Nine Ways to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that approximately 80 percent of adults reported difficulty with work due to depression symptoms, costing the global economy an estimated $1 trillion annually in lost productivity. In addition, about 18 percent of adults in the United States have a mental illness in any given year.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), work-related risk factors for mental health include inadequate health and safety policies, poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision-making, low levels of support for employees, inflexible working hours and unclear tasks or organizational objectives.

A study by Mental Health America on work environments, workplace stress, employee engagement and employee benefits found that 80 percent of employees surveyed said workplace stress affected their personal relationships, while 35 percent said they “always” miss 3-5 days per month due to workplace stress. A staggering 65 percent of respondents reported being distracted for more than 30 hours a week due to a hostile work environment.

The good news for businesses is that improving the mental health of employees can decrease absenteeism, encourage retention, increase productivity and reduce healthcare costs.

Leadership in Action

If you’re in a position of leadership where you work, there are several things you can do to foster a workplace that not only addresses mental health issues but helps prevent them.

  1. Talk about mental health.

    This may seem like an obvious point, but discussing mental health in the workplace is sometimes thought of as taboo. A Harvard Business Review study found that only 14 percent of respondents had heard a senior leader talking about the importance of mental health. Encourage employees to ask questions about your company’s mental health policies and/or offer ideas to promote mental well-being.
  2. Educate yourself about mental health.

    Whether or not you’ve experienced mental health issues, as a leader or senior executive it’s important that you know how it can affect your employees. The way you handle it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all solution because each employee is different. Aim to appropriately educate your employees about workplace mental health and how it may affect them, and regularly monitor the wellbeing of your employees.
  3. Train leadership and employees.

    Whether you utilize online tools, guest speakers or other methods, offer your staff training on how to identify mental health issues in the workplace and ways to address them.
  4. Offer resources.

    Some companies already have mental health resources available for employees, while others may need to develop them. Ensure your employees have access to tools and applications, whether online (for anonymity) or through some type of employee assistance program. The American Psychiatric Association offers recommendations for improving access to mental health and substance use care.
  5. Promote a work/life balance.

    Giving your employees ways to better enjoy a balance between work and their personal life can help prevent workplace burnout. This may include offering a flexible work schedule or employing technology that allows them to occasionally work remotely.
  6. Develop, implement and enforce mental health policies.

    Smaller companies may need to create their own policies for dealing with workplace mental health which can be done through researching information from trusted national mental health organizations. If you already have such policies in place, review them regularly and add updates when necessary.
  7. Recognize and reward employees.

    Showing employees they’re appreciated can boost their self-esteem and reduce work-related stress. Ensure employees are recognized and rewarded for their contributions to your company.
  8. Offer peer support programs.

    These programs include providing a way for employees to help each other deal with mental health issues and maintain a less stressful work environment. Some employees may benefit from talking to another employee who has faced similar issues.
  9. Promote employee wellness programs.

    These programs are designed to encourage employees to implement favorable health behaviors and better manage their health. Activities may include fitness challenges, yoga, nutrition counseling, cooking classes and even walking meetings.

To learn more about trends in mental and behavioral health, visit the AMR blog.