How (and why) to Make Mental Health in the Workplace a Priority

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Written by Lauren Fischer | May 3, 2019

We all know the saying ‘check your baggage at the door.’ In a professional setting, that means separating aspects of your personal life from work life.

Easier said than done. The truth is, what’s going on with employees outside of work is also going on at work. This is especially true when it comes to an individual’s mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year. In many cases, these experiences have an impact on everyday activity, including work. 

As an HR professional, you’re aware that a strong wellness plan is a core piece of employee benefits. In fact, healthcare is the most valued benefit of employeesBut in today’s multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce, medical benefits focusing solely on the physical side of health may not be enough. Today’s employees want (and need) more – and with mental healthcare often being an exception to standard care rather than part of it, people are struggling to obtain proper treatment.

Let's change that. Here's five ways to support emotional well-being at work, and why it's important to do so. 

How to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

1. Introduce Mental Health Days
Stressed. Unmotivated. Burnt out. We've all felt this way at one time or another. So why not allow employees to decompress outside of the office without penalty? AKA: mental health days. Work-life balance is a huge factor when considering mental health and emotional well-being, and an essential piece of a healthy work environment. Consider introducing mental health days into your overall wellness plan or part of the company's benefit offerings. Allowing employees this time to unwind can reduce stress in the workplace and help employees feel more relaxed and productive at work. 

2. Bring in the Experts
The first step in addressing mental health in the workplace is awareness. Similar to the resources or training provided on sexual harassment and bullying, the same can be done for mental health. Direct employees to educational resources such as the American Psychiatric Association or Mental Health America. You may even want to take it a step further and host a mental health workshop with a guest speaker. 

3. Engage Leadership
Every employee is different - and thus should be managed differently. Redirect your leadership team from a 'one-size-fits-all' approach and instead consider the differences in each person's unique behavior. While some employees are an open book, others may require further support or encouragement. Make sure managers are trained not only on how to approach employees with mental illness, but also on how to support company-wide well-being. 

4. Survey for Employee Engagement
Are your employees happy at work? This is a key insight into organizational well-being. You might be wondering how employee happiness relates to mental health. As mentioned, there is a direct correlation between our personal and professional lives. When one is dissatisfied with work, it can seep into other areas of life and vice versa. When people are engaged and enthusiastic at work, this projects a positive overall well-being. When employees become frustrated or disengaged it can worsen their overall health. 

5. Communication is Key 
Employees should be able to speak about mental health just like they would with any other medical concern. Unfortunately, mental health is often an unspoken about topic - especially at work. Utilize your benefits technology to provide ongoing communication about what mental health options your company offers. By implementing this and the suggestions above, you're showing employees that you care about their well-being, and have taken the steps to create a safe environment. 

Mental health is not always as obvious as a broken bone or a case of the flu, but should be treated, nonetheless. Employees are often struggling with illnesses that you cannot see. Helping people manage their emotional health will not only help the affected individual(s), but it will also encourage openness among employees and ultimately, a stronger, more engaged workforce.

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Topics: Health & Wellness, For Employers