Supporting Mental Health at Work

By: Sara Martin, M.S. // Chief Operations Officer • WELCOA

May was National Mental Health Awareness Month and WELCOA shared these resources to help you discover how to build a mental health-friendly workplace. But what are some specific ways that organizations can support employee mental health? What we have learned from working with thousands of organizations is that a great workplace mental health intervention has to be foundational, have a stigma-reduction focus, an infrastructure to facilitate employees getting the help they need, and an overall goal of helping employees flourish.

  1. Foundational. Organizations must start by creating an inclusive environment that creates a sense of connectedness between employees and the organization. A strong and aligned foundation is the basis of mental health management at work. Think about the pillars in your organization that support the employee lifecycle, like benefits, employee assistance programs (EAPs), talent acquisition, safety, and wellness. In what ways can you better align the messaging and offerings among each of these experiences to make it consistent for employees? It is also important to remove obstacles that stand between an employee and covered mental health services.
  2. Focus. After establishing your foundation, turn your attention to reducing stigma and discrimination around mental health so employees are comfortable talking about their concerns and asking for help. Consider training managers on establishing trust with and being a source of support for employees. You can also create a campaign to communicate how getting help is a source of strength and include links and resources for mental health support. Finally, understanding behavior and how it relates to work performance and safety when managing potential employee mental health situations can be a beneficial focus area for improving comfort around mental health discussions.
  3. Facilitate. Leaders, along with human resources (HR) representatives and others, can be trained and assembled into a Safe and Respectful Workplace Team (see Appendix I of Best Practices for Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace). This group should receive training to safely and appropriately navigate situations that may require intervention. An employee experiencing a crisis or serious behavioral health concern will likely not be fully present at work until they receive the support, or even treatment, that will best assist them. The Safe and Respectful Workplace Team can be trained to facilitate conversations with staff displaying troubling workplace behaviors, discuss the behaviors in terms of work performance, offer relevant and accessible resources for support, then set clear goals and expectations, so an employee can effectively get the help they need and return to work. Keep in mind that some experiences could be more severe—consider employing an internal rapid response team, following an employee’s crisis plan, or other protocols to keep everyone safe.

Sample management dialogue for an intervention: “I’ve noticed that your behavior at work has been changing. Here is how it is affecting the team. If you need or would like any support, please reach out and remember that we have resources.”

  1. Organizations should create cultures that demonstrate that it is okay to care for one another in the workplace. Building this supportive work environment creates a ripple effect where employee well-being results in higher employee engagement and loyalty, which, in return, correlates with improved productivity, effectiveness, and business results, such as innovation.

The bottom line: An investment in employee mental health is about putting the human back into the workplace so everyone can achieve their full potential. To read about how a real-life company implemented this model, check out this expert interview with Prudential Financial.