5 best practices for supporting mental health at the workplace

Concrete tips for managing this complex, cross-over topic. How to make supporting mental health at the workplace everyone’s business.

lauren payne

by Lauren Payne

Supporting mental health at the workplace involves sensitive and complex issues, such as stress and mental illness, for businesses to wrap their heads around. (Not to mention challenging to create protocols around.) It’s often unclear what technique – or which team – should address them. With regulators putting more pressure on employers to protect employees’ mental well-being, the haze of mental health issues is getting even foggier. To help you in your efforts, we’ve boiled a myriad of questions down to one: What can you do to help your employees? And provided the answer in these best practices to implement across your entire business.

1. Train everyone on what issues to look for – and what to do about it.

To protect employees against mental health risks, you must ensure your entire company is aware of them. And do so regularly. As society and technology evolve, so do risks to our mental well-being. Consider the recent major global events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and local natural disasters, toll on mental health (and that of the subsequent return to work), giving rise to more stress and presenteeism across the global workforce. Even if your teams have a strong understanding of mental health issues, you’ll need to keep them prepared for new potential issues.

Ready your workforce

Implement company-wide seminars or lunch-and-learns to educate your staff on supporting mental health at the workplace. When possible, choose trainings adapted to your industry and its specific needs. Make sure that it includes examples of risk factors and tangible advice for steps for employees to take when they encounter an issue.

Prepare your points of contact

Provide specialized training to key, accountable roles in your company. For example, EHS professionals need to understand where mental well-being fits into the scope of occupational health – and therefore their responsibilities. Managers and other points of contact must be well equipped for eventual conversations about employees’ concerns and questions. They will need an advanced understanding of how to identify issues, address them, and ensure everyone feels comfortable during the process.

2. Work together to support mental health in the workplace.

Mental well-being is the sum of many parts. And effectively supporting mental health at the workplace means many departments must come together to combat risks.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends actions your business can take, which require collaboration from managers, EHS, and HR, including:

  • provide clinical screenings for depression/mental health issues
  • host workshops that address mental health issues like handling stress
  • create a dedicated quiet space for relaxing

For instance, an EHS professional should include psychosocial issues in health assessments. HR can then determine the necessary workshops for addressing concerns or potential risks. If opting to create a dedicated “de-stressing” or “wellness” space, teams must carefully balance employee needs vs worker rights vs associated workplace regulations. All in all, HR, managers, and EHS professionals should work together to enable a healthy work-life balance – such as ensuring that employees don’t overwork. And to prevent distraction and its potential dangerous effect, especially when working in a high-risk environment

You can go beyond just governing the situation to growing with employees in new ways.

3. Promote mental health awareness everywhere to protect employees

Supporting mental health in the workplace shouldn’t be a secret. It should be part of your company culture. Make sure that employees understand its importance and feel welcome to discuss it and ask for help when needed. 

Say it to show it

Demonstrate to employees that their mental well-being is a priority for your business. Underline its value as part of the employee handbook. Share progress about managers’ mental health training and regularly highlight potential issues in company updates. Encourage employees to take necessary time off, especially around important days like bank or religious holidays. Most importantly, provide specific information about where employees can seek support and offer the opportunity to discuss issues at work.

Awareness, even off the clock

Also, show that you care about workers’ holistic health – whether they’re at work or not. Encourage employees to take care of themselves with information on the benefits of a balanced lifestyle. This can include weekly well-being communications, tips or seminars on healthy eating and exercise, and promoting organized health and wellness events like an outdoor fitness class. List resources for other aspects as well, including resources for child care, good local doctors, and financial literacy.  

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4. Provide a safe space to share concerns about mental health at the workplace

After you’ve started the conversation, keep it going and keep it open. Make sure to offer a convenient – and comfortable – method for employees to reach out and share what they’re experiencing. This could be via your HR staff, onsite counseling services, regular employment satisfaction surveys, or even an anonymous drop-box where employees can leave messages.

Your company’s ideal method will depend on your employees, their needs, the managers, and the work environment. There are many studies and mental health resources available to help EHS managers determine what will work best in their facilities (such as “How to Support Mental Health at Work” from the UK’s Mental Health Foundation).

Regardless of whether you’re the designated contact, if an employee shares a concern with you, keep in mind how difficult doing so might be. These conversations can be very heavy and emotional. Employees need to feel at ease, and you’ll need to respond appropriately. Follow the guidance from related training and refer to your company’s established protocols to address the issue. When in doubt, remember that a listening ear goes a long way.

5. Treat mental health like physical health

How well your business addresses mental health issues depends on how you think about them. Even though mental health issues are often more difficult to spot than physical ones, they present just as much threat to your employees. Raising mental well-being to the same level as physical safety puts you in the right mindset to fully protect your teams. It will not only reinforce your efforts in supporting mental health at the workplace but also your employees’ trust that you’re doing so.

As you would with a physical injury, make sure to focus on the facts. Be careful not to jump to conclusions when noticing negative behavior in employees. Wait to know what’s really going on rather than assuming the cause. For example, decreased productivity may not be because they’re lazy, but because they’re struggling with stress.

Supporting mental health in the workplace means to keep trying

For all the many questions about mental health at the workplace, your business’s answer will differ from other companies. And even within your own facilities, it will take some trial and error. That’s okay! With the right mindset, tools, and an open environment, you can go beyond just governing the situation to growing with employees in new ways.

Let your employees know you’re committed to supporting their mental health at the workplace – and are implementing ways to do so. Whatever methods and measures you choose, make sure to carry them out in the long term and keep all teams on the same page. Follow through with what you’ve promised, and regularly evaluate the program’s effectiveness to keep your teams fully protected.

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