In this post, we explore what it actually means to support mental health in the workplace — and why it matters. We also outline five actionable steps you can take to support your employees’ mental well-being and foster a more mental health-positive company culture.
The topic of mental health is everywhere, and the benefits of supporting employee mental health are well documented. But, while more and more companies are pledging to prioritize mental health in the workplace, there is often a mismatch between words and actions.
It’s time to get proactive when it comes to employee mental health. Keep reading to learn more about mental health in the workplace, and discover five simple steps you can take to support your employees’ mental well-being.
What exactly is mental health and how does it relate to the workplace?
Mental health is a broad term which encompasses an individual’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, how we make decisions, handle the challenges life throws at us, and build relationships with others.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it plays a role in all areas of our lives. Given that more than half of the global population is currently employed, supporting mental health in the workplace is critical — both for individual well-being and overall company performance.
A recent study into workplace health found that anxiety, depression, and stress levels among workers are alarmingly high. 58% of respondents were found to be experiencing symptoms of anxiety, while 52% reported experiencing symptoms of depression. 67% are experiencing moderate to high levels of stress.
According to The World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion each year, primarily due to reduced productivity. Employee mental health is an issue that cannot be ignored, and the onus is on employers to create mental health-positive company cultures.
In order to support mental well-being in the workplace, it’s essential to understand the factors that most commonly impact employee mental health. So what are they? Let’s take a look.
What are the biggest risk factors when it comes to employee mental health?
Some of the biggest risk factors for employee mental health are:
- Stress, an excessive or unmanageable workload, as well as a lack of control over one’s workload
- Inflexible, long, or unsocial working hours
- Violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, and exclusion
- Poor communication and lack of transparency
- Skills being under-utilized, as well as under- and over-promotion
Being aware of these risk factors is the first step in taking proactive measures against them. With that in mind, in the next section are five ways you can support employee mental health and promote well-being in your workplace.
How to support mental health and promote employee well-being in the workplace: 5 actionable steps
1. Create a culture that prioritizes a healthy work-life balance
Excessive stress and an unmanageable workload are major risk factors for employee mental health. If you want to reduce stress, stave off burnout, and promote mental well-being, start by examining your company culture.
Does it encourage and enable a healthy work-life balance, or does it place unreasonable demands on your employees? How are vacation and sick leave perceived? Do your employees feel able to prioritize rest, or does your company culture glorify and reward overtime?
If you’re not confident that your company culture is allowing for a healthy work-life balance, it’s time to take steps to change that. This might include introducing more flexibility, reducing excessive workloads, and reviewing your benefits package — to name just a few.
2. Provide access to mental health resources and support
Another step you can take is to provide your employees with access to mental health tools and resources.
In the United States alone, 78% of organizations currently offer workplace mental health resources, or plan to do so in the next year. This should set a new precedent in normalizing and increasing employees’ access to mental health support — and it’ll play an increasingly important role in attracting and retaining the best talent.
Mental health support in the workplace can take many different forms. Leverage technology to give your employees access to confidential and personalized support through platforms such as Headspace for Work and nilo.health.
Beyond that, consider offering access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) defines an Employee Assistance Program as ‘a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance.’
EAPs are delivered through third-party providers at no cost to employees, and they can help with a range of issues such as substance abuse, financial problems, and general well-being. For mental health in particular, EAPs can support individuals in seeking professional help and, most importantly, remove the financial barriers which often stand in the way.
3. Keep the lines of communication open
It’s impossible to overstate the role that communication plays in supporting your employees’ mental health.
Poor communication and lack of transparency across the organization in general can contribute to employee stress and anxiety, so strive to mitigate this particular risk factor by improving communication and involving your employees in important decisions wherever possible.
Another key measure is to keep the lines of communication open when it comes to the topic of mental well-being specifically. Don’t just use employee check-ins to discuss professional performance or progress on specific projects; encourage managers to also create space for people to talk about how they’re doing in general.
In a study conducted by Mind Share Partners, almost 40% of global employees said that, since the pandemic, no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK. What’s more, those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined.
Don’t shy away from asking your employees how they’re doing and what kind of support they need. Not everybody will feel comfortable responding openly and honestly, but taking this step can at least help to normalize the practice of discussing mental well-being—and may make it easier for people to speak candidly in the future.
4. Provide mental health training and workshops
Research has shown that, in addition to access to mental health resources, one of the most sought-after tools among employees is mental health training. And, let’s be honest: If you’re keen to foster open dialog around mental well-being (as we advised in the previous point), you need to train and equip your managers to handle such conversations confidently, sensitively, and appropriately.
Train managers and leaders to recognize signs of depression, anxiety, stress, and burnout among their teams — and how to intervene accordingly. Provide clear guidelines they can follow (such as when it might be considered necessary to discuss an employee’s well-being with HR) and empower them with tools and strategies to support their direct reports. For example, authorize them to sign off on mental health days, extend project deadlines, and take any other necessary actions to minimize stress.
The more capable and competent your leadership team feels when it comes to matters of mental health, the more confident they’ll feel in supporting their team members. This, in turn, will instill confidence in your employees and encourage them to reach out for help should they need it.
5. Lead by example
When it comes to supporting mental health in the workplace, it’s absolutely critical that you lead by example.
According to a study conducted by MetLife, only 1 in 3 employees believe that their managers lead by example when it comes to mental health. This leaves significant room for improvement and points to the difference between stating your company values and actually upholding them.
If you truly want to remove the stigma around mental health and actively encourage your employees to nurture their own well-being, you need leaders and managers who can show that they’re doing the same.
It can be as simple as speaking openly about your own struggles with stress, making sure you take sufficient time off, and not setting an unspoken expectation by always working late. When your employees see their managers modeling healthy behaviors, they’ll feel encouraged to follow suit.
Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. Make sure your actions (and those of your leadership team) are sending a clear and positive message about mental health.
We’ve outlined just five steps you can take to support employee mental health. Bear in mind that building a mental health-positive workplace is a continuous and dynamic process that will vary from one company to the next. Stay attuned to what your employees need and continue to adapt your approach accordingly.
Anika Wegner, B2B Blog Editor
Exploring other cultures through language is particularly important to her. That's why she loves writing for Babbel about topics, how companies can benefit from language-learning solutions.