Making Your Workplace Mentally Healthy

Melissa Boles

Have you ever taken a mental health day from work? Don’t worry—you’re not alone. According to a report from Harvard Business Review, over 200 million workdays are lost due to dealing with mental health challenges, and that was before Covid-19 began. Now? It’s an even bigger issue.

So what does that mean for you?

Regardless of what role you play in the workplace, knowing how to talk about mental health and support those dealing with mental health problems will be important for creating a psychologically safe workplace. And we can help you do that.

Where do I start?

Whether you’re navigating your own mental health in the workplace or trying to help your employees (or both!), it’s always good to start at the beginning. While the term “mental health” is relatively broad—“mental health” can refer to everything from depression, stress, and anxiety to behavioral health issues and even substance abuse—workplace mental health is less about the definition of the illnesses your team might be facing and more about how you create an environment that is safe and accessible for them, regardless of their diagnosis.

Some of the biggest contributors to poor mental health in the workplace are the work environment, whether or not someone feels secure in their job, and how they can balance their home and work life. As an individual, it is your responsibility to do everything you can to set your own mental health up for success, but there is only so much you can do about your own stress in a toxic work environment. That’s why the values of the company and where the company is going are so important.

Check out our interview with GaryVee in Barbara Corcoran's book club.

In Gary Vaynerchuk’s Twelve and a Half, he discusses the importance of being transparent with his employees, and whether that’s about why he hired someone, why the company is struggling, or what the company’s goals are, Gary knows that most employees want and need to know what is happening at the company in order to function successfully. It’s the basis of your entire environment, and if your employees don’t know your values and goals, how can they feel connected to the workplace or safe in their environment?

Take Gary’s advice and start by making sure your team knows the values of your company, where the company is headed, and why you want them there. Giving them a solid structure to build upon is going to make handling crises (both company-wide and personally) much easier.

Mental health support isn’t one size fits all

Every person you work with is going to have a different mental health experience. Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive, said, “There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.” Don’t assume one person’s mental health response is normal and another person’s isn’t. For many years, people have avoided talking about depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues to avoid the stigma that is often associated with mental illness. We’re still learning a lot about how people deal with mental health issues. Laying the groundwork for a successful company overall, giving your team the tools they need, and modeling a healthy work environment that is stigma-free can go a long way.

As an employer, laying the groundwork for your company isn’t just about saying that you support mental health—you have to show it, too. That means ensuring that your healthcare covers mental health appointments, allowing your employees to take mental health days (or whatever kind of days off they need, regardless of whether they’re dealing with illness) with their PTO, and openly discussing mental wellness in your values. That last one can seem kind of scary, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s all about how you talk about it.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s Mindset teaches readers that a growth mindset helps you be your best self, and that’s even more true when it comes to mental health.

“The more depressed people with the growth mindset felt (short of severe depression), the more they took action to confront their problems, the more they made sure to keep up with their schoolwork, and the more they kept up with their lives. The worse they felt, the more determined they became!” -Dr. Carol Dweck, Mindset

Having a growth mindset can make coping with mental health issues easier. If you’re focused on growth, even the tough moments seem manageable.

Modeling a growth mindset isn’t difficult, but it does take some work. If your team isn’t already operating with a growth mindset, it’s time to change that. By communicating with your team that the organization values learning and perseverance, and then showing that by having managers and leaders available as learning resources and providing feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success, you’re able to exhibit a growth mindset every day. Working in that environment allows your team to practice operating in a growth mindset, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them.

As much as we wish we could guarantee that operating from a growth mindset makes every mental health problem go away, it doesn’t. The people you work with (and maybe even you!) can deal with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues even if they have a growth mindset. But don’t be discouraged! Your company operating from a growth mindset will show them that they are safe with your team, even when they’re experiencing stress or struggling with their mental health, because the team believes more in who they are capable of being than what they are struggling with at the moment. And that’s huge.

Resources, Resources, Resources

You’ve got transparency about your values and goals, you have healthy policies in place, and you’ve got the right mindset. But people are still struggling. That can be frustrating, we totally get it. So what do you do?

Providing the right resources for your team all year long makes any mental health struggle— whether it’s seasonal depression, anxiety about a particular moment at work, or something they deal with every day—that much easier. It’s more than just offering mental health treatment through your insurance, though. It’s about accessible resources every day.

Here are some of our favorite resources, ones we hope will inspire you to make sure your employees have what they need:

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) - According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an EAP “is a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee's performance.” How you implement this is up to you, but it can often be connected to your healthcare plan. An EAP can offer additional mental health support, and it can offer support for the things that might be impacting someone’s mental health (financial management, child or elder care, and relationship challenges are just a few examples).
  • Mental Health First Aid - This national program teaches your employees to recognize the signs of those struggling with mental health problems, and gives them the tools they need to get someone with poor mental health the appropriate help.
  • Crisis Hotlines - The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a national hotline that anyone can use if they are struggling, and they can be contacted via call, text, or even email. There is also the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and we recommend doing some research on hotlines local to your state, county, or city. Having contact information for these hotlines (whether somewhere on your company’s cloud or in the breakroom if you’re in person) could save someone’s life.
  • A Mental Health Library - You didn’t think you’d get all the way through this without us mentioning books, did you? Whether it’s an in-person library or a list of potential books to read for your remote team, putting together a mental health library is a great way to show your team that you take their mental health seriously and want to break the stigma around talking about mental health (and yes, it can also include links to important articles!). Get started with our list of mental health books, but don’t be afraid to add the ones you’ve learned from or ask your employees for their recommendations!

Creating a psychologically safe work environment is one of the most important things you can do to keep your team healthy. After the Covid-19 pandemic, providing the necessary resources and support for your team is more important than ever. Whether you’re bringing your team back to the office or keeping them remote, your team will need support to balance work and life and stay mentally healthy. We know you can do it, and we can’t wait to see your team thrive.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to support your team as a Leader now that Covid-19 has changed the way we work, download our latest guide: Leadership & COVID-19: How to Support & Empower Your Team.

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