Guest Contributors

5 Simple Ways to Create a Mentally Healthier Workplace

Written by Kate

People can be reluctant to discuss mental health issues, especially at work, due to the fear it will affect their reputation, work relationships, and job security. With the pandemic having a negative effect on mental health in the workplace, it’s more important than ever for your employees to connect with each other.

Mental illness is not a character flaw, but it can be viewed as one when people aren’t knowledgeable about mental illness and how it can affect them and their peers. It is important to start conversations, remove the stigma, and show your team they are not alone and it is okay to not be okay.

The end of the pandemic may be in sight, but the recent resurgence and the Delta variant are causing renewed uncertainty, and this is no time to let down your guard when it comes to watching out for your employees’ health—both physical and mental. Here are five simple ways you can create a mentally healthier workplace both in this stressful time and in the long term.

1. Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance

While work is a huge part of your employees’ lives, it shouldn’t be the main focus. Maybe you have an employee who regularly picks up shifts on their off days, comes to work early, or stays late. Usually this kind of behavior is encouraged, but when your employees put too much of their time into work they’re risking burnout.

Unhappy employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion each year, and if burnout occurs, it will hurt productivity, morale, and your customers. Yet many workers feel compelled to push themselves to the breaking point. More than half of employees report feeling guilty about using vacation time, and up to 90% of employees come into work while sick.

Coming into work sick was bad enough pre-pandemic; imagine how much more damaging it could be now that a sick employee could be bringing COVID-19 into your workplace.

Encourage your employees to use their vacation time and sick leave, and to make space to care for themselves and do the things they enjoy so they can perform at their best while at work.

2. Look for the Signs

There are several ways to tell if an employee might be struggling with their mental health. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Change in attendance. Any unusual patterns in attendance can be an indicator that your employee is struggling. Maybe they are almost always on time, but you notice they have been showing up late more than usual. They may also be calling in sick more frequently, asking to leave early, or requiring more days off.
  2. Abnormal changes in their appearance: When employees are struggling with mental health, they may have a harder time keeping up with their appearances and personal hygiene. They may start showing up out of dress code, or their clothes might be dirty and disheveled. Maybe they are showering less frequently, and they may look unusually tired and unkempt.
  3. Avoidance of social situations: When employees choose to withdraw from social situations at work, whether with coworkers or customers, this can be an indicator of declining mental health. They may start to take breaks outside of the break room and avoid situations where they will have to connect with coworkers or customers. 
  4. Reduced productivity: Mental illness can make it harder for employees to take care of themselves. They may be sleeping or eating less, feeling anxious or depressed, or having a hard time focusing. You may notice them struggling more to solve problems or follow directions, and they may not keep up with project deadlines.
  5. Unstable moods: When an employee is struggling mentally, their moods can be unstable. Anxiety and depression can cause people to become frustrated or irritated easily, and they can be more likely to have unusual or disruptive interactions with their team.  

If you notice these signs, reach out and see how your employee is doing. Never be discriminatory and always speak with them in private. Be genuine, ask them questions, really listen to what they tell you, and offer support and the necessary resources.

3. Focus on Health and Wellness 

Your team’s ability to handle stress, be productive, and deliver results is dependent on their wellbeing. You cannot pour from an empty cup. There are many dimensions of wellness beyond simply taking care of yourself physically, and having any of them out of balance can affect your team and their performance. A few things that can help your team’s wellness include:

  1. Review employee benefit plans with your team.
  2. Implement an employee interest and needs survey.
  3. Offer wellness events focusing on topics like nutrition and exercise.

4. Create a Safe Environment

There are many factors that can affect workplace morale and employee mental health. Bullying, exclusion, or sexual harassment can create a toxic work environment, which can be detrimental to your team’s mental and physical wellbeing. Not only does this put your employees’ safety at risk, but it can affect productivity and employee turnover.

If left unaddressed, you may risk legal liability. Here are some ways you can help prevent negative situations and deal with them as they arise.

  • Team-building activities can help your team develop stronger interpersonal connections and a sense of togetherness. If you have a remote or hybrid team, conference calling can bring them together and encourage them to share ideas and feedback with each other. Well-structured, easy-to-follow conference calls let your team see each other “face to face,” and it gives them a clear understanding of their roles and what is expected of them.
  • Proper training gives your team clear examples of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. This is necessary for a healthy workplace and lets your team know when they should speak up about inappropriate behavior. An online sexual harassment training course or OSHA compliance training can be helpful tools to keep your employees safe and support your team and your business.
  • A secure way to speak up gives hesitant employees a channel to report issues in the workplace without fear of it affecting their employment or even their safety. An anonymous whistleblowing system gives a secure way to bring important matters to your attention so they can be handled before they escalate.

5. Be Supportive

As a leader, it is important to be alert and supportive of your team. Don’t be afraid to show your appreciation for their hard work and contributions, and thank them for their accomplishments. Check in with them frequently to see how they are doing, ask for their opinions on how things can be improved, and act on their feedback.