Work environments have a substantial impact on mental health, just as mental wellness impacts productivity and teamwork. The Workplace Health Survey found that 80% of U.S. employees attribute workplace stress to affecting relationships and 35% miss 3 to 5 days of work per month due to stress.
Employment can offer people sense of purpose, accomplishment, belonging, structure, and stability. But at the same time, work environments can also become toxic with disempowerment, added personal stress, poor communication, bullying or harassment. Everyone is different, with different experiences in and outside of work that fall beyond the purview of an employer; however, there is a lot a manager can do to help prevent mental health triggers in the workplace and to preserve and support the wellness of employees.
Create an environment that promotes wellness.
While there are many factors that contribute to a person’s overall mental health, work environments have a significant impact. There are some obvious ways that a work environment can promote or reduce stress, such as good communication, continuous feedback that includes both constructive criticism and positive acknowledgment, work-life balance initiatives, and flexible working hours.
To further hone in on mental health, include a mental health statement of commitment in employee handbooks and human resources materials. Make sure to communicate this statement during the onboarding process and consider periodic presentations or discussions on mental health and wellness. Ensure you have a well-established policy and procedure for cases of harassment and bullying; consider using an external consultancy group to assist coming up with nonbiased decisions in cases where employees may need mediation or in the case an employee should be subject to penalties or being asked to leave.
De-stigmatize mental health and wellness.
Many employees try to hide mental health issues from their employers and coworkers which can lead to feelings of isolation, guilt or shame, and can delay or prevent them from addressing their struggle. Establish openness and promise of confidentiality (except in extreme cases that could result in physical harm to the employee or someone else), to discuss any issues. At the same time, make it clear that employees can ask for help or accommodations for a mental health issue with no questions asked or prodding on your part. Provide a list of resources in public domains (break rooms, internal newsletters)- consider looking in your community for counseling service referrals, AA groups, and/or free group therapies. A leader can break the silence even more by publicly discussing a personal situation in which they had to cope with mental or emotional struggles.
Notice the signs.
Be aware of the signs of mental illness or emotional struggles at work. Some signs include changes in behavior, shortened temper, trouble concentrating, confusing ideas and thoughts, changes in eating habits, reduced social interaction, apathy in work that once was important to the individual, and increased tardiness and absences.
Start the conversation.
Weekly one-on-ones with employees can help prevent mental health issues by allowing you to adapt tasks and listen to employee goals and needs. At the same time, regular check-ins give you the opportunity to notice if an employee starts showing the signs of a mental health issue or behaviors change. Through your established rapport, you can start the talk to an employee if you notice signs of struggle, without setting up a surprise meeting which may seem accusatory or isolating.
Begin the conversation by expressing your concerns about their wellness. Do not jump to conclusions or make any diagnoses or accusations. Ask open questions to see if there is some way you can help or make any adjustments. End the conversation by referring the employee to HR or an occupational psychologist.
Good communication and an open environment can also help you learn simple ways and stay proactive keep employees well—being flexible with work hours so they can partake in counseling or meditation, intervening in cases of bullying or harassment, changing some aspects of the physical environment, ensuring employee benefits plans include coverage for mental health service, satisfy employee needs and requests for recognition, more growth opportunities, and progressively more authority. If you have the power to make a simple change for your employee that can make a big different, then make it simple for them to voice their issues. Consider keeping a box where employees can put anonymous questions or concerns about issues in the workplace affecting mental health.
For more information to share with your employees, including helpline numbers, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.