How to support mental health in the workplace: now and always

Stéphanie Grawehr October 13, 2021

In this post:

What is employee mental health? How supporting mental health in the workplace can benefit your business How to support mental health in the workplace Take this opportunity to invest in workplace mental health

The conversation around Mental Health has been on the rise in recent years, as people are being encouraged more and more to discuss topics related to mental wellbeing. This was the situation before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only heightened the need and urgency to put a focus on mental wellbeing, as the situation has, and continues to, impact people all over the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health concerns arising from the global pandemic are mainly related to:

  • Fear, worry and stress related to health and uncertainty more broadly.
  • Significant changes to our daily lives (restricted movement, working from home, new sanitary measures, insecure employment, childcare and limited physical contact).

It almost goes without saying that global citizens have had to adapt to significant changes to their workplaces this year. Estimates indicate that:

  • As much as 40% of full-time workers in the European Union (EU) started working remotely as a result of the pandemic. This was only the case with 5.4% of the workforce in 2019. 
  • These statistics are consistent with findings in the United States, showing as many as two-thirds of American employees working from home due to COVID-19, compared to around 7% beforehand.

Essential workers are mostly excluded from these work-from-home statistics, but their workplaces have also certainly been turned upside down due to the global pandemic. Defined as people who are employed in industries related to public health & safety, essential products and infrastructure support, essential workers have faced severe workplace changes and stresses in 2020. A Center for Disease Control & Prevention study found that more than half of essential workers struggled with mental concerns in 2020 — 25% more than the general population.

Without a doubt, these statistics are concerning. However, they also offer workplaces a golden opportunity to support their employees’ mental health in a meaningful way, whether they’re working remotely or on the front lines. Investing in workplace mental health is a win-win in the short and long-term: it brings tangible benefits to your business, improves employee productivity, satisfaction and retention and sets a positive example in your professional community.

What is employee mental health?

The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the mental stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

The WHO also emphasizes that mental health is about more than the absence of mental disorders, but rather people’s overall state of mental well-being. This is what makes supporting mental health in the workplace so important, it applies to everyone.

How supporting mental health in the workplace can benefit your business

Many employers have trouble determining where their mental health responsibilities begin and end, especially with much of their staff working remotely. However, a recent study by the Robert Walters group showed that 99% of employers and 97% of workers agree that businesses are responsible for supporting their employees’ mental health.

Employers should also be aware that investing in workplace mental health has been shown to tangibly benefit businesses. Consider the following examples:

1. Improved employee performance & productivity

Put simply, employees that are in a good state of mental health work more effectively and produce better results. It goes without saying that no one is at their most productive when trying to soldier through a difficult period without adequate support!Who needs to be involved?

Businesses with mental health action plans see benefits such as increased achievement of workplace goals, minimized productivity loss and higher numbers of total hours worked over time. This is largely due to a reduction in presenteeism, absenteeism, and compensation claims, which, for example, a 2014 study found cost Australian companies a whopping $11 billion per year.

2. Reduced absences

Poor mental health leads to employees needing to take more time off. In fact, evidence suggests that 12.7% of sick days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, making them one of the main causes of workplace absences. Having strong mental health support in the workplace can help prevent this.

3. Increased employee morale & retention

Happy employees are better workers, easier to collaborate with and contribute to a more positive professional environment. They’re also more likely to stay with your company for longer, allowing you to retain talent and develop an experienced team with minimal turnover. This is especially relevant nowadays as Mind Share Partners’ 2019 Mental Health at Work report revealed that 50% of millennials had left jobs for mental health reasons.

4. Financial savings

Poor mental health ends up costing companies money, and lots of it. Tellingly, a 2020 Health & Safety Executive study found that better mental health in the workplace has the ability to save businesses up to £8 billion per year. Bell Canada also reported that every dollar invested in mental health programs had a return-on-investment (ROI) of $4.10 in 2018. Similarly, a 2014 Australian study calculated an average ROI of 2.3 for companies that invested in mental health initiatives across various industries and actions.

5. Increased professional development and engagement

There’s a significant link between mental health and sense of purpose in the workplace. When workers feel like their work is truly meaningful, their sense of well-being improves. They’re also more likely to feel engaged, prioritise professional development activities, and make useful professional contributions that ultimately benefit everyone involved.

How to support mental health in the workplace

Just like there’s no quick fix for mental health, there’s no quick fix for supporting employee mental health. Nevertheless, there’s a limitless amount of ideas, initiatives and techniques out there that can help support and promote mental health in professional environments.

Check out some of our favourite ideas below, then do some brainstorming and pilot some initiatives to figure out what will work best for your company.

1. Connect with nonprofits & other organisations that focus on mental health.

If you don’t know where to start when investing in mental health in your workplace, this is a great option.

Connect with nonprofits and organisations that focus on mental health and ask them if they’d be open to making a presentation to your leadership team to give them ideas and guidance regarding company-wide mental health initiatives. They might even be willing to make a presentation to your employees about mental health in general. This is also a great option for remote teams as everything can be organized online.

Some examples include Mental Health Europe, Mind and the European Network for Workplace Health Promotion.

2. Promote small actions that improve mental health & well-being

This is another ideal initiative for remote or spread out professional teams as employees can participate no matter where they’re located: at home, in the office or on the front lines.

Encourage employees to complete tasks or challenges that support mental health every week, or even every day. They can be done as a team or individually. Motivate employees to participate even further by assigning points to these tasks or encouraging them to share their experiences on social media or platforms like Alaya.

Check out these ideas of small actions that support mental health. Provide a variety of choices, as these challenges work best if they align with employees’ individual personalities and senses of purpose:

  • Volunteering for a charitable cause in your community.
  • Disconnecting from electronics for 2 hours before you go to sleep.
  • Going for a 15-minute walk during your work day.
  • Writing in a gratitude journal every evening for a week.
  • Participating in a fun fitness challenge like Alaya’s recent cold water swim team activity.

3. Set up policies & resources for mental health support

Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Establish tangible policies and resources in your workplace that provide employees with effective tools to use if they’re struggling with mental health. At least some of these tools should provide a degree of anonymity, as mental health issues are not easy for most to talk about.

  • Provide flexible working hours or the opportunity to take full or half days off for mental health reasons, no questions asked.
  • Establish policies where employees can use a certain amount of working hours for actions mentioned above (like going to the gym, volunteering in their community or participating in team-building events).
  • Create a list of mental health resources (like nurse hotlines or counsellors) that employees can call if they need support. Make sure employees know where they can find this list.
  • Thinking long-term, implement mental health sabbaticals that employees can take after working with your company for a certain amount of time.
  • Organize company-wide days off, events and/or retreats periodically.
  • Consider putting together employee recreational sports teams or organizing other fun staff events.
  • Encourage employees to stay active by providing stipends for gym memberships, negotiating a discounted rate with a gym in your community or investing in shower facilities (in the case of offices) so that employees can bike or jog to work or take an active lunch break.
  • Help employees align themselves with their professional purpose by investing in professional and personal development activities.
  • Send employees periodic, anonymous mental health and general well-being surveys and take their feedback seriously.
  • Implement policies regarding working hours (as well as breaks throughout the day), and help employees stick to a reasonable schedule.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate employee successes like promotions and anniversaries.
  • Publicly own the fact that your company cares about employee mental health and talk about it.

Remember, supporting mental health in the workplace should maximize your employees’ overall sense of well-being, help them feel connected with themselves, their peers and their community, and encourage them to find a sense of deeper purpose in their day to day lives. For more information on how investing in employee purpose is beneficial for your business, click here.

Take this opportunity to invest in workplace mental health

The pandemic has presented challenges for many, but let’s take it as a golden opportunity to prioritize mental health in the workplace and set a high standard for the years to come.

Strong employee well-being and mental health leads to tangible benefits for businesses, improves overall employee attitudes, morale, purpose and retention and sets a great example for your professional community. Really, everyone wins when mental health is prioritised in the workplace.

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to prioritising mental health support in your workplace, explore some of the ideas covered here and determine what aligns best with your business.

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