Each morning that you walk through the office door or sit down in front of your computer to work from home, you bring part of your personal life with you. For one in five Americans, that means some form of mental illness pulls up a seat with them to work every single day. Unfortunately, no one can check their anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder at the door, so we need to understand, support, and advocate for those who face mental health challenges.
Thankfully, since the emergence of COVID19, we’ve seen a shift away from hustle culture as a result of increased stress, burnout, and uncertainty. Long hours at the office have been replaced by setting boundaries in order to prioritize overall health and well-being.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s continue to reduce the stigma around mental illness at work and encourage the development of sustainable workplaces. Establishing a work environment that supports those with mental health challenges is no longer “nice-to-have” – it’s an essential component of company culture.
Here are some ways to build a happier and mentally healthier workplace:
1. Normalize conversations around mental health.
Set aside time to check-in with your team and coworkers on a regular basis. While these check-ins usually center around providing project updates, start to integrate a question or two beyond work-related dialogue. A simple “how are you really doing?” or “what has been going on outside of the office for you?” can help get the ball rolling. You’ll begin to form a deeper connection and build trust this way, which can lead to an open conversation around personal challenges over time.
People might be hesitant to express complete honesty at first – especially if you’ve never had these types of conversations before. If that’s the case, you can take the initiative and share insight into some of your struggles, mental health experience, or wellness journey. By leaning into expressing vulnerability yourself, you’ll encourage others to open up as well. This helps to humanize your workplace and make sharing personal experiences, both exciting and challenging ones, feel normal.
2. Create a safe space for sharing stressors, emotions, and challenges.
As you begin to talk about mental health more openly, be sure that you’re cultivating a space where individuals feel comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences. That means establishing psychological safety throughout your organization. People should be able to be themselves, speak up, and ask questions without fearing rejection or humiliation. And when someone does open up, listen actively in order to truly hear what they say before responding.
Before formulating a response, remember that sometimes people just want a kind and empathetic listening ear. Prioritize validating their feelings rather than offering unsolicited advice (“you need to be in therapy”) unless they specifically ask for help solving the problem. You can absolutely offer assistance, though. Consider asking “how can I support you?” or “is there anything you need right now?” to find out what kind of help they need rather than making assumptions.
3. Encourage taking routine breaks from work and disconnecting after hours.
From purposeful breaks throughout the day to actually using your PTO to relax and recharge, stepping away from work is necessary to reduce stress, avoid burnout, and boost productivity. Your time off doesn’t need to be reserved for a big European vacation. Consider taking a Friday or Monday off to give yourself a long weekend to look forward to.
In addition to scheduling PTO, taking routine breaks during the workday is a great way to incorporate self-care on a more regular basis. Plus, taking even a five-minute break helps improve focus and boost energy. Not all breaks are created equal, though. Taking an effective break might look like meditating, walking, or stretching – really, any activity that rebalances and refreshes you. Avoid the temptation of social media or online shopping which can lead to further mental exhaustion.
For many of us, our workday doesn’t feel over when we leave the office or shut off our laptops. With the lines between work and home remaining blurred and increased economic concern, some feel a subconscious pressure to continue working after hours. Leaders, encourage your team to truly disconnect after the workday ends. Make it a priority to lead by example. Communicate the self-care activities you engage in to support your health and well-being. Schedule emails instead of sending them after hours, share calendars with your working hours and availability, and remind people that they shouldn’t be checking email or Slack at all hours.
4. Offer flexibility and sustainability.
It’s clear that workplaces will not return to how they operated pre-COVID – and for good reason. We’ve experienced the repercussions of working long hours at an unsustainable pace, so employees have come to expect flexibility from their organizations. While the degree of flexibility you can offer will vary from industry to industry and based on job responsibilities, it’s essential to think about how you’ll embrace flexibility – not if you will.
That might look like implementing a hybrid workplace model or setting core hours and allowing for asynchronous work otherwise. These established setups increase productivity, boost morale, and improve engagement levels and also make it easier for employees to schedule appointments and take care of their health – whether that’s talking to a therapist or getting an annual physical on the calendar.
Consider how you can make work more sustainable. Have you set norms around email response times? Determine what qualifies as urgent and requires a more immediate response versus what can wait a day. Could you set certain days as no-meeting days? Make sure your team is discussing setting boundaries and flexibility regularly.
5. Consider an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and wellness opportunities.
Providing additional benefits such as educational training about self-care, stress management, and resilience, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and stipends for wellness activities like yoga or gym memberships shows your commitment to the health and well-being of your employees. If you already offer some of these benefits, make sure you talk about them often and encourage your team to tap into these resources.
Are you ready to make mental health a priority in your workplace? Our Stress Management and Resiliency session is the perfect way to explore strategies and techniques to deal with challenges inside and out of the office. Contact us today to learn more!