This post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
If we learned anything during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that the traditional approach to both physical and mental health in the workplace isn’t serving our teams well. That approach, which was built on the foundation that an employee’s health is her own concern, now seems outdated and could potentially cause harm. As we learn more about how our team members’ health affects everything from team productivity to decisions about leaving your company, it’s important to recognize that we can do better. A more enlightened and effective approach may be to intentionally create psychologically safe work environments where people feel comfortable using their talents to their full ability. Let’s take a look at how.
Why is Mental Health So Important in the Workplace?
According to the Center for Prevention and Health, nearly one in five employees experiences a diagnosable mental health condition – these mental health challenges then cost employers somewhere between $79 and $105 billion in medical expenses each year. When you also factor in points like reduced productivity and high levels of absenteeism, it should be a no-brainer that improving the mental health environment of the workplace should be a top priority for any organization that wants to perform at its best.
And while workplace strategies aren’t a magic solution that will remedy all mental health challenges for your team members, helping your employees build resilience, participate in gratitude and other mental health coping strategies certainly can make a major difference for many members of your team.
How Can You Create a Mentally Healthy Workplace?
Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your workplace is as psychologically safe and mentally healthy as possible.
Talk About Mental Health
Gone are the days when everyone pretends to be OK, no matter what’s going on in their life. As a business leader, one of the most powerful steps you can take toward encouraging mental health within your organization is to talk about it. This includes being clear that you care about your team’s mental health, along with being willing and open to discuss any mental health concerns or challenges you may face. Doing so gives your team permission to be open with their own concerns and instills a sense of psychological safety within your group. When your team members know you won’t judge them or try to push them out of the group because of mental health concerns, they are more likely to seek treatment, like from an online therapy provider, and eventually get to a positive outcome.
Support Work-Life Balance
We’ve all heard the praise for the team member who consistently shows up to work early, stays late, responds to outreach in the evenings and cuts short their vacations for the good of the company. But research now shows us that this is unhealthy, even dangerous behavior that can greatly diminish an employee’s quality of life. Make sure you’re setting an expectation for a healthy work-life balance by respecting the boundaries of an employee’s life and time outside of the workplace. And – even more powerful is when you model these kinds of healthy boundaries as well. If you’re both encouraging your employees to pursue a rich and meaningful life outside of work and modeling that kind of life yourself, it can be a powerful support for good mental health within your organization.
Prioritize Wellness – And Make It Easy
Mental health and physical healthy are more closely related than we ever imagined. Putting programs and policies in place that make it easy for your team to pursue their overall sense of wellness is key for supporting their mental health. Consider offering incentives to employees who participate in gym memberships, yoga classes, meditation activities, or other wellness-related programming. And if you can offer any wellness programming on-site for your team, all the better. When you engage in these types of practices, you make it easier for your team to start and maintain good mental and physical health habits.
In addition, your organization should have a well-organized and well-publicized Employee Assistance Program that provides services through many different platforms to engage individual preferences.
Invest in Culture Change
Many organizations have toxic cultures that put unrealistic expectations on their team members. This approach can not only exacerbate existing mental health conditions, but it also may cause mental health challenges to develop. Your first step as a business leader is to determine whether you have this type of culture. Invest in employee engagement surveys, talk to team members and leaders and get a clear, dispassionate picture of the kind of environment your team is dealing with. Depending on what you find out, you can take practical steps to change the way your team is working.
Small steps might include incorporating flexibility and remote work wherever possible, closing for one day a week during the summer, instituting a policy of no after-hours emails or calls unless for an emergency, designating no-meeting days and protecting the vacation time of your team members. Once you start talking with your team and measuring their engagement, you’ll have a better idea of the culture changes that will be meaningful to them.
Supporting mental health in the workplace isn’t just a nice-to-have for today’s business leaders – it’s a must-have. Putting the time, effort and resources into creating a mentally healthy environment for your team is the right thing to do, and it also has tremendous benefits for your business. In contrast, failing to address employee mental health can have dire consequences.
In fact, a World Economic Forum/Harvard School of Public Health study has estimated that mental health conditions could reach a cumulative global impact of $16.3 trillion by 2030 in terms of lost economic output. That is – unless business leaders step up to provide a new way of working and a new, healthier type of work environment. If you’ll start today by taking some of the small steps outlined here, we’re confident you’re up to the challenge.