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January 9, 2023

Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

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We’re all still feeling the ripples of the Covid-19 pandemic, and those waves may continue to rock our communal boat for years to come. However, as you may have noticed, the silver lining is that a spotlight has been put on mental health. People have become more accepting and supportive of mental illness and mental health issues, which allows those who suffer from them to become more open and willing to talk about it.

That brings us to the topic for this blog: mental health in the workplace. You’ve probably heard a lot about it, and you might even think it’s a good idea—but we’re here to tell you that it’s not just a good idea. In actuality, the workplace is the single best place for effective mental health support.

In this post, you’ll learn why the workplace can be so effective and how to take advantage of the inherent workplace benefits to support your employees’ mental health.

And yes, supporting mental health at work comes with some great benefits, such as higher retention, increased productivity, and monetary savings. But we’re not going to focus much on the ROI—we believe companies should strive to support employees because it’s just the right thing to do.

3 ways the workplace is perfect for mental health support.

Through already-established support structures, social support, and incentives, modern businesses can effectively and easily support employee health. However, the old-fashioned mindset about mental health in the workplace is to basically ignore it—employees come to work to, well, do work. They’re expected to show up, give their best efforts each day, and then go home. Only after they clock out should they worry about their own wellbeing.

Pretty terrible, right?

While it does make sense that the workplace focuses on work, the health and wellbeing of employees needs to be a priority as well. And it can be super easy for the below reasons!

1. Communication and support structures are already in place.

Your business already has structures in place that can easily support employee mental health. Employees are on teams, teams have managers, and managers have direct lines of communication to executives. Heck, there’s even a team completely devoted to the happiness and success of employees! (Thank you, HR teams!)

As long as employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health and seeking out help, this clear line of communication and support can be extremely effective.

2. Social support is readily available.

We’ve learned that mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are more common than we ever thought. In fact, nearly 30% of adults suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

That means that a good portion of your workforce probably struggles with these types of mental health challenges. Which ALSO means that many people can offer empathy and support when others are open and honest about their feelings and their problems. And that social support from coworkers can be invaluable—having a friend at work makes people twice as likely to be engaged and have a greater sense of wellbeing.

3. Incentives are great for reinforcing healthy behaviors.

We’re no stranger to workplace incentives. But instead of only creating incentives for sales numbers or physical wellness, why not try to create one for mental wellbeing? You can incentivize employees to meditate, practice emotional health, or even seek out professional guidance if needed.

Incentives can boost motivation and interest, so why not boost interest in maintaining a healthy mind?

5 ways to support mental health in the workplace.

Luckily, supporting the health and wellbeing of employees doesn’t have to take a lot of effort, time, or money. Here are some great places to get started:

  • Open and supportive communication
  • Mental health benefits
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Mental health training
  • Wellness-centric work adjustments

Many strategies are simple and straightforward, and by implementing them, you can create a culture of support, acceptance, and progress for everyone. Let’s dive deeper into each strategy.

1. Openly Communicate and Strive to Be Understanding

One of the best ways to support the mental wellbeing of employees is to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health. You can do that by talking about it and being open. For example, if a leader has struggled with anxiety and they’re open to discussing it, have them tell their story in front of the company. Show employees that it’s okay to have these types of struggles and that the company will support them.

Encourage managers to be open to conversations regarding mental health. And when employees admit to not feeling great or having a bad day, accept that and work with them. Never shame them or joke about it.

A great way to encourage openness and honesty is through regular check-ins. In a recent study, HBR found that 40% of global employees were never asked if they were doing okay. That’s unacceptable! Set aside a regular time for direct reports to talk to managers, ensuring everyone has someone they’re comfortable with to talk to. That support network can completely transform your culture.

2. Include Mental Health Coverage as a Benefit

Medical, vision, and dental coverages are all expected healthcare benefits in today’s world. But what about mental health? Caring for our bodies while avoiding our minds is like decorating a ceramic vase but ignoring the cracks throughout it. It may look nice, but it can’t fulfill its function!

Look into plans that offer coverage for therapy and related care. Offer an HSA option to help employees offset any additional costs. These steps will show that the company cares about people’s entire wellbeing, both physical and mental, and these options will empower employees to take care of themselves. And when they feel good both inside and out, they’re able to give you their best efforts.

3. Implement an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An Employee Assistance Program can (and should!) be a big part of your total compensation package. These programs are designed to help employees solve personal concerns, such as financial stress, marital strife, or addiction, before they start affecting their work—which, of course, allows employees to more consistently perform at their highest levels.

There are a few things that your mental health EAP should have, though. They should provide:

  • 24-hour support of some kind
  • Face-to-face counseling services
  • Access for employees AND their family members
  • Helpful resources and support for employees and management
  • Comprehensive and transparent rates

You can even incentivize participation in these types of programs to really encourage healthy behaviors and help people change. With Awardco, you can create custom programs (including mental and physical wellness programs) and then reward those who take part.

Bonus tip: make sure employees know exactly how to take advantage of these resources. People won’t use them if they’re confused or nervous about the process.

4. Offer Mental Health Training for Managers

Leaders and managers need to know how to look for signs of mental distress, and they need to know how to handle mental health concerns. It can be hard to know what to do or say when someone admits that they’re struggling, but training can help.

Provide mandatory training and classes that reduce long-held stigma, debunk common myths, and build helpful communication skills so that leaders are prepared to help employees when they ask for it.

5. Make Wellness-Centric Adjustments

Work takes up over 40 hours every week, and if the work or the culture aren’t fun, engaging, and supportive, that constant grind can take a huge toll on an employee’s mental health. 

Take steps to improve employee work-life balance, such as flexible schedules or more PTO; transform your office to make it more comfortable and empowering (or provide things like ergonomic equipment or exercise equipment for remote employees); and provide personal growth and professional development opportunities to make work meaningful.

These transformative steps can make work a place that employees are actually excited to go. They’ll be happier, and you’ll get the best out of them.

Support mental wellness in the workplace.

It’s time to flip the script. Supporting mental health and wellness isn’t a thing only for home—the workplace can (and needs to) take a large portion of that responsibility. After all, companies have long offered physical health benefits for their employees. Now it’s time to combine robust, comprehensive physical AND mental wellness programs. As you do so, your employees will be able to live their best lives and give their best work, no matter what.

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