5 Ways to Nurture Mental Health in the Workplace

CoachHub · 13 July 2022 · 5 min read

When tennis champion Naomi Osaka withdrew from Wimbledon and the French Open in 2020, it put the spotlight on the incredible pressures top performers face. Likewise, when decorated gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from several events at the Olympics later that year to focus on her mental health, it was a watershed moment for workplace wellbeing in all types of settings, not just the four walls of an ultra-elite sports training facility. 

High-profile admissions such as these, coupled with the well-publicized pressures workers faced during COVID-19, put the subject of mental health at work front and center in job sites across America. Workplace stress is on the upswing as people deal with burnout, boredom, work/life balance and the fallout from the pandemic. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 71% of employed Americans typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.

Fostering an Environment of Well-being and Mental Health at Work

Promoting employee well-being and instituting mental health training in the workplace have become top priorities for HR leaders seeking to retain good people and ensure their business thrives. Of course, no two companies are alike. Surveying employees on a regular basis remains the best way to determine exactly what is on their mind. But based on current research, the APA suggests five ways leaders can start building a healthier workplace:

  1. Increasing your employees’ options for where, when and how they work
  2. Giving your employees a voice in organizational decisions
  3. Developing programs and policies that support employee mental health
  4. Taking a critical look at equity, diversity and inclusion policies
  5. Re-examining health insurance policies with a focus on employee mental health
mental health at work

Increase your employees’ options for where, when and how they work

This one seems simple, but many companies struggle with it. Although their arguments against flexible ways of working differ, they tend to come down to two things: fear and control. If they can’t see you, they assume you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. For people who ostensibly have hired teams of grown adults based on their skills and proven ability to do the job, that’s small thinking (and not a little condescending). Nonetheless, there are plenty of “leaders” out there for whom this is true, despite the reams of studies that dispute it. Long story short, figure out a way to both trust your employees as well as to gain their trust. Additionally, avoid spending months on end in committees and meetings trying to “find a solution.” You know how your business runs—its rhythms and interdependencies. Take that into consideration and find a way.

 

Give your employees a voice in organizational decisions

In general, American companies aren’t champing at the bit to institute European-style Works Councils, nor are they too fond of organized labor unions. We’ve even come to accept legal contortions such as “a right to work state” as somehow “employee-friendly.” However, as recent victories by Starbucks and Apple employees attest, the appetite for controlling one’s destiny at work hasn’t gone away, nor is it confined to trades, teachers and nurses. Balancing the profit motive with the well-being of those directly responsible for the profits—generally, not the leadership team—is, in the end, good for business. Who, after all, better understands what’s working, what’s not and what can be done about it than the people on the ground? Be transparent with employees about the business and give them a say in how to address issues. 

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Develop programs and policies that support employee mental health

 

So much of what constitutes success rests on how engaged employees are with the company. When employees are stressed, engagement in day-to-day activities wanes. That costs companies millions every year. While it may require a budget to institute programs and policies that support employee mental health, the cost will likely pale in comparison to lower productivity, innovation stagnation, disinterest, absenteeism and other ills associated with employee disengagement. ‘Well at work’ programs and thoughtful, caring workplace policies can go a long way toward ensuring that employees are engaged, healthy and satisfied. You can read more about developing an employee wellbeing program here. 

 

Take a critical look at equity, diversity and inclusion policies

So many companies talk about diversity, and yet so few achieve it by any measure. There is a stark difference between population statistics and leadership statistics across all minority races. U.S. women still make 79 cents compared to every dollar paid to men. The list goes on, and there is no shortage of research on the phenomenon. Fixing it (like so many other things in life) boils down to one thing: stop talking and start doing. Here’s some food for thought from CoachHub coach Kaveh Mir as you contemplate your next move: “Diversity does not mean inclusion. Sometimes we have diversity around the table but not inclusion. Diversity means we have everyone around the table. Inclusion means that everyone feels safe to speak.”

 

Re-examine health insurance policies with a focus on employee mental health

To make the most headway, it’s imperative to consult with an HR benefits partner intimately familiar with insurance providers and their products. What’s covered, what isn’t and how much it will cost vary wildly between companies and within the selection of plans available to employers. Take care to look inward as well; any biases your company may have internally toward mental health care and related time away from work can dissuade people from taking advantage of even the best coverage. It’s easy enough to find a policy that covers mental health. It’s more difficult to change a culture that subtly or overtly stigmatizes it. Mental health discrimination at work is, unfortunately, not uncommon—but it can be surfaced and dealt with successfully.

Fostering an environment of employee wellbeing and mental health in the workplace is good for all involved—shareholders seeking profits, CFOs looking for cost savings, managers building high-performing teams and employees who want to spend their time in a positive, nurturing environment that sees them as a whole person, not just a “worker” or, heaven forbid, “headcount.” There’s a lot to be said for treating people the way we’d all like to be treated. Serious attention to employee well-being is a good place to start.

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