Each year, one in five people will experience a mental health problem. However, only 23 per cent of employees feel comfortable discussing mental health with their employer.
Work can be a major source of stress for many people. As an employer, you should strive to make your workplace as comfortable and enjoyable as possible to protect employees’ mental health.
Not only does this show you care about your employees as people, but it’s also good for business: the World Health Organization estimates that the global economy loses $1 trillion per year in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety.
Establish a mentally healthy workplace to help employees feeling their best and support them if they’re struggling. Here’s how.
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1. Create a Positive Work Environment
A work environment rife with excessive competition, harassment, cliques and negative attitudes could cause anyone to break down.
With personal and professional stresses, employees have enough to worry about without having to work in a toxic environment every day. A positive work environment will make them happy to come to work each day, protecting their mental health and boosting productivity.
For starters, don’t tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination in your workplace. Write a strong anti-harassment policy and apply it consistently, regardless of the harasser’s position or length of tenure. When employees aren’t worried about being picked on or left out, they can relax and do their best work.
In business, it’s easy to focus on areas of improvement. But constantly hearing about their failures brings employees down. Remember to reward employees when they’ve done good work. Whether it’s an all-staff email shout-out for signing a big client or a latte from their favorite coffee shop thanking them for helping out another team, tokens of appreciation are huge mood boosters.
Finally, don’t neglect the social aspect of the workplace. Encourage employees to make personal connections with their colleagues. Organize lunchtime social clubs (e.g. running, knitting, book club) where employees can meet new friends and give their brain a break from work for awhile, even though they’re still at the office.
2. Train Managers on Mental Health Support
Judy was once a peppy, social employee. But her manager notices that over the past few months, her productivity has slumped and she no longer socializes with her coworkers. Judy’s manager could be annoyed, or, with proper training, recognize these as potential signs of a mental health decline.
Train managers on how to not only recognize the changes in behavior and productivity that could indicate a mental health problem, but also how to approach the topic of mental health while still maintaining boundaries. How and when should a manager confront the employee? What resources can they point the employee to if they want help? What should they do if the employee doesn’t want help?
In addition, training should include strategies for, and examples of, workplace accommodations. Accommodations will differ depending on your workplace and the employee’s situation, but might include:
- Reduced or flexible hours
- Remote work
- Modified or reduced job duties
- New manager or supervision style
- Transfer to another position
3. Promote Healthy Work/Life Balance
“Praising employees who work late and arrive early, or expecting them to work from home in the evenings hurts your company in the long run. Without a healthy work/life balance, productivity is likely to decline, and employees are more likely to burn out,” says psychotherapist Amy Morin.
To prevent these negative consequences, establish the importance of healthy work/life balance.
Start by offering flexibility in employees’ working hours, within reason. If they need to take two hours in the middle of the day for their child’s school concert and make it up in the evening or the next day, no problem. If they had a tough night and need to shift their schedule ahead by an hour to get some sleep, let them. Focus on employees’ output and productivity rather than their hours “on the clock.”
Finally, emphasize the importance of taking breaks. Stock your lunchroom with coffee and snacks and designate small, quiet break rooms where employees can decompress. Encourage them to disconnect in the evenings and on weekends and to take time off when they need longer breaks from the office. Ensure managers set the tone by taking time off, too.
4. Provide Mental Health Benefits
Employees’ mental health is just as important as their physical wellness. But failing to include mental health benefits in your company plan says you don’t value it in the same way.
An easy way to make this transition is to allow “mental health days.” Either allow employees’ sick leave to be used for both physical and mental ailments, or designate some time off specifically for tending to mental health.
Next, offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This service connects employees to counsellors who can help them work through concerns, both professional and personal, that affect their mental health. Employees who feel stressed about a project, marital issues, coworker dispute or other short-term problem get to talk to someone free of charge without going through the formal process of finding a therapist.
In addition, add mental health coverage to your employee benefits plan. Include support groups, therapists and group counsellors. When employees can get the help they need without worrying about the cost, everyone benefits.
Stress and burnout negatively impact not only the suffering employee, but also their coworkers and employer. Watch our free webinar to learn how you can help your employees cope and create a mentally healthy workplace.
5. Organize Mental Wellness Events
Many mental health issues start small. A week of extra stress can turn into crippling anxiety. A bad performance review can lead to depression. Your aim as an employer should be to address employees’ mental health problems before they escalate.
Establish yours as a mentally healthy workplace by organizing events that help employees cope with stress and nourish their mental health. For example:
- Fun stress-busting events: Every few months, plan an enjoyable escape such as therapy dogs, team outings, catered meals or snacks, arts and crafts sessions or holiday activities
- Yoga and meditation: Bring in a practitioner (or ask an employee who’s formally trained) to lead an in-office yoga or meditation class to give employees a calming break
- Wellness workshops: Organize seminars that teach employees how to take care of their mental health both in the context of work and in general (e.g. resilience, stress management, self-care)
6. Share Resources with Employees
Even if an employee recognizes they are struggling and want to get help, they don’t always know where to turn. Offer support by providing a list of resources to all employees.
Share a list of therapists covered by your employee benefits plan, educational resources that list symptoms of and strategies for dealing with mental health problems and mental health hotlines and services.
Send this master list of resources to all employees at the beginning of each year and share it with new employees when they’re hired. In addition, keep it posted on common space bulletin boards and online portals so employees can access it without talking to anyone. This protects their privacy and could encourage more people to seek help.
Creating a safe, mentally healthy workplace for your employees only has positive consequences. You could reduce turnover, increase productivity, reduce mental health stigma and, most importantly, protect your employees’ well-being.
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