Once upon a time, people in the workplace had "water cooler chats." They'd head to the office kitchen, grab a cup of water, and cross paths with a colleague. They'd chat about their day or vent about a stressful situation. It was a natural and easy way to relieve stress and establish relationships with coworkers. But today, with remote or hybrid work, open floor plans, and eyes that barely ever leave screens, it's hard to have those candid conversations.
Moreover, since the pandemic, the stressors of work and everyday life have only increased, affecting job performance and overall mental health. About one in five people in the US live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That means that if it isn't you who is currently suffering from a mental health issue, it could easily be a co-worker.
But employers that provide resources and awareness of mental health in the workplace can contribute to a better work environment, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). With the right initiatives, employers can provide a safe space for employees to discuss mental health openly and make positive change.
Let's dive into seven actionable ways to raise awareness in the workplace about mental wellbeing.
- Educate Employees on Mental Wellness Issues
Mental health education is crucial to remove the stigma around it and provide a safe and supportive work environment. Through training sessions, seminars, and workshops, your staff can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.
Understanding the signs is vital, as only 40% of employees feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with managers, according to a study by Mind Share Partners. Effective education can help workers identify when a colleague needs help, especially for those less likely to share their challenges with others.
- Create a Work Buddy System
With a buddy system, pairs of employees (or small groups) can sync up for weekly conversations about work-related stress or other mental health topics. Taking a break with a coworker to talk through problems, whether you're facing them in your work or personal life, is good for the soul. It helps people connect, share their experiences, learn from each other, and gain emotional support.
When we connect with others, our brains send out a rush of "happy hormones," causing individuals to feel more relaxed and joyful. With reduced stress levels, we see increasedproductivity and job satisfaction, which can lead to improved retention rates. Yet another win for the buddy system!
- Train Managers
Training managers and supervisors to talk to their teams about mental health is important, because it helps them approach conversations with empathy and listen without judgment.
For example, you could run role-play sessions with real-life scenarios that help them think through how to handle the situation. Let’s say a manager's direct report is stressed or overwhelmed, an appropriate response is unlikely to be: "Just handle it" or "Brush it off." Instead, your leaders can use compassion to support those suffering from poor mental health. "Snap out of it" becomes, "I've been there, and that's tough."
Their willingness to empathize with their direct reports will go a long way in creating an open dialogue around mental health in the workplace. This practice will also help ensure every team member feels heard and cared for, promoting respect and trust throughout the organization.
- Lead by Example
In addition to training, managers can also model healthy behaviors to their team. For example, despite having a very busy workday, managers who take adequate breaks show employees that it's not only okay but encouraged to prioritize their wellbeing.
Supervisors can also set boundaries regarding working after hours or on weekends. Or they can share stories about self-care activities outside of the workplace. When managers openly talk about how they care for their mental health, they inspire others to do the same.
- Implement Policies that Promote Employee Wellbeing
Another way to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace is to implement policies and benefits that specifically address mental wellness challenges. This indicates to your team that it's an important issue in your company, and you're doing what you can to reduce workplace stress.
Policies you can implement to highlight the importance of mental health awareness include:
- Healthcare benefits that cover therapy sessions.
- Unlimited paid time off to step away from work, take care of personal matters, and recharge.
- Consistent employee feedback and recognition from managers to maintain morale and show appreciation.
- Flexible work hours, remote working options, or compressed work weeks to better balance their work and personal responsibilities.
- Realistic workload limits to manage stress and prevent burnout.
- Collaborate with Mental Health Organizations and Experts
Partnering with mental health experts such as counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists can benefit employees dealing with complex emotional issues or mental struggles. You can collaborate with these professionals to offer Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs), or which are optional programs at work that can involve assessments, short-term counseling, follow-up services for professional problems, and referrals.
You can also team up with these experts to present inspiring stories or host viewings of films related to mental wellbeing. These events can help make mental and emotional health more resonant among your staff, opening up new and meaningful conversations.
A Ripple Effect of Benefits
Mental health is a cornerstone of being able to thrive emotionally and physically. And everyone benefits when employees are well — not only are they happier and healthier, but companies that support workforce wellness see a positive return on investment from their programs thanks to increased productivity, lower turnover, and reduced healthcare costs.
If you want to offer more resources to improve your employees' mental, emotional, and physical wellness, Gympass can help. Speak to a wellbeing specialist today!
- Advances in recovery research: What have we learned? What should be done next? (2017). APA PsycNet. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-14293-001.
- Are Healthier Workers More Productive? Science Says Yes! (July 3, 2019). Start Us Magazine. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://magazine.startus.cc/healthier-workers-productive-science-says-yes/.
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP). U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://www.opm.gov/frequently-asked-questions/work-life-faq/employee-assistance-program-eap/what-is-an-employee-assistance-program-eap/.
- Mental Illness. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.
- New Study From Mind Share Partners In Partnership With Qualtrics And ServiceNow: Employee Mental Health Challenges Now Impact The Majority Of U.S. Workers—Persisting Longer And Pushing More Employees To Leave Their Jobs. (October 4, 2021). Businesswire. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20211004005534/en/New-Study-From-Mind-Share-Partners-In-Partnership-With-Qualtrics-And-ServiceNow-Employee-Mental-Health-Challenges-Now-Impact-The-Majority-Of-U.S.-Workers%E2%80%94Persisting-Longer-And-Pushing-More-Employees-To-Leave-Their-Jobs.
- The American workforce faces compounding pressure: APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey results. (2021). American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-well-being/compounding-pressure-2021.
- What are happy hormones and how do they improve your life? (November 23, 2022). BetterUp. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://www.betterup.com/blog/what-are-happy-hormones.
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.