A business can’t thrive if the people aren’t thriving — and an important component of that is the mental health and well-being of employees. It isn’t easy to know how to address mental health in the workplace, or if you should at all. But in an age of increased consciousness, it’s becoming more apparent that staying quiet about mental health only increases the stigma around it, and leads to countless negative effects in the workplace. On the other hand, increasing the conversation around mental health can boost employee engagement, reduce employee hostility, and make employees feel safe, valued, and supported.
While many workplaces are becoming more flexible and supportive regarding employee’s needs, research shows that we still have a long way to go. According to a 2019 Workplace Wellness report by Capita, 49% of employees did not think their manager would know what to do if they talked to them about a mental health issue. Additionally, 55% of respondents said they were afraid to take a day off to tend to their mental health. The research also suggests that making mental health a business priority reduces illness leave, absenteeism, and disability costs, while increasing employee productivity and engagement.
The benefits of addressing mental health in the workplace far outweigh the costs, while avoiding the topic can be detrimental to both your business and your people. So, what can you do to create a work environment where people feel comfortable having an open dialogue about mental health? And how can you offer support and resources to employees who may be struggling? Beyond implementing formal policies, it often comes down to leading with empathy, understanding, and practicing cultural norms that simply allow employees more flexibility in the way they go about their work days. Here are some positive steps leaders and managers can take to accommodate mental health needs:
1. Talk about it
Just starting the conversation about mental health is a simple step any leader can take with their employees. One way is to incorporate a conversation about mental health into your onboarding process — whether it be when your new employee is learning about the company benefits package, or the purpose and values that your company holds close. Weekly check-ins are also a great opportunity to ask how things are going. Letting your employee know that you’re a workplace that cares about personal health and well-being goes a long way toward making employees feel comfortable.
2. Be flexible
Addressing mental health is all about allowing people to be their whole selves at work — and not feeling like they have to leave everything about their personal life at the door. We’re no longer living in the rigid 9-to-5, tied to your desk type of workday. Implementing flexible personal time off (PTO) and “work-from-anywhere” policies not only makes your workplace more attractive to prospective talent, it gives employees space to work in a way that’s most productive for them. If an employee is receiving counseling services and can only get appointments midday, or if anxiety is preventing them from coming into the office, they can feel safe letting others know they’ll be taking some personal time or working from home that day.
3. Educate your employees (and yourself!)
It can be challenging for someone who has not experienced or had someone close to them experience a life trauma, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue to truly understand what it’s like. With all the stigma and common misconceptions about mental health, people might be dismissive about mental health issues, or view them as an excuse. With increased understanding comes increased empathy. It’s important you and your employees are aware just how prevalent mental illness is and how it can negatively affect a workplace if ignored. Emphasize the positive results that can come from openly discussing the issues and supporting our coworkers. It can be as simple as making time in a company meeting to share statistics and facts about mental health with your team. Here are two resources we’ve found helpful for both employers and employees: Mental Health America and Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.
4. Minimize stress and promote mindfulness
There’s no sure-fire way to avoid stressful days at work. Stress comes and goes and it’s all about learning to manage it. Reducing stress among your team can be incorporated into your day-to-day with a few simple practices, such as approaching others with an open mind, doing mindfulness exercises with your team, encouraging team members to ask for help, and being open to taking on an extra task (within reason) if someone is struggling and doesn’t think they will be able to complete it.
No one should feel like they need to pretend everything is perfect when they arrive at work. In recent years, prioritizing mental health awareness and support is becoming increasingly common to better support employees and further destigmatize the topic. It’s inspiring to see this trend on the upswing, and that businesses are not only prioritizing what’s good for them, but what’s good for their people. When our mental health thrives, so do we!