Fostering Mental Health in the Workplace

Today is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is mental health in the workplace. One in four Americans will experience a mental illness this year, and in workplaces where stigma prevents employees from recognizing their own symptoms or seeking treatment, the economic cost is staggering for all of us.

Mental illness and substance use disorders cost employers an estimated $225.8 billion dollars in lost productivity and increased accidents each year. These losses not only come from absenteeism, but from lost productivity from employees who show up to work, but are not focused or engaged.

When employers are intentional about addressing mental illness and improving mental health, they see an increase in productivity and a decrease in losses.

So, how can employers improve mental health in the workplace?

  • Encourage mental health breaks. Folks who are able to clear their heads or chat with friends during the work day are ultimately happier and more productive. Friendships are easy to foster and maintain when there are opportunities to eat lunch together or take a short walk across campus. Encourage your team to take a few minutes to themselves throughout the workday so they can recharge—whether it’s a quick walk outside alone, or grabbing a cup of coffee with a teammate.
  • Be open about mental illness. The stigma about mental illness will continue as long as people are afraid to discuss it. If you, as a leader, have a mental illness, you can remind people about self-care by simply mentioning that you see a therapist, or that you do yoga at the suggestion of your counselor. A subtle reminder that it’s okay to have, and treat, mental illness will foster a sense of comfort in the workplace that will make others more likely to open up.
  • Help identify mental health risks. There are online and in-person assessment tools that you can make available to employees so they can learn their risks and symptoms and be proactive before an illness manifests into something that requires missed work or lost productivity. Share these tools with your teams, and they’ll feel motivated to use them.
  • Be accommodating if someone needs treatment for mental illness. When employees have a mental illness, it will often require daytime visits to a therapist. When possible, be flexible in allowing this to happen. Early treatment mitigates most of the problems employees may otherwise experience at work down the line.
  • And, be mindful of the steps you take to make sure your employees stay physically healthy: controlling air quality, temperature, ergonomics of chairs and desks, or the placement of safety features. This same level of care should be in place to help your employees stay mentally healthy.

Change takes time, but these small efforts can make a big difference for employees who may be struggling! Do you have any tips for fostering mental health in the work place? Let us know in the comments.