We have made much progress in reducing the stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace. The challenges of the pandemic were a potent reminder of how an employee’s private struggles can spill over into their work—and how supporting employees holistically is not just the right thing to do, but good business.

Still, we have a long way to go, and too often employers are part of the problem. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 84% of employees surveyed reported that at least one workplace factor had a negative impact on their mental health. Many employees who left their jobs during the Great Resignation cited a strain on their mental health or a lack of support from their employers as a reason for doing so.

Employers and business leaders have a lot on their plates these days. Adding a difficult issue like mental health to that list may feel overwhelming. Keep it simple. When in doubt, turn to these

Proven and effective ways of promoting a culture of well-being in the workplace:

  1. Awareness. General awareness of the importance of mental health is a start. It is also essential to educate and train leaders and managers to spot signs of mental illness so they can intervene and support employees. A decline in performance, irritable behavior, or lack of engagement may be symptoms of a deeper issue.
  2. Communication. Employees do not always feel safe coming to a supervisor with mental health concerns. Proactively engage in conversations with employees through regular check-ins, and show interest and concern for the whole employee, not just their work performance.
  3. Flexibility. This may not initially be a mental health issue. But according to the American Psychological Association’s Work and Well-being Survey, 34% of employees say that flexible hours would help their mental health—the highest-rated suggestion for employers. Giving employees greater control over when and where they work improves their sense of autonomy, a major driver of motivation and emotional well-being.
  4. Reasonable workloads. Similarly, unrealistic or unfamiliar workloads can overwhelm employees and exacerbate any underlying mental health issues. Assessing how employees handle their current workload should be crucial to regular check-ins.
  5. Proactively support employee’s overall well-being. Such support includes encouraging people to take their vacation days, making mental health days available when needed, and creating opportunities for employees to rest and recharge during the day. Employees who feel an employer cares about and supports them as a whole report better mental health and higher satisfaction rates, and are far less likely to disengage and look for work elsewhere.
  6. Inclusiveness. Inclusive workplace cultures are psychologically safe cultures. Employees who feel safe and have a sense of belonging will thrive and be more resilient. They will, in turn, also be more supportive of their fellow employees. Examine your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies with this in mind, and remember that inclusiveness and mental health go hand-in-hand.
  7. Manage stress. Stress is not a mental health issue, but experts consider it a significant risk factor in mental illness. When you participate in employee well-being programs, you normalize prioritizing well-being in the workplace. Employee well-being programs should include resources for managing and mitigating stress before it becomes chronic. Mindfulness and meditation programs are proven and simple practices. It is also essential for managers to lead by example.

Employers are uniquely positioned to identify potential mental health issues, support employees facing mental health challenges, and enact holistic policies that promote overall well-being and resilience. Leaders will be more likely to implement these tools when they view investing in employee mental health as an investment. According to the National Safety Council, employers see a $4 return on every dollar they invest in mental health treatments. Acting boldly to promote mental health should be embraced as an opportunity.

When more business leaders come to see advancing mental health in the workplace as a strategic imperative, we can come closer to realizing the vision recently articulated by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy:

“A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities. As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being.”

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