Most organizations have some form of health and wellness programs in place for employees. But does your program include support for mental health in the workplace?
Consider. Even before the pandemic, research by experts at Penn State had found that poor mental health is one of the most expensive forms of illness in the United States. It contributes to poor workplace performance and absenteeism. It also takes a tremendous toll on personal health and safety. Additional studies show nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older reported some form of mental illness in 2016. Now, researchers are also finding a link between COVID and increased mental health problems in some patients.
Moreover, we all spend a considerable amount of our lives at work. Employers and HR professionals have a tremendous role to play to support employees with positive mental health practices. There are both formal and informal practices we can implement, but the following four are the most important.
Be sure your company considers all of the following to foster positive mental health in the workplace – be it remote, in-office, or a hybrid combination of the two modes of work.
Engagement. What types of relationships does management have with employees, and do employees have within their teams? Good relationships, or lack thereof, will make or break your organization – and support or discourage mental health. You can support engagement by creating opportunities for connection. Management should be available to work with and support their teams with coaching, mentoring, and clear information for projects. Team building experiences, with everyone encouraged to participate, are critical. Although that might seem difficult in a remote workplace, it is possible using many of the same approaches that work in-office. Set aside time, create space, and keep your door open.
Culture. What kind of messaging is encoded in your workplace around mental health? If you’re not talking about it, you may be unintentionally contributing to the stigma around mental health issues. Does management support open communication? If employees are afraid to offer opinions or slow to contribute ideas (even when asked), it may be because they feel that mistakes won’t be tolerated. What is your policy to take time off? Do employees feel they can use time when they need to, or are they nervous about how they will be perceived just for making the request? Culture matters, and HR professionals and management can support mental health with good communication that is clear, actionable, equitable, and constructive.
Flexibility. Employees that feel they have some influence and control over their working schedule report higher levels of satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty to their organization. Build flexibility into your culture by allowing remote work, or a hybrid remote and in-person working environment. Different work schedules may be used to accommodate personal preferences and needs. You may need to provide employees with laptops or create a system to plan scheduling.
Commitment. Employees must know that the organization is committed to support wellness and mental health. That commitment is demonstrated through action and consistency. How? Your organization may choose to invest in mental health services that can be offered to employees as part of insurance, wellness, and other benefits programs. Time-off schedules may be structured to include ‘mental health days’ that may be used in addition to or in place of sick days, but without penalty to vacation time. Commitment is also demonstrated when managers, supervisors, and leadership create a culture of respect around requests for time to work to support mental health needs.
Additionally, your organization should add mental health awareness training to its leadership development, onboarding, and corporate training. Just adding information will help build confidence in your workplace about your commitment and help employees to know the interpersonal skills needed to recognize and deal with mental health issues.