How to Make Mental Health a Priority at Work
Ask a resilience expert, Jenn DeWall Resilience & Burnout Speaker
How to Make Mental Health a Priority at Work
Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night because you’re worried about work? Do you have a hard time unplugging from your job? Have you ever feared you’ll be fired, even though you’re doing a good job? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from work-induced anxiety and stress, and you are not alone. In a 2021 study by Mind Share Partners, they found that 75% of US workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the last year.
Until recently mental health has been a taboo topic at work, with many fearing if they bring up mental health challenges, they won’t be understood, they will be judged, and could potentially lose their job. According to ADAA, 60% of employees do not talk to their employer about stress, which means you likely have employees that are trying to shield their stress from you. The problem is, if they are not talking about it, then you can’t do anything to change it, which means you could see an uptick in sick days, a decline in morale, diminished relationships, and drops in productivity. To avoid these consequences, as a leader you need to evolve your job responsibilities to include mental health management.
Here is how to improve your mental health at work
1. Start the conversation. It is important to break down the taboo. In team and one-on-one meetings, discuss mental health. Ask about stress levels, workloads, and overall how their mental health is at work. Lead the conversation with curiosity and empathy. Understand that mental health needs differ for everyone. When you begin asking about it, you are creating a safe place for employees to share their concerns, which can help you as a leader develop solutions to support their needs.
2. Make mental health a priority. Make it clear to your team that managing mental health is a priority and not something you want them to take lightly. Be sure to discuss why mental health management is important to the team and organization as a whole. If you do not make it a priority, employees will be less likely to. What is most important here is that you are the one modeling it. For example, making mental health a priority could look like taking all of your vacation days or leaving work at a reasonable time every day. The more employees witness you making it a priority, the more comfortable they will be to do the same.
3. Discourage over-working. Avoid positive recognition for “coming in early or staying late” unless it truly is a random occurrence where an employee went above and beyond. When you stop rewarding long work hours and combine it with making mental health a priority, it signals to employees that they have permission to put their mental health first. If you don’t say anything about over-working, you risk the employee getting burned out and potentially leaving your organization.
4. Create email management rules. To truly give employees a break, avoid sending emails outside of work hours or create a policy about email regulation when employees aren’t at work. For example, create a rule that employees are not to check or respond to emails after 7:00 PM or on weekends. Then if someone responds during that time period, have a conversation about the importance of unplugging from work. If your employees are constantly plugged into work outside of work hours they have a higher likelihood of burnout. Email regulation is a simple way to reduce this effect.
5. Focus on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). Mental health at work can be impacted by the extent that an employee feels that they work in a culture that is designed to support them as an individual.
6. Promote Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s). Many organizations offer EAP’s as part of the benefits package but employees are unaware of it. EAP’s are voluntary, work-based program that offer free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems or mental health challenges. Check with your benefits department to see if your organization has an EAP and if they do, make a point to share this resource with your team.
Jenn is a high-energy international keynote speaker that has spoken to individuals from around the world on topics ranging from confidence, overcoming imposter syndrome, authentic leadership, emotional intelligence, inspiration & motivation, resilience, and more.