How To Support Mental Health in the Workplace

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Every role I have held professionally has claimed to “value the health of employees,” at least on paper. However, what’s on paper and what is practiced are often very different things. As we embark on life after the pandemic, one thing has become abundantly clear: If you don’t support your employees in all aspects of their health and well-being, you will lose them.

Burnout. A word many are familiar with and may be experiencing as they read this article. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The WHO formally added the term to their classification of diseases in 2019 as an “occupational phenomenon.” While 2019 may have seen its fair share of burnout collectively, 2020 and early 2021 may struggle not to laugh in its face.

The pandemic and events of 2020 have taken a toll on working adults in several ways. Those who still had a job after the first or second round of layoffs have likely been doing the job of two or more people. Individuals who were laid off faced the challenge of starting over, job searching and entering a new workplace or team. In addition, employees who were high achievers before were/are likely looked upon to carry the organization through the storm and are exhausted. No matter the title or role, the pandemic has impacted the mental health of many. Because of this, support is needed now more than ever.

5 Steps To Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Companies should be prioritizing employee mental health. This means providing support where needed and after a year like 2020, if mental health support wasn’t offered before, the time is now. So, what can employers do today?

1. Implement a mental health program in conjunction with physical health programs OR take the first step in developing/modifying the existing program(s).
2. Ask your employees how they are doing (and mean it!).
3. Introduce more services (internal or through a third party) for employees immediately.
4. Offer opportunities for employees to listen and engage with their peers.
5. Provide and make free mental health support resources easily accessible for your employees.

What else can workplace mental health and well-being look like? Mental health support can look like companies holding spaces for employees to meet and engage with one another to talk and seek solace in someone experiencing similar challenges. It can mean offering flexible time off (FTO) for employees and encouraging them to use it. Additionally, being clear about and open to mental health days; offering employees time away to recollect themselves and bring their best selves back to their work after an appropriate amount of time away. More simply, it can mean checking in on employees with a simple, “how are you?” While not all employees will feel comfortable answering, the genuine action of asking demonstrates that you value them as a whole person, not just in what they do for the business.

The Lesson of 2020: Employee Mental Health Must Be a Priority

Beyond the fact that caring about your employee’s mental health should be a priority simply from a values perspective, there are business implications as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health disorders often occur in conjunction with other health problems such as “heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, and disorders that affect muscles, bones, and joints.” The CDC goes on to say that, “even after taking other health risks—like smoking and obesity—into account, employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during the 3 years after an initial health risk assessment.” Not to mention lower performance, engagement, and communication in their roles. If these reasons weren’t enough to adopt a mental health program, read on.

We are now seeing the market open back up. Jobs are popping up left and right and candidates are finding roles more and more rapidly. This is a good sign for candidates, but not great for the companies who have not managed to ensure their employees feel valued, heard, and supported. For those companies, turnover is becoming a threat to their business in terms of succession planning, continuity, and operational support.

It doesn’t end here, but these quick wins may help you retain and attract more talent while hanging on to the gems you already have. Take the first step.


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