How to Create a Workplace Culture that Values Mental Health

April 2022

As a society, we are making big strides when it comes to talking about mental health and making it a priority.

However, it should come as no surprise that the majority of the adult population spends at least one-third of their lives at work. And even with remote and hybrid work becoming more common, a full time-job inevitably shapes a person’s health habits.

So why should you, as an employer, care about the mental health of your employees?

Poor mental health can hinder an employee’s performance, which will eventually affect your company’s bottom line. Not to mention that long-term mental health issues can begin to affect the physical health of your employees which leads to higher absenteeism, further compounding productivity and performance issues, and even higher attrition.

And we guarantee that every employee either struggles with mental health or knows someone in the office who does, just underscoring the need to even simply begin addressing the issue through awareness and communication.

The good news is, company culture can be a powerful tool in encouraging healthy habits among employees.

The Price is Right

Creating a workplace culture that values mental health doesn’t need to be costly. In fact, many companies are already finding successful, cost-efficient ways to promote better mental health. In some cases what you may end up spending the most on is time, the time it takes to develop some programs. Some examples of programs that might require more time than money to develop include:

  • Creating a peer support network of colleagues
  • Starting dialogue among managers that encourages healthy behavior
  • Replacing negative stigma with positive affirmation
  • Emphasizing a healthy work-life balance

In fact, you should never underestimate the power of a leader’s voice by simply starting the conversation around mental health. Cultural change, including changes around mental health in the workplace, requires a top-down approach.

Let’s dig a little deeper into some ideas you can implement in your own organization to help improve workplace culture around mental health.

Clear and Present Danger

Leaders within the organization need to treat mental health as an organizational priority. More than that, there need to be accountability mechanisms. And don’t just relegate it to your HR department.

Furthermore, you have to remove the stigma of mental health issues. To create a stigma-free culture in your workplace, leaders throughout the company need to share their own personal experiences, which can foster an environment of transparency, openness, and allyship.

First Line of Defense

Organizations should also train leaders, managers, and all employees on how to navigate mental health at work. This includes how to have difficult conversations. Managers are often the first to notice changes in employees. And those who have been properly trained in how to have those difficult conversations can more easily broach the subject with employees they see struggling.

Intersectionality Issues

Your black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+, and other minority employees may have mental health issues as a result of their specific life experiences. So it is crucial that your company invest in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) to support mental health and address issues of intersectionality.

Other intersectional groups that may need additional, specific support include caregivers. Caregivers often face burnout as they deal with balancing work while caring for elderly parents, often at the same time they continue to care for young children in their household.

Finding ways for employees to discuss challenging social and political topics at work is part of a healthy culture. This can often be done by allowing employees to form mental health employee resource groups and other affinity groups, or start peer listening groups.

Balancing Act

It is way past time for employers to make ways of working more sustainable. A crucial aspect of sustainable work is providing flexibility. This can be through flexible scheduling, or by allowing for remote or hybrid work. Allowing this flexibility provides a better work-life balance, which staves off burnout.

Employers should also promote autonomy. Healthy boundaries and norms around communication, responsiveness, and urgency go a long way toward building a more mentally healthy culture in the workplace.

Connect the Dots

Finally, organizations should focus on fostering a culture of deep connections. This can include regular check-ins or meaningful interactions among teams. Managers should be encouraged to have deeper one-on-one conversations with their staff. And if they see that someone is struggling, they need to ask how they can help. The role of empathy and authenticity in creating a mentally healthy workplace cannot be overstated.

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