How to Make Your Workplace a Safe Space to Talk About Mental Health was originally published on Ivy Exec.
Mental health talk is taboo in too many workplaces, even though the World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of working-age adults struggle with a mental disorder at one point or another.
Not only do mental health issues take a toll on employees’ well-being, but they also affect business. The impact on productivity from depression and anxiety alone costs the global economy about $1 trillion each year.
After all, employees spend a significant portion of their lives working.
Fortunately, in recent years, the dialogue surrounding mental health has sort of shifted, breaking through barriers of stigma and silence.
Here are some of the many reasons why mental health is so important for employees and businesses at large – as well as how to make your workplace a safe space to talk about it.
Why is mental health at work so important?
Mental health plays a critical role in the overall well-being and productivity of your employees. Therefore, recognizing and prioritizing it is essential.
✅ Enhanced productivity.
Employees who have sound mental health are more likely to be focused, engaged, and productive while they’re at work. Most people are better able to concentrate, make thought-through decisions, and get creative and innovative when they feel emotionally stable and supported.
✅ Boosted employee morale.
When employees feel that their well-being is valued, they are more likely to have higher job satisfaction. This is also likely to improve morale, which can boost collaboration, innovation, productivity, and everything else that’s positive.
✅ Decreased workplace conflicts.
When you address mental health concerns at work, you can reduce the potential for conflicts among colleagues. Because everyone feels supported by a culture of empathy and understanding, more open communication and collaboration have the potential to make a positive impact on workplace relationships.
✅ Less absenteeism and presenteeism.
When you prioritize mental health in the workplace, employees are less likely to take side leave due to stress. It can also help you combat presenteeism when employees show up for work but aren’t really all there due to mental health issues.
✅ Prevention of burnout.
People can burn out even when their work piles aren’t so tall. You never know when an employee is battling a silent struggle, such as a mental health issue. Prioritizing mental health and promoting a healthy work-life balance can help employees manage their workload effectively and avoid burnout.
✅ Greater retention rates.
Endless research shows that employees want to work for employers that acknowledge and respect mental health issues. They want to feel safe and supported. Therefore, work environments that value and support mental health with initiatives, benefits, and developmental opportunities may reduce turnover.
✅ Compliance with legal standards.
In some cases, supporting mental health issues is a legal requirement (let alone ethics).
Not supporting employees with mental health issues could be considered discrimination. By law (the Equality Act of 2010), someone with poor mental health can be considered to be disabled if it has a “substantial adverse effect” on their life (i.e., they regularly can’t focus on tasks); it affects their ability to do their day-to-day activities, or it lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months.
✅ Positive brand image.
Companies that prioritize mental health are often perceived as socially responsible, which can contribute to a positive brand image.
That said, you shouldn’t support mental health just for the reputation; employees know when a company actually cares or it’s just saying so to look good. You may attract talent, but retaining it requires action, not only words.
By recognizing the significance of mental health, you can create a supportive and inclusive work environment that fosters employee engagement, satisfaction, and, ultimately, long-term success. So how do you do it?
Six ways to prioritize mental health in your workplace
Here are six simple ways to foster open and supportive communication surrounding mental health so your employees feel safe speaking up.
1⃣ Normalize conversations about mental health.
Cultivate an open and accepting atmosphere where managers and team leaders open up about their experiences and struggles to lead by example. When they do this, they show their teams that it’s also okay to share openly.
2⃣ Implement initiatives to support mental health.
Putting programs in place – such as seminars about mental health issues, workshops for mindfulness, training sessions to help struggling colleagues, etc. – can empower employees with the resources and tools they need to improve mental health at work.
3⃣ Create clear policies about mental health discrimination.
Establish clear guidelines about mental health issues in the workplace and how they are handled. Therefore, employees can all play a part in reporting discrimination and getting their colleagues who are struggling the help that they need.
4⃣ Train leaders on how to handle mental health issues.
Managers and supervisors should be adept at handling conversations about mental health topics with empathy and understanding.
They should also be well aware of any of the aforementioned policies in place. Companies can equip them with the skills they need to identify signs of distress, offer support, and guide employees to the appropriate resources without judgment or bias.
5⃣ Encourage regular check-ins.
Fostering an open-door policy is key. But not all employees will feel comfortable opening up out of nowhere.
That’s why establishing regular check-in times is also important. Taking the time to sit down with your employees gives them the dedicated space to open up if they’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, burnt out, etc. Regular surveys and feedback sessions are also a good idea.
6⃣ Maintain confidentiality.
If an employee is nervous about opening up about mental health issues, assure them that their concerns are kept confidential. Respecting people’s privacy in the workplace can help them feel safer about opening up, so they do it more.
The bottom line
Mental health is important at work, point blank and period.
By implementing these strategies, you can cultivate a supportive and inclusive work environment that prioritizes your employees’ well-being and pave the way for a more compassionate and resilient workforce.