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 environment that recognizes, acknowledges and promotes the importance of positive mental health 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 good mental health throughout their organization.


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Why is promoting mental health in the workplace important?

Promoting mental health in the workplace and supporting employees who have mental health issues or concerns is important because they 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 one in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental illness every year.
  • 71% of adults in the U.S. reported having at least one symptom of stress.
  • 61% of workers said 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: Culture Is King: Companies with the Best Culture in 2017


How to promote mental health in the workplace

Use the following strategies and tips to promote positive mental health in the workplace:


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 is 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 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.

Related: Report: How Satisfied Are U.S. Workers with Their Salaries?


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


5. Create a positive work environment

Creating a positive work environment that all employees enjoy can help reduce work-related stress and promotes 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.
  • Welcome employees to contribute ideas, provide feedback and take part in decision-making processes related to their work.


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 co-workers


Frequently asked questions about mental health in the workplace

Here are a few frequently asked questions 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 one’s work
  • Ability to concentrate and screen out distracting environmental stimuli
  • Ability to communicate effectively with coworkers
  • Physical capability to complete tasks and to 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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