By Hailey Parks
Mental health doesn’t only affect people on an individual basis – it can affect your entire workplace. Nearly 1 in every 5 Americans battles a mental health condition at some point in time, making it likely that most businesses encounter mental illness on a daily basis – whether they know it or not. Unfortunately, mental illnesses like depression and anxiety take a serious toll on the people who suffer from them, especially if they don’t have support.
Adults spend nearly one third of their lifetime at work. If you work in an environment that is toxic or not conducive to mental health, it can be extremely difficult to deal with. Workplaces that don’t support mental health run the risk of declining productivity, low employee retention rates and high rates of workplace dissatisfaction.
However, there are certain steps that employers can take to cultivate a workplace that is supportive of mental health – while improving your business as well. After all, the success of a business lies in the happiness, productivity and abilities of its employees. Here are some actionable steps employers can take to support mental health at work.
Increase Awareness and Training
Before you can change virtually anything, you have to spread awareness and provide education to the people at the top. The first step to supporting mental health at work is to educate and train management and top executives on how to support staff and co-workers who are living with mental illness. In addition, the training should address how mental health affects healthy people as well. Toxic work environments, unclear expectations and excess stress all lead to struggles with mental health.
This training can inform managers on how to support staff living with mental illness and create an environment that supports the overall well-being of all employees. When you educate and train management about mental health, you take the first step to destigmatize mental illness at work. This provides the foundation for a judgment-free, all-inclusive environment that is equipped to support individuals when needed.
Promote a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Having a healthy work-life balance is vital for any person in any career field. Without it, it’s easy to become overworked, overstressed and burnt out. When businesses have tight deadlines and heavy workloads, some employees may be reluctant to take advantage of PTO or mental health days. Sadly, these stressors pile up and make it difficult to leave work at the office, causing people to struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
After all, it’s easy to call out of work or take time off when you are physically ill, but mental health has a stigma that surrounds it, making it easy to convince yourself that poor mental health isn’t a good reason to take time off work. However, mental health days are just as important as sick days – they give your mind time to relax and recover. Workplaces that support mental health let their employees know that it’s OK to feel “off” and take a day for yourself.
Providing mental health resources is a great way to let your employees know that your workplace supports mental health. If you offer insurance benefits, make sure your employees are aware of what mental health resources are included, such as local counselors or support phone numbers. Benefits such as these not only help retain current employees but can help attract new talent as well.
Another way employers can support mental health is by encouraging anonymous and free health screenings. This allows employees to not only access their own mental health but to know where to turn if they need to address their mental health. Furthermore, when employers pay attention to the results of these screenings, they can gain insight into how to better support their employees. Every workplace is different, so your wellness initiatives and resources may look different from other companies, but that’s normal. Each company has to do what they have to do to best fit and support their particular workplace.
Encourage an Open-Door Policy
Mental health is a touchy subject to talk about. It requires getting vulnerable, sharing feelings and being careful not to imply bias or judgment. Managers and executives who appear reserved, closed off and work behind closed doors usually fail to engage in open communication with employees, which is a risk to mental health. Relationships with management not only make or break a workplace, but relationships are the key to a supportive and efficient workplace. When managers have unclear expectations, a lack of communication and are disengaged from employees, people may be reluctant to ask management for help.
Fear or disconnection from management is a challenge for anyone, but for people who suffer from mental illness, the issues are magnified. In order to create a supportive workplace, employers should stay in close contact with their employees and engage in open communication. When you have an “open door” policy, your employees will be more likely to confide in you, ask questions and feel appreciated at work. While we can’t always choose who we work with, open communication is necessary to address any difficulties in the workplace.
Cultivate a Positive Corporate Culture
Although business leaders and managers must take steps to support mental health, overall corporate culture and employee relations matter, too. Mental Health America (MHA) found that corporate culture has a huge impact on an employee’s confidence, motivation and pride surrounding their job. Furthermore, companies that have a positive corporate culture see more engaged and happy employees. Employees should feel comfortable engaging with both management and coworkers because this helps provide a positive, supportive environment.
To improve your corporate culture and boost employee motivation, find team-building exercises to bring your employees closer together. Some ideas include participating in a fundraiser, going out for a team lunch, playing a short game in the morning or going out for a group activity – such as an escape room. Team building exercises will improve employee engagement, collaboration, and communication – all of which are important aspects to cultivating a positive corporate culture that supports mental health.
Hailey Parks is a freelance writer and health advocate for Executive Medicine of Texas. She has a B.S. in Health Sciences, loves creative writing, and hiking with her dog.