Workplace success comes through people in good mental health who can adapt, be flexible and resilient when changes come their way and deliver results that matter.
Depression and anxiety cost companies billions in lost productivity each year, yet HR leaders can play an essential role by creating a workplace culture which supports employee mental health and well-being.
1. Workplace Wellness Programs
Employers have an invaluable role to play in helping their employees cope with emotional distress; programs like employee assistance programs (EAPs), on-site health clinics, mental health first aid training and wellness initiatives can all play a part in creating a more comfortable work environment.
Employers must also offer reasonable accommodations for workers with mental health conditions, such as flexible working hours or modified assignments to reduce stress levels in the workplace, additional vacation leave for therapy appointments or additional leave for support networks like Samaritans or Mind. Such measures can help individuals feel more at ease at work while decreasing stress. Employees can rely on support networks like their GP or external charities such as Samaritans to receive help when necessary.
2. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) offer professional counseling and support services to employees. EAP may feature either in-house professional counselors or third-party service providers that are easily accessed online, in person or over the phone.
EAPs help employees address personal issues that may be impacting work performance, leading to reduced absenteeism and therefore cost reduction for organizations.
Although much progress has been made to reduce stigma around mental health, many still find it hard to reach out for help. They may feel reluctant to use an Employee Assistance Program because they believe they can solve their issues on their own. To overcome this, employers should make it a point to communicate the availability of EAPs through multiple channels while simultaneously guaranteeing confidentiality of data collection for employees who make use of these EAPs. In addition, customized data reports must also be provided.
3. Employee Recognition Programs
Employees who feel at ease in their workplace are more likely to speak up, seek help when needed and produce more productive work. Employee recognition programs – like Patagonia’s “Nike Sneaker” award for employees who innovate for customers – can be effective ways of motivating employees and reinforcing behaviors that promote psychological safety in the workplace.
While having clinical services available is of course important, most workers need day-to-day options for mental health and well-being support on an everyday basis. Proactive options could include stress management education, subsidised or free mental well-being coaching programs, flexible working arrangements that allow periods of quieter focus when needed, as well as manager training on how to recognize, listen to and respond when their teams are experiencing challenges – something which often takes time and requires considerable cultural change for it to work effectively.
4. Flexible Work Arrangements
Mental health accommodations such as employee assistance programs, meeting-free days or flexible work arrangements can help employees feel more at ease in the workplace. Unfortunately, such solutions often only provide short-term relief; to have any meaningful impactful on employee wellbeing.
Employees who can effectively manage their schedules and focus on work without distraction are better able to prioritize self-care activities like exercise or attending medical appointments, helping reduce burnout levels while increasing overall productivity and job satisfaction.
Flexibility may not always be appropriate for all jobs, but schedule and location flexibility allows workers to find an equilibrium between professional demands and personal commitments. As evidenced by the Covid pandemic, many employers provide flexibility by hiring cross-trained “floaters” who cover shifts for colleagues who might need time off work.
5. Health & Safety Programs
Traditionally, workplace safety and health programs have focused on tangible measures. But they should also take into account how work affects employees’ mental well-being; programs offering EAPs or counseling subsidized or free can make employees feel more at home during trying times at work.
An important first step should be ensuring your company’s health insurance includes mental health coverage alongside traditional medical services and doesn’t impose an annual cap. Also create an open environment where employees can discuss mental health freely while providing them with all of the tools needed.
Encourage employee engagement within your organization through worker resource groups (ERGs), affinity groups, peer listening initiatives, mental health champions and more.