How to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace in 5 Steps
April 4, 2023
Your employees probably don’t think twice before calling in sick for a cold or a doctor’s appointment. Why should they? Their reasons are valid.
Now think about this: Has anyone at your workplace openly taken a day off for their mental health or left work early for a therapy session?
The answer is likely a no.
Mental health, despite becoming increasingly common, is still kept under cover, especially in professional spaces.
According to a survey, 63% of employees took a mental health day, but 44% lied about why they needed time off because they were afraid their employer would disapprove. Many people feel uncomfortable discussing mental health at work and put on a "game face" to hide their reasons.
These questions will help you have conversations about mental health at work by the end of this article:
- How to prioritize mental wellness at work
- How to take the first steps toward mental health support
- How to foster a safe and understanding workplace
- How to educate and empower employees about mental health
- How to make mental health a top priority
How does mental health affect the workplace?
Given that we spend more time at work than we do at home, having an environment that promotes positive mental health is essential for employee well-being. Being able to openly share about your condition and efforts to seek help is part of it.
Ignoring an employee's mental health can negatively affect your company's bottom line, causing lost productivity and damaged professional relationships. Depression and anxiety alone result in an estimated loss of 12 billion working days worldwide every year, which amounts to approximately US$1 trillion in lost productivity costs.
On the other hand, acknowledging mental illnesses in a positive way can lead to happier employees. According to a survey, 81% of respondents consider employer support for mental health an important factor in their future job decisions. Therefore, prioritizing mental health initiatives can help you attract and retain top talent.
Organizations like Unilever, EY, and Barclays prioritize mental health by investing in structured programs for employees. It's important to create a positive mental health environment in the workplace and at home, and these organizations recognize its benefits. Remember, it's OK not to be OK.
5 steps for positive mental health at work
Much of the effort in promoting mental health at work starts with acknowledging and addressing the stigma around mental illnesses. While mental health may seem like a daunting topic to tackle at the workplace, taking baby steps can make the effort more manageable. Here are some steps to guide you along:
1. Assess and invite suggestions for promoting mental health in the workplace
Start where you usually start with new initiatives: research. Begin by identifying areas of the workplace that might suggest a decline in employees’ mental health such as staff turnover, sickness absence, and performance.
Don’t be afraid to include your employees in this initiative. After all, they know best what elements of the workplace hurt their mental health and the likely initiatives to make it better for their mental well-being.
If you want candid feedback and suggestions, we strongly recommend gathering this information through anonymous surveys. Consider asking yourself and your colleagues these questions to evaluate mental health in the workplace:
- How do you feel when you come to work?
- Are you experiencing any changes in behavior or performance?
- Do you feel comfortable discussing your mental health issues at work?
- Do you feel uneasy about sharing your mental health issues with your manager or boss?
- How supportive is your manager regarding your mental health issues?
- How supportive are your colleagues regarding your mental health issues?
- What mental health initiatives would you like to see implemented in the workplace?
2. Start small with mental health initiatives
We understand mental health is not an easy topic to talk about. It’s worse when you are trying to get employees to open up about it in their professional space. Instead of immediately delving into deep and difficult conversations about mental health, start more casual efforts to get your employees warmed up to the new initiative.
Some ideas to consider:
One of the simplest efforts to kick this off is using a mood meter. Start a live poll for your employees to vote on how they feel coming into work every morning or during midday.
Get creative with the mood meter by adding images to the polls; cute animals and funny animations usually help to both lighten the mood and give employees a quick midday pick-me-up.
Set aside some time for one-on-one sessions with your team. Have open discussions on workload and projects they are currently taking on, but feel free to also talk about how they are doing in general.
3. Create a safe space for mental health conversations
Whatever goes on for employees outside of work also goes on inside of work. Helping people manage that is just the right thing to do.
Tim Munden, Former Chief Learning Officer, Unilever, in an interview with HuffPost.
1. For sharing sessions, take a page out of EY’s WeCare programs and let a member of the senior leadership kickstart each conversation on mental health by sharing their personal experiences. Seeing leaders share their vulnerabilities will reduce stigma and encourage others to voice out their struggles too.
2. Invite mental health experts to give talks or host panel discussions that tackle various mental health issues to provide more educational conversations about mental health where you can learn together.
3. Use more creative approaches such as screening movies and documentaries about mental illnesses to start informal discussions on the struggles of those experiencing any form of mental illnesses.
You can complement each approach with anonymous Q&A platforms like Pigeonhole Live to create a safe space for these conversations so that employees can share their thoughts with confidence.
4. Train employees in mental health support
Most people don’t intentionally say things to hurt or offend others, but ignorance can hurt your staff’s professional relationships and mental health. Think about phrases like “Why are you so bipolar today?” or “Cheer up, don’t be so depressed all the time.” Even if no malice was intended, callous remarks can still make those experiencing mental health issues feel attacked, unsupported, and alone.
Education is crucial if you are looking at creating a sustainable culture change at your workplace. Make sure both management and staff go through requisite training on language to avoid at the office. You can also sign your staff and management up for mental health first aid training, so everyone can provide initial support to those experiencing mental health and guide them toward seeking professional help.
5. Take the lead in prioritizing mental health
Promoting mental health in the workplace should be a joint effort between employers and employees, with employees taking an active role in educating and reaching out to their peers. To create a lasting impact, mental health promotion should be integrated into the company culture at all levels throughout the year.
Here are some suggestions from Mental Health America to promote mental health in the workplace:
- Prioritize mental health in onboarding by providing a resource guide, discussing it during benefits, mission/vision, and company culture.
- Celebrate major awareness campaigns on the calendar by following mental health organizations on social media, subscribing to email lists, and distributing free resources to employees.
- Establish a mental health team made up of diverse members to promote mental health awareness, education, and resources to employees.
- Train managers regularly to speak appropriately about mental health, avoid discrimination, and promote work-life balance.
- Encourage senior leadership to model open communication about mental health by sharing their personal experiences during awareness campaigns.
Now go take that mental day off
Promoting positive mental health is important for creating a good work environment, as mental health affects our overall well-being. If we prioritize mental health, our workplace can become healthier and more successful for everyone. As people become more aware and accepting of mental health needs, taking a mental health day will become as acceptable as calling in sick for a cold or a doctor's appointment!
Pigeonhole Live previously partnered with Mental Health Film Festival Singapore to create a safe space for discussing mental health issues during an eight-panel discussion. We understand that anonymous Q&A platforms can encourage people to share their experiences and opinions about highly stigmatized issues, such as mental illness. By having these conversations, we can fight stigma in the workplace and society.
|Note: This article was first published in 2019 and has been subsequently updated with new insights and statistics.|