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How to Create a Workplace Culture That Supports Mental Health

If there is one thing the last few years have brought to the forefront, it’s the need to prioritize good mental health. From the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic to the political unrest that has rubbed salt into generations’-old wounds, people have become increasingly concerned about the state of their mental health—and those concerns don’t end when they enter the workplace. In fact, a survey conducted by the Conference Board found that 77 percent of people say mental health issues are currently one of their biggest work challenges. Workers were already stretched too thin before the pandemic, and mental health issues have been especially prevalent since as people have experienced a variety of symptoms from feelings of guilt to sadness to emotional exhaustion. 

This is not only a problem that affects workers, however. When left unchecked, the poor mental health of a workforce can impact an organizations’ bottom line. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, depression alone has a $210.5 billion impact on the economy, which includes costs related to reduced productivity and treating conditions closely associated with depression, like cardiovascular diseases.

To address these issues, it’s important for companies to take the mental health of their employees seriously and make it a priority to alleviate workplace stressors, while giving people the help they need when they’re struggling. The following are some ways to create a workplace culture that supports mental health.

3 Ways to Create a Mental Health Inclusive Work Culture

1. Destigmatize Mental Health Through Open Communication

The more comfortable people feel talking about their mental health issues, the less of a stigma there will be surrounding them. To create a culture that supports mental health, your workplace must be an environment where people can openly express their concerns and experiences without fear of judgment. Providing training about mental health to everyone in the workplace, and creating forums where people can discuss their mental health, can go a long way toward destigmatizing these issues and creating more empathy among colleagues. 

To truly create a space where workers can talk about mental health, you have to ensure that they’re heard. Although some managers may think discussing mental health in the workplace is too touchy feely for them, the focus on this issue needs to start from the top. Leaders in your organization should be educated on how to manage with empathy, listen to employees who need to talk about their mental health, and encourage them to get the assistance they need. For example, one-on-one meetings can be a place where employees touch base with their supervisors about workplace concerns and how they affect their mental health. 

In addition to one-on-one discussions between managers and employees, your organization can learn about the overall mental health concerns of the workforce by creating channels of communication. One way this can be done is by conducting anonymous surveys, so you can accommodate those who want to voice concerns but may not be comfortable speaking to their manager about how they’re feeling. This allows employees to vent about what’s going on and discuss how it’s affecting them without fear of retaliation, while giving your leadership a roadmap for improving the work environment. 

These types of activities can go a long way toward creating trust in an organization, which will allow employees to be honest about issues like depression and anxiety. And when this trust exists, it ultimately boosts the mental health of the workforce, while increasing productivity and innovation.

2. Offer Benefits That Support Mental Health 

After everything workers have been through the last few years, they’re not only making mental health a priority, they’re weighing job opportunities based on the mental health and wellness benefits a company offers. This means you need to place mental health on the same level of importance as physical health when offering insurance plans and other benefits. For example, access to therapy and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) gives workers the chance to discuss problems in a safe space outside of work, as well as get advice from a neutral party. Also, companies that have an on-site medical clinic can add mental health services to their offerings if they don’t already.

In addition, you can offer benefits that allow employees to address their stress and enjoy a healthy work-life balance. It’s not enough to give employees vacation and personal time, you must encourage people to use it—and create a culture where they don’t feel guilty when they do, or worse, afraid they’ll get fired for wanting time off. Also, companies can make paid mental health days off—separate from personal and vacation time—part of their benefit packages. 

To support work-life balance, your company can create the flexibility that allows people to work around their outside responsibilities. Whether they’re concerned about child care or getting medical treatments, allowing employees to work from home or work flexible schedules can alleviate stress, prevent burnout, and enhance mental health.

3. Make the Workplace Welcoming

People spend a great deal of time at work, so companies can boost the mental health of employees by making the workplace more welcoming. Providing spaces to release stress—such as an onsite gym, game room, or a quiet area to collect thoughts—is a great way to make employees feel more comfortable at work. Also, offering fitness and meditation classes onsite encourages employees to let go of stress in their bodies so it doesn’t fester. 

Similarly, encouraging employees to engage in community activities inside and outside of the workplace can create a strong community that enhances mental health. Things like team movie nights, potluck dinners, and volunteer days can build bonds between workers that further alleviate stress and foster mental health support. 

To build a strong workforce, mental health simply cannot be ignored. These tips can help you cultivate a culture that supports good mental health, so you can attract and retain workers, as well as boost innovation and productivity.   

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