Mental health issues in the workplace can be an expensive problem for both employees and companies. Employers need to provide effective tools for promoting mental well-being that go beyond simply checking off boxes on a “healthy workplace” form.
Comprehensive workplace mental health programs are growing increasingly common. There is still much work to be done; our studies show that 42 percent of employees with a diagnosed mental health condition hide this information from their employers out of fear of harassment or discrimination. What steps can improve this situation and alleviate these employees’ fears?
1) Use Flexible Scheduling To Accommodate Individual Needs
Every individual’s mind is different. Stress and other problems impact each person in a unique way, and a “one size fits all” approach to mental health is doomed to failure. Managers need the flexibility and diverse tools available to craft mental health support solutions that are individualized for the needs of each of their team members.
Mental health problems affect corporate productivity in many different ways according to therapists Clarity Clinic. Two of the biggest problems to watch out for are absenteeism and “presenteeism” – when struggling employees arrive for work with an attitude that steers them toward minimal productivity.
Giving employees the opportunity to work to a more flexible schedule can be a literal lifesaver when mental health issues arise. Whether the individual employee needs time off or the opportunity to work from home, flexibility in this area can salvage the employee’s productivity and let them continue to make a useful contribution where a less-flexible schedule might lead them to burn out.
2) Promoting Cognitive Hygiene
Morneau Shepell has recently issued a white paper touting the benefits of “cognitive hygiene.” It concerns managing negative thoughts in order to preserve good mental health.
In the workplace, cognitive hygiene can be encouraged by promoting skills like meditation, mindfulness, and work/life balance. Addressing these concepts meaningfully can create a safety net and make employees more capable of dealing with challenging situations. Managers should give their teams the time and skills necessary to address cognitive hygiene on a day-to-day basis in order to protect their mental health.
As an example, employees might be struggling with the negative impact that working overtime has on the work/life balance. You should provide employees with both strategies for mitigating this negative impact and the opportunities to use them.
Taking small but regular steps to promote better mental wellbeing can make a surprisingly large impact. Encourage these sorts of small adjustments to improve work/life balance: Let employees leave promptly at quitting time, or emphasize the importance of taking a full lunch break without any professional concerns intruding on the employee’s time.
3) Create Safe Break Spaces
When Salesforce fitted out a new headquarters in San Francisco, they called for a dedicated meditation room on every floor of the building. These spaces for mindfulness give employees a place to find quiet, relax, and decompress.
Many businesses have experienced positive results from offering employees “safe spaces” where they can turn away from the challenges of their work. These places can be powerful stress-busting tools for every member of the team, and they don’t need to be particularly lavish in order to deliver real benefits.
Any company can find the space and budget to set aside an area for mental health breaks. Both indoor and outdoor spaces can serve effectively in this role. As long as employees have a place where they know they can take a proper break, the space will have a positive impact on mental health.
4) De-Stigmatize Mental Health In The Workplace
Mental health issues still carry a potent taboo in many social interactions. Employees need to feel comfortable discussing mental health without fear of negative reactions.
A network of mental health champions throughout your organization can do a lot to make the workplace more open and receptive to mental health concerns. These champions need to be equipped with effective tools for supporting employee mental health and to be open to discussing these tools with anyone who needs them.
At a more formal level, businesses can build mental health support into an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP. The purpose of an EAP is to connect struggling employees with professional and confidential support from experts in dealing with health, mental issues, social problems, and other challenges.
5) Give Managers Effective “Trigger” Training
According to research, one in three managers admit that they are not as effective as they’d like to be at detecting mental health problems. Better training can improve this situation and equip managers with the tools they need to keep staff relationships positive and safeguard their team members from mental health issues.
Mental health training should go past crisis reactions and teach managers how to spot “triggers” that indicate effective, ongoing mental health support is appropriate.
In order to disseminate these lessons effectively throughout your management team, offer flexible training measures to fit different schedules. Some managers learn best from focused one or two-day courses, while others may learn everything they need from a shorter workday session. Make mental health training available in an ongoing, easy-to-access form to ensure the information is shared as widely as possible.
Promoting better mental health in the workplace is just one part of an overall culture of health. Your employees deserve access to both reactive and preventative mental health tools. There is no single guaranteed step that can safeguard every employee’s mental wellbeing; what is needed is a consistent top-down commitment to investing in a broad range of support mechanisms.