A mentally healthy workplace work better for everyone in an organization be it the employees, or managers, business owners or organizational leaders. Apart from promoting a positive, productive workplace culture and minimizing risks to employees’ mental health, a mentally healthy workplace can supports people in maintaining their mental health, preventing discrimination at the workplace. At a global level, one out of four people is likely to experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. Meanwhile, over 300 million people are estimated to suffer from depression, which is equal to 4.4% of the world’s population, and 800,000 people tend to commit suicide every year.
The consequence of poor mental health in economics is equally significant. A World Economic Forum/Harvard School of Public Health study estimated that the overall global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic productivity can be calculated to $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030. In India, mental illness is estimated to cost $1.03 trillion (22% of economic output) within the years of 2012-2030. For the same period, China is predicted to lose $4.5 trillion to mental illness. These estimates illustrate the urgency that is needed to tackle mental illness.
What is a mentally healthy workplace?
A mentally healthy workplace is the one where people at all levels have a shared vision of, and commitment to, positive mental status. Work demands on employees are practically set in a way that balances the needs of the staff and the employer which never pose an unreasonable risk to the mental health of individuals. Everyone in that workplace feels comfortable to speak out openly about what they think and would like to do, without fear of stigma or discrimination. This mental equilibrium provides a culture of respect and inclusivity. Creating a mentally healthy workplace hence is about building the positive aspects of the working environment and taking steps to reduce any risk factors for stress and maintain the work-life balance of the employees. Though each organization is different in its own way, a healthy and safe workplace:
- inspires every employee to speak openly about mental health
- recognizes and checks, wherever possible, risks of employee mental health
- supportive of employees, including those with ill mental health conditions
- considers diversity as an organizational advantage
- have low employee attrition and sick/stress leave
Researches, however, show that investigating on staff’s mental health can have long term benefits for both the employees and their workplace. A mentally healthy workplace can positively impact absenteeism, productivity, safety, and turnover. However, even if an organization does not have a big budget, there are numerous low-cost ways to support employees in looking after their mental health.
Here are some tips to improve mental health and wellbeing at the workplace.
1. Promote a work/life balance
Praising the employees who work till late and yet arrive early or expecting them to work from home during weekends can hurt employee reputation in the long run. In the absence of healthy work and life balance, productivity will surely decline, and employees are more likely to drain out of energy and eventually leave the organization. Encourage employees to take vacations whenever practicable. Never expect any employee to answer email around the clock. Encourage every employee to have a life outside the office. So employees who engage in hobbies, spend time with family, and care for themselves always make better employees.
2. Take an integrated approach to Health and Wellness
Traditionally in every workplace, Health and Wellness have always been considered an important initiative within the HR functions. The current and future scenario of Health and Wellness programs, however, requires a change in its approach as a horizontal platform, or better to embed it into the flow of the organization. Including health and wellness program in employees, benefits function enables greater integration and synergy across the organization.
3. Remind employees about EAP benefits
Offering an Employee Assistance Program benefit that can allow employees to have some therapy sessions for free is important. But, many companies refrain spending enough time by employees on such services. The duty hence resides with the HR department to remind employees using these assistance programs and along with their benefits often. Sometimes employees experience marital issues and insomnia and there EAPs can help them deal with the issues which might detract them from their performance. However, employees must be assured that EAP s are free of charge and completely confidential.
4. Mental Wellness at the employee level
Helping individual employees with personalized programs based on their unique Health and Wellness needs can yield more significant and enduring results. Storytelling is yet another way that can spread the message and enable people to understand how applying these benefits or programs to themselves can help them.
5. Taking practical steps to help your organization
Workplace strategies that can protect, promote, as well as address mental well being are commonly delivered by building internal and external partnerships by the organization. The successful solution of any mental health help relies on collaboration. Employees can seek manuals which can boost up training programs, either by using or promoting with human resources the use of the appropriate diagnostic tools and proceed with development, implementation and evaluation of workplace wellbeing policies.
6. Commitment from management to support mental health and well being
Mental health conditions result in about 12 million less productive days in regards to global businesses annually. With such evident reports, it’s not hard to make the organization invest in mental health; the next step is to ensure that the management makes the same commitment to the rest if the employees. When the management starts taking such initiatives and the employees see their managers and team leaders taking part in open conversations about mental health, it inspires the fellow staff to participate as well.
7. Connect with your staff
Every team leader or HR manager must make sure that every voice is heard. How a TL or manager communicates with the staff can affect how they carry out work, display flexibility at times of pressure and manage any difficulties which they might have been experiencing. Effective people management skills, empathy and active listening to the problems of the employee are indispensible parts of managing mental health in the workplace. Holding regular one-on-one meetings or asking staff regularly how they feel can also be of great help.
8. Reducing the stigma
Talking more about stress management or self-care, and mental health in meetings or in email communications can help reduce the stigma which has been associated with mental illness. When employees trust you never call them “crazy” for having a panic attack or fire then from work when they’re struggling with depression. Always remember, most mental health conditions are treatable.
9. Encourage good eating habits
Organizations can inspire their employees to take their mental health seriously by educating them about healthy life choices, arranging healthy snacks, and providing healthy options when the occasion calls for, such as client meets and team building events etc. Healthy food habits particularly, more plant-based foods such as unrefined whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and limiting processed sugar and carbohydrates, which has been shown to heal the gut and enhance cognitive function must also be encouraged in employees.