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By Jessica Elliott Updated on October 12, 2021

Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace: 6 Ways to Support Your Staff

Promoting mental health in the workplace improves productivity while reducing employee turnover. Although many employers aim to support the well-being of staffers, the pandemic and related stressors make it more challenging. 

Learn how you can help employees improve their mental wellness with supportive policies, engagement activities and resources. 

How Employee Well-Being Affects Your Business

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports, in 2019, “Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness.” Yet, 44.8% “received mental health services” during the surveyed timeframe.

Regardless of diagnosis, most employers may have one or more workers struggling with their mental health. If left unaddressed, it can cost your company time and money. 

Staff experiencing stress, anxiety or depression communicate less and are less likely to engage in the workplace. Moreover, employees may feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks leading to reductions in productivity or reliability. 

Tufts Medical Center’s report, “The High Cost of Mental Disorders: Facts for Employers,” identifies key areas affected by mental wellness: 

  • Absenteeism: Poor mental health increases the amount of time off work. Tufts Medical Center found the “average employee in white-collar, blue-collar or sales and service occupations missed approximately one-half day per week due to depression.”
  • Work performance: Depression results in higher rates of productivity loss, called presenteeism. Work performance suffers because of decreased concentration, attention to detail, time-management skills, communication capabilities and physical abilities. 
  • Increased turnover: Voluntary and involuntary employee separations rise because of poor mental health. Although exact numbers are unknown, Tufts Medical Center reviewed data from 3 large studies showing “employees with mental disorders are vulnerable to higher than average churn events.”
  • Workplace injury: Poor mental health raises the risks of on-the-job injuries and short or long-term disabilities. Tufts Medical Center points to data showing 65-72 lost days for employees with depression versus 50 for those without it.

Benefits of Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace

Developing an inclusive culture that supports mental wellness is advantageous to your business. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that for every “$1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work.”

Along with reducing overall costs, focusing on mental wellness in the workplace improves:

  • Situational awareness
  • Communication between employees and supervisors
  • Decision-making capabilities
  • Employee-attrition rates
  • Staff-engagement levels
  • Resiliency to disruption

An unhappy worker sits at her desk. There is a storm cloud above her.

Challenges to Mental Wellness During COVID-19

A study by TELUS International finds, “75% of U.S. employees have struggled at work due to anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent world events.” 

This information suggests that mental health complaints are not limited to people with a poor mental health history. Instead, many employees continue to feel increased anxiety and stress relating to the pandemic. 

A MetLife study backs this up, showing “2 in 3 employees state they are feeling more stressed than before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Changes to routines, increase in caregiver burdens and isolation all affect mental wellness and, in turn, your business. 

6 Ways to Elevate Mental Health in the Workplace

Promoting mental health in your workplace isn’t a quick fix. However, there are specific actions you can take to improve overall well-being. 

Support your staff by incorporating these ideas into your holistic health strategies: 

1. Create a Healthy Workplace Definition

Before you can support your workforce, you need to define what a healthy workplace looks like. 

WHO describes a healthy workplace as “one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace.”   

WHO’s definition identifies areas of concern, such as the physical and psychosocial work environment, personal health resources and community participation. 

When writing a healthy workplace description, consider the 4 essential pillars of wellness:

  1. Mental health
  2. Financial health
  3. Social health
  4. Physical health

Each wellness pillar is interconnected. For example, a person with a chronic physical illness may notice changes in their mental health. 

Personal money problems can affect mental, social and physical health as well. Social isolation may impair physical and psychological health, leading to performance issues at work. 

Once you create a definition, plan goals for each pillar. Tie your objectives back to your company’s values and mission statement. Then, outline a holistic health program that offers resources targeting all 4 pillars. 

2. Design a Wellness Culture

Business owners can support mental health by promoting diversity and inclusion. Doing so requires a top-down approach involving leadership. 

Start by creating a stigma-free workplace: 

  • Teach staff about the symptoms and signs of mental health disorders
  • Encourage team members to discuss work-life balance, stress or other concerns
  • Offer quiet spaces where team members can take a break and reflect
  • Inform employees about mental health statistics and show they’re common and treatable
  • Put a stop to stigmatizing phrases such as negative labels or terms such as “crazy”
  • Provide mental health benefits and continually promote program awareness 

Furthermore, take extra steps to improve your company culture. Send employees anonymous surveys asking questions about management practices. Ask remote team members how you can better support them. Take these responses into account when developing training programs and goals for management teams. 

3. Develop Workplace Wellness Programs

MetLife reports the 3 main drivers of holistic well-being are competitive compensation, recognition and a comprehensive benefits program. 

Even if you already use an employee assistance program (EAP), company surveys may identify room for improvement. For instance, PwC found that in the COVID-19 pandemic, “Stress management programs have become more prevalent. 71% offered such a program in 2020, compared to 61% in 2019.” 

Consider supplementing existing services by adding other forms of employee wellness programs, such as: 

  • Stress management: Encourage mindfulness with on-premise presentations, mobile wellness applications and by including techniques in a monthly newsletter. 
  • Employee development: Giving employees a purpose and encouraging personal and professional growth builds emotional resilience. 
  • Financial literacy: From retirement planning to everyday budgeting, providing resources to help employees understand and control finances is essential. 
  • Individual wellness: Build flexibility into programs by allowing staff to select health goals meaningful to them. Forcing habits on people rarely works. 
  • Employee recognition: With the rise of global workforces, many workers are more willing to leave a thankless position. Monetary and nonmonetary rewards improve employee satisfaction levels.
  • Team health: Encourage social communities with team-building activities, such as fitness challenges or on-site wellness clinics where members from all organizational levels get involved.

A worker sits at her desk. There is a white puffy cloud -- complete with the sun peeking out -- above her.

4. Increase Awareness of Resources and Tools

A PwC Pulse survey finds “84% of chief financial officers (CFOs) strongly or somewhat agree that their company has successfully addressed employee wellness.” However, 31% of employees believe this is true. 

It’s one thing to offer an application or wearable device as part of a health insurance wellness plan. Or send every new employee home with a sheet about your EAP services. 

Getting people involved and genuinely making a difference means creating ongoing wellness campaigns. 

Generate awareness and interest by:  

  • Offering on-demand webinars about how employees can leverage existing benefits, such as health savings accounts (HSAs) or EAP programs
  • Showcasing company executives discussing mental wellness and holistic well-being during COVID-19 via videos and emails
  • Dedicating one day (or more) a month to wellness objectives and opportunities with a gratitude exercise, on-site coach or group activity 
  • Providing printed materials discussing mental health signs, treatment options and associated employee benefits information
  • Sharing details about or partnering with community-based wellness programs and connecting employees to local groups or events

5. Build Flexibility Into Your Workplace

A FlexJobs study finds that “employees who don’t have access to flexible work are 1.8 times more likely to experience poor mental health.” 

Although many companies embrace remote work as a flexible option, there are other ways to keep employees happy

Of course, if you’re able to offer full or part-time remote work, that’s great. But this model won’t work for every business. 

Hybrid options include: 

  • Flex scheduling for work-from-home days, even if it’s only a limited number of times per year
  • Workday flexibility for caregivers by allowing different work hours or virtual check-ins, as needed
  • Recorded meetings so employees can listen and respond within a certain timeframe
  • Policies on communication that give some leeway in response times
  • Cross-training or upskilling staff in order to offer flexible scheduling options for employees 

6. Simply Listen

Here’s the thing. You may already offer wellness programs. Or feel that your company does a great job at supporting mental health. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. As lifestyles and workforces change, your business must also do so. 

One way to stay abreast of everything is by listening to your employees. You don’t need to ask intrusive questions about how they feel. Instead, ask if there’s anything you can do to make their job better.  Also, encourage management teams to “feel the room” and proactively address concerns. These may range from workers struggling with new software or feeling isolated during virtual meetings. 

Improve Mental Health in Your Workplace

Building emotional resilience and improving mental health has long-term impacts on your business. 

By improving awareness of holistic well-being, you can reach overarching business goals while increasing employee satisfaction and reducing turnover rates.

Jessica is a business-to-business content strategist and consultant with 24 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. She writes about technology, marketing and finance.
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