Mental Health in the Workplace: How Can HR Create a Supportive Environment?

Mental Health in the Workplace

More often than not, someone’s mental health is considered a personal matter. It is talked about in hushed tones and behind closed doors, so as not to invade anyone’s privacy, and inadvertently expose anything they weren’t ready to share with the world. It is no wonder that employers are extremely careful when it comes to interfering with their staff’s mental wellbeing. 

They may feel uncomfortable approaching their employees when something seems off, afraid to upset them further or give out the impression that they are unhappy with their performance. Maybe the employer wishes to keep the working environment strictly professional and feels that discussing mental health at work crosses a line. Others are just not equipped at dealing with sensitive interactions. For that exact reason, it’s best for HR to get involved and help create workplace strategies for mental health.


Why should you worry about workplace wellness?

1 in 5 adults in the US deals with some form of mental illness every year. With these numbers, it’s safe to say that your team could only benefit from you adopting workplace strategies for mental health; or at least from you reducing their stress at work. This doesn’t just affect your company on the individual level but impacts your bottom line as well. 

The World Health Organization found that depression and anxiety cost about $1 trillion in loss of productivity around the globe. These numbers take into account a variety of problems, such as low morale, poor attendance, a negative impact on decision-making and an even higher risk of work injuries. But mental health doesn’t just create problems in the workplace. There are studies that actually prove that people who suffer from mental health issues can contribute to your company by increasing its diversity and subsequently offer different points of view and ways of working.


Mental health in the workplace – tips and best practices

There is a variety of workplace strategies for mental health you can consider. This is not one-size-fits-all, as every employee has different needs and may respond to a different method. However, the most important thing you can do is to start taking your employees’ mental health into account when making decisions, talk about it more and make sure they know they can come to you (or the HR department) if they need to. With this mindset, here are a few more tips that can help reduce stress at work and support workplace wellness:

Create a conversation about mental health at work

One of the worst things about mental health is the stigma surrounding it — making people think that if they suffer from it they will be labeled as weak or too emotional. Creating a safe space for people to talk about their issues will make them more comfortable asking for help. You can do this by including mental health in the company’s mission statement, asking your managers to come forward with their stories, make it okay for employees to take sick days for mental health and avoid reductive language when it comes to mental health (such as “crazy” or “mental”). 

Provide your team with wellness programs

There are a number of schemes you can offer to promote workplace wellness, from gym memberships, yoga lessons and meditation sessions to healthy snacks and nap rooms. All of these will serve to reduce your employees’ stress at work, increase their satisfaction and create a better work-life balance. There is an added bonus to this approach — potential candidates may view these schemes as great benefits, which can draw them away from your competitors.

Be open to flexible work hours

Some employees may feel greater stress at work the more rigid the rules are. Not everyone is built for a 9-6 workday, with scheduled breaks and the noise and bustle of open-space. If your team member is having a rough day, allowing them to continue their work from home can provide them with just enough time away to prevent a burnout — so consider bending the rules and taking personal needs into account.

Train your management (and offer counseling when needed)

Creating a safe place to talk about mental health, as mentioned in the first point, is a great first step. However, it is not a given that every member of your management team will know how to handle someone approaching them with an issue. To support both your managers and staff, you can send your managers to a training program, helping them learn about the different needs they may come across, and giving them tools on how to help their team. 

Additionally, you can offer your staff access to professional counseling — as mental health can get complex and there are limits to what you can offer. Some employees may also prefer to approach an outside service, as they could do this anonymously, with someone they don’t have to see every day and deal with on a professional basis.