In the past, most employers thought that mental health was a “personal and private matter”, and not in the purview of leaders to become involved in an employee’s depression, learning disability, addiction, anxiety, among other matters of mental health.
Today, we know better. We know that work plays a vital role in a person’s overall wellness. We know that workplace practices that support good mental health have tremendous positive outcomes for the organization and the individual.
Here are six tips for promoting mental health at work.
1 – Add meaning to the four-letter word WORK.
When employees lack purpose in their role, they may disconnect or disengage from work – and yet all positions have a purpose that can be highlighted. Employees who don’t feel their purpose at work suffer from more depression and take more sick leave. (Lost Connections, Chapter 6: Disconnection from Meaningful Work, Johann Hari).
Employers can demonstrate an employee’s value by:
- Providing examples of the ways in which the employee’s work positively impacts the organization as a whole (e.g. “By doing X, you enabled us to do X. Your work matters and we are grateful for what you do.”);
- Offering public recognition and praise for a job well done by sending an email to the entire team;
- Taking the time to verbally acknowledge an employee for going above and beyond by saying “I notice you did _______, thank you for that”.
2 – Create opportunities for personal connections.
Remote work is becoming increasingly more common, and people often work alone behind a computer all day. A lack of personal interaction and one-on-one communication can lead to increased loneliness and depression.
Employers can encourage personal connections by:
- Organizing volunteer opportunities for employees to attend together (e.g. spending a lunch hour cleaning up a local park);
- Scheduling meetings in-person instead of virtually, and allowing time for networking and relatability before and/or after those meetings;
- Hosting team building activities such as a team lunch or outing.
3 – Define a time and space for technology.
The internet, social media and gaming are all amazing – but they’re also addictive and may impact mental health. While people believe they are “connected” in cyberspace, there remains the human need to be connected – to see and hear each other as social beings. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, excessive tech use can deepen depression and anxiety.
Employers can encourage a healthy dose of technology by:
- Discussing and setting limits around technology-based work (e.g.: hours of email from home);
- Teaching respectful workplace communication to promote a healthy workplace (e.g. training leaders on the types of conversations that should occur in-person);
- Recognizing the signs of tech addiction when it encroaches on emotional wellness.
4 – Promote personal wellness.
Healthy eating, regular exercise and sustainable sleeping habits are all known contributors to positive mental health.
Employers can support personal wellness by:
- Coordinating group activities such as lunchtime yoga and outdoor walking groups;
- Providing healthy snacks throughout the work week;
- Setting reasonable performance expectations that don’t consistently encroach on sleep and wellness (e.g. setting unrealistic deadlines that
require an employee to work late nights to get their work done).
5 – Make it OK to talk about mental health.
There has long been a stigma surrounding mental health. To breakthrough that barrier, employers can demonstrate openness in thoughts, dialogue, and business practices. In doing so, you’ll build a culture of support enabling teams to thrive together and achieve top results.
Employers can encourage a culture of support by:
- Training leaders on how to show care and understanding for mental wellness through actions and conversations;
- Teaching employees how to recognize signs of mental illness and how to use respectful language to reduce words that hurt;
- Offering resources to employees who may be struggling with mental health;
- Show support for an employee that is suffering.
6 – Recognize, respond and guide.
These are the three actions taught in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. MHFA can be offered to an employee until the appropriate treatment is identified. It focuses on identifying changes in behaviour (recognize), having a confidential discussion (respond) and providing the appropriate resources and support (guide). Employers can explore MHFA training here.
Additional workshops and training opportunities for employers on the subject of mental health:
- Charting Progress: Navigating Psychological Safety in the Workplace, Conference Board of Canada
- Being a Mindful Employee: An orientation to psychological health and safety in the workplace, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
- Mental Health Works Workshops, a division of the Canadian Mental Health Association
- Mental Health Courses and Related Specialisms, offered by the Association for Psychological Therapies (Canada)