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Prioritizing Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace

Updated: Jul 3


A woman with shoulder length hair wearing glasses, a rose-colored jacket and a black t-shirt that reads Mental Health Matters.

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace have gained increasing attention in recent years, and for good reason. The personal and professional impact of poor mental health can be profound, affecting individuals, teams, and entire organizations. In this article, we'll explore why mental health and wellbeing matter in the workplace, the role culture plays, and strategies employers can implement to foster mentally healthy workplaces.


Why Mental Health and Wellbeing Matter at Work

Mental health is an integral part of overall wellbeing and is closely tied to physical health, relationships, and job performance. When employees struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or burnout, it can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, higher turnover rates, and strained relationships with colleagues.


On an individual level, poor mental health takes a significant personal toll. It can diminish quality of life, self-esteem, and the ability to thrive both in and outside of work. Professionally, it can impede career growth, engagement, and job satisfaction.


From an organizational standpoint, promoting employee wellbeing is not only the right thing to do - it makes good business sense. Research shows that mentally healthy workplaces benefit from higher productivity, creativity, and retention rates. Supporting employee mental health is a wise investment.


The Impact of Workplace Culture

An organization's culture can make or break employee mental health and wellbeing. Toxic work environments characterized by extreme pressure, lack of support, poor communication, or bullying can be incredibly damaging. They create stress, erode trust, and make people feel unsafe speaking up about mental health concerns.


In contrast, workplace cultures that prioritize employee wellbeing, psychological safety, and open communication lay the foundation for people to thrive. When employees feel valued, supported in setting boundaries, and able to bring their whole selves to work, it fosters engagement and enables people to do their best work.


Strategies for Mentally Healthy Workplaces

So how can organizations create work environments that promote mental wellness? There are a number of effective strategies to consider:


Make mental health a leadership priority. Senior leaders and managers need to drive the conversation, model healthy behaviors, and allocate resources to mental health initiatives. When leaders are open about their own struggles and actively champion mental health, it sets the tone for the entire organization.


Provide robust benefits and resources. Comprehensive mental health coverage, employee assistance programs, stress management workshops, and access to counseling services are some key offerings that make a difference. Critically, organizations need to actively promote these resources and make them easy to use confidentially.


Train managers to support employee wellbeing. Managers are on the front lines and play a huge role in employee mental health. Equip them with the knowledge and skills to have supportive conversations, spot signs of struggle, make appropriate workplace accommodations, and connect people to resources.


Implement flexible and inclusive policies. Flexible scheduling, generous paid time off, and inclusive leave policies for mental health reasons go a long way. The key is making sure people actually feel safe and supported using these benefits.


Foster an open, supportive culture. Create opportunities for connection and dialogue around mental health - whether through employee resource groups, lunch and learns, storytelling events, or leadership communications. The more normal it becomes to talk about these issues, the less stigma there will be.


Assessing Mental Health at Your Organization

For organizations looking to better understand and meet employee mental health needs, it's important to take stock of your current workplace culture and employee experience. Some key questions to ask include:


  • Do employees feel psychologically safe and supported?

  • Are workloads manageable? Do people feel empowered to disconnect and take time off?

  • What is the attitude towards mental health issues? Is there stigma or a culture of openness?

  • Are managers equipped to support employee wellbeing?

  • Do employees know what mental health resources are available? Do they feel comfortable accessing them?

  • How is the company responding to societal issues and stressors impacting employee mental health?


Gathering this input - ideally through anonymous surveys, focus groups, and 1:1 conversations - provides a roadmap for where to focus wellbeing efforts. It's also important to track key metrics over time, like EAP and mental health benefit utilization, turnover rates, and employee engagement scores.


Supporting Mental Health Through the 9 Principles of Employee Care


Logo Reads: The Nine Principles of Employee Care

The 9 Principles of Employee Care, developed by CEO and Founder of FIC Human Resource Partners Jessica Jaymes Purdy, provide a powerful framework for supporting employees as whole human beings. Here's how the principles can be applied to foster better workplace mental health:


Cultivate Human Relationships: Strong, supportive relationships are the foundation of psychological safety and wellbeing at work. Organizations should intentionally create opportunities for authentic human connection, whether through team-building activities, ERGs for mental health, mentoring programs, or simply encouraging people to bring their whole selves to work. The more employees feel genuinely cared for and supported by their colleagues and leaders, the more comfortable they'll be speaking openly about mental health.


Uphold Human Respect: An environment of respect is essential for mental wellness. Every employee, regardless of their position or background, deserves to have their mental health needs valued and prioritized. This means actively working to eliminate stigma, discrimination, and barriers to access. It means using inclusive language, providing accommodations equitably, and ensuring that mental health policies and benefits serve the needs of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and other marginalized employees.


Recognize Human Relevance: Cookie cutter approaches to mental health fail to recognize human relevance - the fact that each employee has unique needs, experiences, and contextual factors that impact their wellbeing. Organizations must take the time to understand what matters to each person, what kind of support would be most meaningful, and how their personal circumstances (e.g. mental health conditions, caregiving responsibilities, cultural background) inform their needs. Leaders should check in with their teams regularly and ensure people feel seen as individuals.


Show Human Recognition: To create a culture that truly values mental health, organizations need to reinforce supportive behaviors. Publicly recognize employees, managers, and leaders who go above and beyond to champion mental wellness - whether they organized a mindfulness workshop, shared their personal story, or supported a colleague through a tough time. Celebrate teams that embrace healthy practices like setting clear boundaries or taking mental health days. These shoutouts show that the organization walks the walk when it comes to prioritizing wellbeing.


Encourage Human Responsibility: Employees need to feel empowered and encouraged to take responsibility for their own mental health. While organizations must provide accommodations and support, individuals are experts on their own needs and will be the drivers of their own wellness practices. Employers should provide ample education on mental health hygiene and coping strategies, and then trust employees to identify and utilize what works best for them. The goal is personal agency, not paternalism.


Enable Human Routines: Predictable, health-promoting routines are vital for mental wellness. Organizations can enable human routines through policies like set work hours, meeting-free days, designated break times, and minimum PTO usage. Encouraging employees to establish their own personal routines, whether it's a daily meditation practice, midday walks, or family dinners, is also key. The more that supportive routines are built into the fabric of the workplace, the easier it will be for people to prioritize mental health.


Provide Human Readiness: To set employees up for success when it comes to managing their mental health, robust education and skill-building is a must. This could include resilience workshops, stress management training, mental health first aid courses, or lunch-and-learns on topics like healthy communication or boundary setting. The key is ensuring these offerings are relevant, engaging, and accessible to all. Providing self-guided mental health resources like apps, videos, and articles also allows people to upskill at their own pace.


Use Human Records Ethically: Data can be a powerful tool for understanding patterns in employee mental health needs and measuring the impact of wellbeing initiatives over time. However, it's critical that any data related to individuals' mental health information be collected, stored, and utilized ethically and confidentially. Anonymous employee surveys, aggregate EAP or benefits data, and company-wide engagement metrics can all point to areas of strength and opportunity. The key is using human records to better support people, never to target or penalize.


Ensure diverse Human Representation: Employees need to see themselves represented in the leaders, decision-makers, and advocates shaping mental health strategy and practices. This means actively working to ensure diversity across dimensions like race, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, disability status, and age at all levels of the organization, and especially among those responsible for wellbeing initiatives. Diverse representation helps ensure that mental health resources and policies will be inclusive, relevant, and effective for all employees.


 

Contact us today to learn how our Nuance Culture Survey and Nuance Culture Consulting teams can help you assess the mental health and wellbeing of your employees, develop programs and policies to foster a culture that ensures the mental health and wellbeing of your employees.

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