Supporting mental and emotional health in the workplace

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  • Robert Cerone

    Robert Cerone

Posted6/20/2019 1:00 AM

Today, one in five adults experience mental illness while only 43 percent of those who are suffering seek treatment. In fact, mental illness costs the global economy one trillion dollars in lost productivity every year. If you want to run a successful business, ignoring your employees' mental and emotional wellness is simply not an option.

Even if you have not personally experienced difficulties with mental health, it's likely that someone you work with has. Not having the right resources or policies to manage mental health in the workplace can have detrimental effects on your business. Fortunately, there are measures, both proactive and reactive, that any leader can take to start supporting and promoting mental health in the workplace. Below are a few ideas to help get you started.


Building consensus

Start by talking to your leadership team about their level of comfort discussing mental and emotional health in the workplace. Get a feel for their aptitude; ask them to share their opinions, offer ideas, and draw on past experiences.

Supporting mental health in the workplace directly impacts your organization's ability to foster a reduced-stress environment that encourages your people to better communicate, develop, and grow.

These efforts require leaders to take time out of their day to connect with employees and understand the things they care about -- their goals, values, and beliefs.

To this end, it is of paramount importance that leadership supports and shares a common understanding of the organization's mental health initiatives. Often it is helpful to connect these initiatives to your strategic business goals.

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Growing awareness and being proactive

Once leadership is on board, this may be a good time to revisit your organization's mission, vision, and values. Tying your wellness efforts to your organization's principles helps create a stronger connection in the minds of your employees.

Similarly, it's important to identify the things that inspire and create a sense of purpose for your employees. What do they value and what is important to them? Working to understand the needs of your employees and engaging with them will go a long way toward creating a healthy workplace.

There are several ways organizations are going about this with their employees. Here's a link to a summary from our friend Raman Chadha at the Junto Institute about the work Bain Consulting has done to understand the things that inspire their employees and make leadership effective.

Bain's research uncovered 33 elements that are significant for inspiring others. This work resulted in a greater understanding of the elements that are most meaningful to their employees, which ultimately impacts their ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others, and listen more deeply.


Another critical part of the proactive work is simply conveying and reinforcing that it's okay to ask for help. People will not be judged but "met where they are" and supported. Every manager and HR person should be trained on how to respond when an employee comes forward. This will help eliminate any unnecessary stress or shame felt around the idea of asking for help in the first place.

Ongoing efforts such as those laid out above will help employees maintain greater mental and emotional health. They also play a key role in your ability to attract, retain, and develop talent in your organization.

Gathering necessary tools, resources

Communication is important, but you'll need to make sure you have the proper resources in place to help your program run sustainably. The right mix of tools will vary by organization, but here are some options to help guide your decision:

• In-person and online training for managers and employees

• Personality tests, check-ins, and surveys.

• Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

• Other Employee Benefits: offer employees a monthly stipend they can use for a gym membership, massage, or an art class. Consider bringing in a teacher to lead mindfulness practices, guided meditation or yoga. Perhaps they'd appreciate financial planning classes or a pet insurance option. Ask your team what they care about and go from there. These wellness offerings can be a win-win, as they're a pre-tax expense for the employer.

In addition to these resources, you should always check with your health insurance carrier, who may have additional information, tools, and support they can offer as part of your group insurance plan.

Developing policies, assigning ownership

Develop policies and procedures that enable employees and managers to know who to go to and how to respond when something comes up. It's helpful to assign responsibility to a company leader or your HR professional.

Some of the basics in preparedness include developing written policies and procedures for issues when they arise, building layers of support for employees who are distinct from the direct managers and having an expert resource to go to when questions come up.

Mental health is organizational health

When it comes to promoting mental and emotional health in your workplace, there are several routes you could take -- the key is making it a priority and working to find the right mix of proactive work and reactive preparedness for your organization.

• Robert Cerone is presiddent and CEO of CognosHR in Oakbrook Terrace. The full version of this article originally appeared on 1871's blog in April 2019.

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