HR Leads Business

May 24, 2019 | Ginny Engholm

What Employers Can Do to Improve Workers’ Mental Health

It’s no secret that there are signs of mental health issues for an increasing number of workers around the globe. Reports of high levels of burnout and acute mental health crisis at some of the largest and most successful companies in the world are growing.

“We know there's an epidemic of mental health issues and challenges in the workplace,” says Jacqueline Carter, a partner at Potential Project. “Every stat you read shows that we are going in the wrong direction.”

Employers that want to support their employees’ mental health and well-being must address workforce culture issues, increased burnout and anxiety, and a stigma around that can affect both employers and employees. “The stigma around mental well-being is still very prevalent,” says Kristin Sauter, head of impact at Sarah Noll Wilson and a mental well-being consultant. “That stigma makes it harder for employers to see how they can help their workforce or to implement a new program or strategy within the existing well-being program.”

However, employers can make changes that improve the emotional and mental well-being of their employees. Here are three ways you can improve your employees’ mental health.

Create a Mindful Company Culture

Employers need to create a company culture that values rest and rejuvenation, which isn’t easy in a work culture where people find it increasingly difficult to unplug. For example, 70% of workers say they still check their email during vacations.

Encouraging employees to practice mindfulness techniques can help them learn to unplug and recharge. “Mindfulness training has been shown to help us to be calmer in the face of chaos,” Carter says. “It helps us be more focused, even when we're in environments that are filled with distractions.”

For example, getting employees in the habit of turning off devices during meetings can help create a culture of reduced stress and distraction, which can lead to improved mental well-being.

Set Clear Expectations About Work-Life Balance

Managing work-life balance is one of the biggest factors in mental and emotional well-being in the workplace. Companies can help by setting clear expectations about how and when employees should work, inside and outside of the office. “Employers need to have very explicit conversations about expectations around when employees are working, when they’re off, how we use technology, how we respond to each other and what are appropriate response times for communications,” Carter says.

In addition, setting clear expectations for what “vacation” actually means can help employees feel confident in using time off as an opportunity to disconnect and recharge. However, this requires going beyond words, Carter says, because when leaders simply tell employees that they don’t need to check email on vacation, many people don't believe it or feel they’re too under too much pressure to fully disconnect.

Encouraging leaders to model this behavior can empower employees to take a real break. “It needs to come from senior leaders,” Sauter says. “The minute you get senior leadership onboard as champions of this effort, you will change the company culture.”

Invest in Support

The most important thing employers can do to support mental well-being in the workforce is to offer mental wellness care as part of employee health benefits. Additional benefits, such as wellness programs, breakrooms, social programs and fitness centers, also help encourage mental well-being, Carter says.

In addition, employee assistance programs can help workers who are dealing with anxiety, depression, substance-abuse disorders or other mental health and wellness issues, Carter says.

But whatever support you offer to employees, it’s critical to focus on long-term, sustainable programs and not to cut mental well-being programs if profits are down or the budget gets tight. “Making a sustainable investment in employee mental health shows that you really value the health and well-being of your people,” Carter says.