Making Mental Health a Priority in the Workplace

Making Mental Health a Priority in the Workplace

07/25/22 Laura Gibbons

Being thrusted into a pandemic gave little time for employers and employees to prepare for what was to come. COVID-19 was unlike other events because it was on-going, not a single event, and impacted both our personal and professional lives in a way we may have never experienced before. We constantly had to try to figure out what the next normal – rather than a new normal – would be with things ever-changing and uncertain.

As we have passed the two year mark with many restrictions lifted, employees returning to the office, and individuals resuming normal activities, many are regaining some sense of normalcy, while others may still be feeling the effects of COVID.

With COVID putting a strain on our personal and professional lives, it did put a spotlight on the importance of mental health across the country and worldwide. Although most companies and organizations have some resources in place, COVID really put an emphasis on making mental health a priority in the workplace.

Over these last few years, Mental Health America (MHA) studied what employees were experiencing and what they need to feel a workplace is a safe and welcoming environment, especially for those who have mental health concerns.

It is likely not surprising that reports of stress among employees rose significantly, as well as people reporting higher rates of anxiety and depression. And in 2021, burnout and resignations were reported at all-time high rates in the United States.

Managers and supervisors are key to a healthy workplace. Mental Health America’s (MHA) Mind the Workplace studies (2021 & 2022) highlighted what employees identify as a safe and welcoming workplace, especially when dealing with mental health concerns:

Emotional support to manage stress
COVID highlighted the importance of empathetic and compassionate leadership, but these skills are not just for a time of crisis like a pandemic but principals of leadership to promote employee well-being.  Observing and listening to employees to help identify stressors whether it is unrealistic expectations, heavy workload, not scheduling time off or breaks, or not being treated respectfully by peers, the supervisor and employee can actively work together on a strategy that will have a positive impact.

Regular check-ins
Regular check-ins with employees are a more proactive approach to help supervisors better understand employee needs and provide the appropriate support before real issues grow. Often times, employees won’t initiate a conversation or don’t feel they have permission to discuss what’s going on with them or what may not be going well at work. Having regular check-ins provides the expectation that this is the employee’s permitted space to discuss concerns or needs and encouraging bi-directional feedback. If an employee shares they are having some personal concerns, it is an opportunity to refer them to the  EAP.

Encouraging employees to talk to their supervisors about changing job stressors

Perceiving management as approachable and supportive is crucial. When employees feel empowered to initiate conversations about work stressors, responsibilities, workload, accommodations or leave request for a mental or other health concerns, are factors in employees feeling they are in an emotionally safe environment which can help foster resilience

Making resources accessible
It is important to ensure that employees know where to access information (and make it easy to find) on mental health services when they may be struggling. Training supervisors on available resources allows them to identify and refer employees to helpful resources when in need. And organizations maintaining an ongoing communication plan about programs, services, and confidentiality is vital to employees accessing and feeling comfortable using company services for a mental health concern.

Feeling acknowledged and accepted
Inclusive environments are important to employee well-being. People want to be seen and feel valued. Not only were we dealing with COVID but also social injustices and social unrest. These experiences individually or together were traumatic for folks. It is important to understand the importance of inclusiveness and that having inclusive environments are safe environments. Whether someone is experiencing a mental health concern, or is part of a vulnerable population, everyone should feel their workplace is a safe, respectful, and welcoming place for all, especially during heightened times.

Supervisors and managers are ultimately people managers. Building trust, respect, and appreciation is important to creating a healthy and supportive workplace culture that helps employees better manage their stress and feel more motivated and engaged to perform their jobs well.

The EAP is a helpful resource for both managers and employees to create a positive, productive, and healthy workforce.

Sources: Mental Health America’s Mind the Workplace Report 2021 & Mind the Workplace Report 2022.

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