The fallout from the pandemic has disrupted the workplace and is re-shaping it in ways that are yet to be realized. A silver lining from this cataclysmic change is that mental well-being has moved from a conversation on the periphery of workplace culture to center stage.

Employers are realizing that it’s important to prioritize employees’ mental well-being. It’s an essential piece of the formula for creating a happy and productive workforce, and a successful organization.

So, how do you start having discussions about mental health? Here are a few practical suggestions for weaving mental-health conversations into the fabric of your workplace.

Create a workplace culture that supports mental well-being
Mental well-being can be understood as a continuum, where someone’s position is not fixed but can range from distressed to thriving. Similarly, workplace wellness also exists on a continuum.

A healthy workplace culture is characterized by things like clear expectations, frequent and transparent communication, effective leadership, a sense of community and a collective effort toward a meaningful goal. It’s also free of stigma, discrimination and bullying.

It’s also characterized by psychological safety. This is an environment where employees feel a basic sense of belonging, acceptance and respect.

To create a healthy workplace culture that supports mental well-being, it’s helpful to:

  • Normalize mental health conversations by increasing awareness and educating employees through digital and physical channels.
  • Set an example of openness and transparency from the top of the organization on down.
  • Select the best mix of benefits and resources and continually promote them.
  • Establish policies and procedures that support and reinforce the culture that you are trying to create.

An unhealthy workplace, which is at the opposite end of this continuum, is characterized by poor leadership, poor communication, incivility, unfair practices, discrimination, microaggressions, bullying, distrust, or an unsafe or chaotic environment.

A study out of Australia  found that an unhealthy or toxic workplace can triple the risk of employees developing depression. So, the overall tone and culture of the workplace can either exacerbate difficulties or help employees thrive.

“If business leaders model caring for their physical and mental/emotional well-being and have transparency in speaking out about their own challenges, it will have a huge impact on company culture. If they articulate their tools for resilience as well as ask those that report to them how these domains of their life are going and how they can be supportive of employee well-being, they enable others to do the same.”

Leah Weiss, Ph.D
Speaker, Author, Researcher

Initiate mental health conversations
Check in with your colleagues and direct reports on a regular basis. Ask them how they’re doing and really listen to the answer. Expressing care, interest or appreciation goes a long way toward helping someone feel seen and valued. This helps them move in the direction of thriving on the continuum of mental well-being.

Research suggests that simply noticing a nonverbal emotional cue, like a frown or grin, and mentioning it as a question or statement, such as “You look upset” or “You seem excited” is very powerful in building trusting relationships. Even if you guess wrong, the act of noticing builds trust and opens the door to future conversations.

Equip yourself with resources to know the practical steps in having a conversation as well as what phrases and language to avoid. Ask, listen and provide appropriate support. Avoid alienating people by  unintentionally shaming them by your choice of words or phrases. Be sensitive to the nuance and connotations of current usage. For example, instead of saying that someone is a “victim of mental illness,” you might say they’re “living with a mental health condition.”

“Burnout, stress, anxiety, depression, and coping with trauma are part of the fabric that makes us human. We all have periods of thriving and periods where we are deeply challenged. If we frame cycles of thriving and struggle as normal, we can foster environments that people can express their challenges rather than hide away in shame and social isolation. They can ask for the help that they need. They can offer it to others, which provides purpose and creates strong relationships.”

Leah Weiss, Ph.D
Speaker, Author, Researcher

Recognize and address issues early
If you see a problem developing, it’s imperative you intervene early. To do so, you need to recognize the warning signs and take appropriate action. For more guidance, please refer to our flyer, Recognizing and Responding Effectively to Behavioral Warning Signs.

The earlier a person can connect with their EAP or other well-being resources, the better their chances of navigating through those challenges and thriving. Similarly, the issue is less likely to escalate into a full-blown crisis that requires intensive intervention.

“The most crucial step in creating a culture that supports mental health is to frame mental wellness as a process that requires active engagement for everyone throughout their lifespan. People who struggle with mental health are not different from us, they are us. We all need to engage with mental/physical well-being efforts throughout our lives.”

Leah Weiss, Ph.D
Speaker, Author, Researcher