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Mental health may be a taboo topic at work, but avoiding it altogether ignores the high costs of poor mental health. In fact, the U.S. economy loses $210.5 billion annually due to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. It is in employers’ best interest to do what they can to ensure employees’ wellbeing. 

It’s not surprising that work contributes greatly to an individual’s mental health, considering about one fourth of the average person’s week is spent working. In fact, research from UKG, found that employees say their managers have a greater impact on their mental health than doctors or therapists. Workplaces and managers that prioritize employee well-being reap real benefits, such as increased productivity, lower turnover, and higher employee morale

The following tips can help organizational leaders and managers foster a culture where workplace wellness is prioritized. 

  1. Be open, but don’t pry.  If a coworker confides in you, the most important thing you can do is to listen. Don’t brush off their concerns or try to relate to their experience. Saying “I had that same experience…” can unintentionally minimize your coworker’s experience. Be attentive and listen to understand, because this conversation is about them, not you. Thank them for trusting you, and ask how they are feeling and how you can help. Be thoughtful, respect their boundaries, and avoid prying.
  2. Be mindful of your language. Using phrases such as “I’m depressed” when describing a temporary feeling of sadness, or “that’s crazy” to describe negative or unusual situations, makes light of mental health diagnoses and reinforces stereotypes about people with mental illness. Strive to be more literal in your language, using phrases such as “I’m feeling sad today” or “That’s a surprising turn of events.”
  3. Encourage involvement. Invite coworkers on a walk or set up a coffee chat on Zoom. Small breaks and socialization are good ways to improve mental health and acuity. Even if your coworker often declines, keep inviting them, rather than excluding them, so they can choose for themselves what to take part in.
  4. Establish an EAP. If your organization doesn’t offer an employee assistance program, look into establishing one. The programs offer free, short-term counseling sessions and assessments, and can help people in a crisis or help employees find long-term mental health care.
  5. Offer healthcare coverage that includes mental health. Some employees may need to work with a therapist or counselor for longer periods of time. In fact, it’s common for people to see a therapist for many years. If possible, offer an insurance plan that covers mental health care.
  6. Offer mental health days. Sometimes people need time away from work, whether that’s to recover after wrapping up a major project, processing a tragic event, or handling personal matters. Consider establishing company-wide mental health days or offer a specific allotment of days each quarter. Be sure that this time is distinguished from other paid time off.
  7. Offer additional flexibility. Depending on what a person is going through, they may require flexible hours or a hybrid schedule. If someone has therapy appointments during the day, they may need to work early in the morning and late at night. Or, if someone experiences increased anxiety during flu season, it might be best for them to work from home.
  8. Foster a positive, inclusive workplace culture. Discrimination and microaggressions can sap a person’s mental health over time. It’s critical to eradicate these in the workplace and ensure positive working conditions. All employees will feel happier and healthier in a workplace where they feel they belong.
  9. Model healthy behaviors. It’s not enough to say wellbeing is important. As a leader, you have to demonstrate your own commitment to mental wellness. Perhaps this looks like taking mental health days or blocking time for daily exercise. 
  10. Take care of yourself. To be able to care for those around you, you must first take care of yourself. You can’t support the people you care about if you’re run down, sick, or unwell. You may want to spend all of your energy doing things for others, but it cannot be at the expense of your own wellbeing.

Prioritizing wellbeing at work is good for your employees and your bottom line. Your company can only operate as well as your employees, and leaders can take several simple actions to improve workplace wellbeing. For additional tips on how to support your coworkers and loved ones, read our guidebook, Navigating Mental Health Awareness Month.

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