental health methods employed, which has been exacerbated by the shift to remote and hybrid work. For all its benefits, remote working has inevitably led to diminished connections, challenges in identifying signs of negative mental health, and increased isolation in many cases.

The power of storytelling

To address the challenges and opportunities presented by this working model, organisations need to go further in providing mental health and wellbeing support that is rooted in genuine human connection. Storytelling – which involves the sharing of personal experiences related to mental health challenges and successes – has emerged as a flexible, inclusive and creative way of supporting individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. The benefits of this approach are multi-fold.

  1. Making sense of experiences

First, storytelling can provide a channel to allow individuals to process and make sense of their experiences, feelings and behaviours. Research shows that the process of sharing stories has clear beneficial impacts on a person’s mood, as the storytelling narrative is fundamental to how we think about and draw meaning from the world around us.

We have seen this first hand in our work at PA Consulting, with clients stating that felt more positive after partaking in storytelling experiences and citing a wish to see more of similar initiatives in future. The sense of empowerment this can create can also play a role in positively reinforcing individual’s recovery or management of mental health and wellbeing challenges.

  1. Building a feeling of fellowship

Beyond this, storytelling has the power to strengthen working relationships through creating a sense of community. Sharing narratives about mental health experiences often provides reassurance to storytellers that they are not alone in experiencing challenges and evokes empathy from those with the opportunity to listen.

This can strengthen existing or spark new relationships, which might not have otherwise existed. Moreover, by achieving diverse storytelling, greater progress can be made towards breaking down stereotypes and preconceived views around mental health.

  1. Achieving psychological safety

Organisations can also leverage storytelling to cultivate psychologically safe cultures. By introducing storytelling initiatives with well-planned environments and proactive support for staff, it can shift employees’ mindsets and attitudes to feeling comfortable to speak openly, as vulnerability is normalised.

Achieving psychological safety will not only catalyse confidence in individuals to share their narratives, but also encourages individuals to seek support from Mental Health First Aiders, Line Managers or peers when they need. It can play an interesting role in the success of organisations beyond mental health and wellbeing, with research showing that psychological safety significantly impacts team performance, counting for 38% of variance. A defence research project, conducted by PA Consulting, concluded that psychologically safe teams are more productive, innovative and better at exposing and managing risk.

Storytelling in a digital world

In our rapidly evolving digital and physical landscape, effective storytelling is therefore important for cultivating connection and empathy. But beyond necessitating increased human connection, virtual platforms can also act as an enabler of storytelling.

For example, digital models allow conversations on mental health to be broadened, as interactions increasingly transcend geographies. It provides people with greater choice and flexibility on how they share their stories at any point in time – whether that be through imagery, written words or speaking – increasing the likelihood of individuals finding a comfortable avenue to express their experiences. Another positive outcome of virtual interactions is the offer of anonymity, encouraging openness without fear of judgement.

The emergence of hybrid and virtual platforms has fostered the creation of global communities which offer a reminder that we are all human with real feelings and emotions. This sense of community and empowerment, regardless of whether in-person or not, can similarly reduce stigma and self-stigma attached to mental health and wellbeing challenges.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember that some nuances can be missed over digital mediums – for example, there’s greater potential of misinterpreting text-based communication. The absence of nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, can also sometimes pose challenges to achieving empathetic engagement. Other concerns include prolonged virtual engagement resulting in personal and digital fatigue, which could potentially impede active involvement in online mental health discussions. It’s therefore important to be aware of these nuances ensure individuals are both comfortable and prepared when sharing their stories virtually.

How can workplaces implement it?

There are several key takeaways that organisations interested in implementing storytelling would do well to consider.

  1. Establish your storytelling toolbox

Before promoting mental health and wellbeing storytelling initiatives, you need the right tools and guidelines in place to proactively support your people and mitigate potentially adverse impacts. As those telling their stories can become vulnerable and open themselves up to judgement, often in settings where pre-conceptions and stigma might exist, encouraging storytellers to prepare what they are going to say and able to discuss focused questions will help them feel in control of their story.

Ensuring the presence of a Mental Health First Aider on meetings involving storytelling and signposting to professional help resources is also crucial. Organisations should consider the time allocated to storytelling to avoid digital fatigue – finding ways to interact with the audience, such as raising questions to be answered live or offline, can help with this.

To respect the bravery of storytellers and honour the safe space created, articulating guidance on maintaining confidentiality to protect storytellers’ identities is also important. You should refrain from recording sessions and commit to sharing essential insights through other engagement methods for those unable to attend the live discussion. This ensures the sharing of mental health and wellbeing stories feels safe, authentic, and inclusive.

  1. Diversify your methods

At PA Consulting, we’ve found the effectiveness of storytelling initiatives in a hybrid working model is underpinned by adopting a variety of platforms for people to utilise, depending on their desired audience or personal preferences. One example is advocating the creation of a ‘Manual of Me’, that fosters a social contract within teams explaining preferred communication styles and personal contexts. Another example is creating a consistently supportive environment by hosting regular in person and virtual Time to Talk or panel sessions, offering opportunities for people to share or listen to experiences without judgement. In instances where people may not have a personal story to share or feel uncomfortable doing so, showcasing videos featuring others sharing important conversations on mental health and wellbeing can be valuable. Organisations should try to have enable access to a range of different storytelling methods to empower their employees to share in a way that they feel comfortable.

  1. Leverage role models

Leaders play a pivotal role in establishing the tone for a ‘safe space’ and should visibly support both the sharing of brave narratives and the respect for each individual’s boundaries. If comfortable to do so, leaders sharing their own experiences and challenges can be significant in progressing a culture shift that values vulnerability, empathy and trust. This is particularly important in a virtual world, where limited face-to-face interaction hinders the natural visibility and access to leaders’ stories that are more likely to have occurred in office catch-ups.

In addition, optimise on opportunities of those actively willing to contribute their story, supporting them as catalysts for fostering connections and driving storytelling activities across the organisation. Leaders can ultimately help set the tone for authenticity and their guidance can further ensure storytelling initiatives promote psychological safety and enhance workplace wellbeing.

  1. Commit, iterate and evolve

As with any change, engagement with new storytelling activities varies, and the transformative impact will differ among individuals over time, driven by evolving desires and abilities to connect with different narratives. Maintaining commitment to your storytelling activities is therefore important, even during periods of seemingly low engagement.

Do not underestimate the power of individuals knowing there are regular opportunities for them to share and/or listen to stories on mental health and wellbeing. That in itself has a positive impact. As your people become more receptive to your storytelling methods, listen to their wants and needs and integrate this feedback to continually improve connection and workplace wellbeing.

Storytelling around mental health can serve as a catalyst for connection, understanding, and support. In our increasingly remote and hybrid world, organisations should lean into the opportunities presented by virtual spaces, expanding accessibility for mental health conversations through storytelling initiatives. Done in the right way, integrating storytelling into work routines can help foster psychological safety, reduce stigma around mental health, and ultimately boost workplace wellbeing.


Albreiki, J., Dhaiban, A., Alkatheeri, M., Almansoori, N.B. and Amer, S. (2023) The Physical and Mental Effects of Working in a Hybrid Work Environment on an Employee’s Well-being and Performance.

Anon. (2023) How the MOD is creating Psychologically Safe environments to enable project success – A Modern Civil Service

Bellah,D.C. (2023). An examination of the effects of storytelling in meetings on psychological safety, trust, and employee voice behaviour.

Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The fearless organization. John Wiley & Sons.

Griffiths, M.L., Gray, B.J., Kyle, R.G., Song, J. and Davies, A.R. (2022). Exploring the health impacts and inequalities of the new way of working: findings from a cross-sectional study. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 64(10), p.815.

Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Rennick-Egglestone, S., Pollock, K., Ali, Y., Watson, E., Franklin, D., Yeo, C., Ng, F., McGranahan, R., Slade, M. and Edgley, A. (2022) ‘Maybe I Shouldn’t Talk’: The Role of Power in the Telling of Mental Health Recovery Stories. Qualitative Health Research, 32(12), pp.1828-1842.

Lindstrom, G., Sofija, E. and Riley, T. (2021). “Getting better at getting better”: How sharing Mental Health stories can shape Young People’s Wellbeing. Community Mental Health Journal, pp.1-10.

Morrison-Smith, S. and Ruiz, J., (2020) Challenges and barriers in virtual teams: a literature review. SN Applied Sciences, 2

Nurser, K.P., Rushworth, I., Shakespeare, T. and Williams, D. (2018), “Personal storytelling in mental health recovery”, Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 25-36.

Rutledge, P. (2016). Everything is Story: Telling Stories and Positive Psychology.

Katie Boon
Katie Boon & Sophie Holden & Alice Connell-Jeffries
People and change experts at PA Consulting

Katie Boon, Sophie Holden and Alice Connell-Jeffries are people & change experts at PA Consulting, where they specialise in Change Management, Programme Management and Culture Transformation respectively. Leveraging this expertise, combined with their backgrounds in Mental Health First Aid, Psychotherapeutic Counselling and Mental Health Science, they collaboratively design and implement wellbeing initiatives within PA Consulting and with clients, which focus on fostering human connection to enhance workplace wellbeing.