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Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace: A Guide

A healthy workplace is one in which employees and their leaders actively work together to create a work environment that promotes and protects the health, safety and well-being of all employees. Creating a workplace that recognizes, promotes and acknowledges the importance of positive mental health in the workplace is one of the most important things an employer can do to improve their organization.


This article discusses the importance of mental health in the workplace and how employers can promote workplace mental health throughout their organizations.

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Why is promoting mental health at work important?

Promoting mental health in the workplace and supporting employees who have mental health issues or concerns can have a significant impact on an employee’s job satisfaction and work performance. Here are a few statistics about mental health and the workplace:


  • About 20% of adults (one in five) experience symptoms of a mental illness every year in the U.S.
  • 71% of adults in the U.S. reported having at least one symptom of stress.
  • 61% of respondents reported that their mental health affected their productivity.
  • Between 2014 and 2018, the proportion of workers with symptoms of depression increased by 18%.
  • 37% of workers said their work environment contributed to the mental health symptoms they experienced.
  • Mental health disorders and substance abuse issues cost U.S. employers between $79 and $105 billion a year in indirect costs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), workplace wellness programs can help companies identify employees at risk for mental health concerns, connect them to mental health treatment options and provide supports that help reduce symptoms and increase overall wellness.


Related: What Is Company Culture?

How to promote mental health in the workplace

Use the following strategies and tips to promote positive mental health at work.


1. Create clear workplace guidelines for health and safety

Begin creating a healthy workplace environment by establishing, implementing and enforcing clear health and safety policies and practices. Your company’s health and safety guidelines can help develop processes for addressing prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation for distress, burnout, substance abuse and other mental health concerns.


It’s also important to establish rules prohibiting harassment and bullying, a process for investigating complaints and consequences for violations.


2. Establish an employee assistance program and talk about it frequently

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are employer-sponsored benefit programs. They’re designed to assist employees in coping with and resolving personal issues that can impact their work performance, physical health or mental and emotional well-being.


These programs can help employees work through a variety of issues that can affect mental health, including work-related stress, anxiety, depression, emotional distress, marital and family relationship concerns, substance abuse, child or elder care issues, financial difficulties and more.


Read more: What Is an Employee Assistance Program?


3. Reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues or concerns

Normalizing conversations about mental health within the workplace is the best way to reduce the stigma often associated with mental health topics. Companies whose leaders have openly been willing to discuss their own mental health concerns and experiences with their teams have had success in creating work environments where employees feel empowered and safe to share their own experiences.


4. Provide supervisors and managers with mental health training

Including mental health training in your company’s management training program provides your leadership team with the tools, resources, knowledge and skills they need to successfully promote a mentally healthy workforce. Mental health training for management can cover topics, such as:


  • Recognizing and responding to warning signs
  • Creating a work environment that encourages open and honest communication
  • Understanding how to prevent and identify potential workplace-related emotional triggers

Related: How to Create an Effective Employee Training and Development Program


5. Create a positive work environment

Fostering an inclusive, positive work environment can minimize work-related stress and support a mentally healthy workforce. The following suggestions can help companies create positive work environments:


  • Recognize and reward employees for their contributions to the company.
  • Invest in professional training and career development programs for each employee.
  • Offer benefits that promote work-life balance, such as flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities.
  • Encourage employees to build strong professional relationships with employee engagement and team-building activities.
  • Make taking advantage of paid personal and vacation time the norm to combat employee burnout.
  • Welcome employees to contribute ideas, provide feedback and take part in decision-making processes related to their work.

Read more: 7 Examples of Employee Recognition Programs to Try


6. Rethink job roles

The distribution of duties and responsibilities can also impact workplace mental health. Employees tasked with too much may feel overwhelmed, while those who find their work too monotonous or boring may become restless or feel as if they don’t have value.


Conduct an audit of all current job descriptions. Evaluate how well work is distributed, identifying positions that could benefit from increased or decreased responsibilities. If many roles seem overtaxed, consider creating new positions to take on some excess work.


Related: How to Write a Job Description


7. Make mental health services more accessible

Providing an employee assistance program allows your team to seek help for mental health concerns, but that’s only a first step. No mental health concern resolves overnight. Ongoing therapy and medication may be necessary, and visiting therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical and mental health professionals during business hours may be challenging.


To fully support mental health at work, you need to ensure that mental healthcare is accessible. You can do so by:


  • Offering health plans with adequate coverage for mental health services and psychiatric medications
  • Providing paid time off for employees to attend therapy and medicine check appointments
  • Adding an organizational psychologist to your team to provide life coaching for employees
  • Partnering with local mental health providers to offer free counseling on-site
  • Facilitating support groups that allow employees to gather and discuss workplace mental health

8. Offer greater flexibility

Rigidity can have a negative impact on mental health at work by increasing stress on your team. Finding ways to make employment more flexible can lead to big improvements in workplace mental health. Some opportunities to make working for your organization more flexible include:


  • Offering telecommuting work opportunities or hybrid positions that combine two or three days of at-home work with two or three days of in-office work
  • Making internal deadlines for projects more flexible
  • Permitting employees to work away from their desks in communal areas, cafes or even outside
  • Prohibiting after-hours work emails
  • Instituting catch-up days with no meetings
  • Asking employees about their preferred working style and modifying positions as much as possible to suit them

Benefits of a mentally healthy workforce

Research suggests that creating a positive work environment and promoting and supporting a mentally healthy workforce results in:


  • Increased productivity rates
  • Increased economic contributions
  • Completion of higher-quality work
  • Lower rates of absenteeism
  • Improved employee engagement
  • Increased employee retention and loyalty
  • Reduced employer and employee healthcare costs
  • Better working relationships between employees and leadership
  • Improved ability to empathize with customers and coworkers
  • Increased inclusiveness, as LGBTQ+, Black and LatinX people are statistically shown to experience mental health symptoms at higher rates

Workplace mental health FAQs 

The answers to these frequently asked questions can provide you with more information about promoting mental health in the workplace :


How does mental health affect an employee’s performance?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an employee’s mental health can impact their work performance in the following areas:


  • Quality of work they perform and level of productivity
  • Level of interest and engagement in their work
  • Ability to concentrate and screen out distracting environmental stimuli
  • Ability to communicate effectively with coworkers
  • Physical capability to complete tasks and function normally
  • Ability to accept feedback and adapt to change appropriately

What is a mental health disorder?

A mental health disorder is a diagnosable condition affecting an individual’s mood, thinking or behavior. There is a wide range of mental health disorders, but a few of the most common ones that can impact the workplace include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.


How can we identify mental health issues or concerns in our workplace?

You can identify mental health issues or concerns in the workplace using the same methods you use to identify other health concerns. Mental health screenings and surveys are common tools employers use to identify employees who may show risk factors for mental health concerns.


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