5 Ways to Support Your Employees' Mental Health at Work

Mental Health at WorkWe've just completed the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, and around the world athletes are celebrating wins and revisiting training strategies to improve future performances. But amid all the thrills of the games, Simone Biles has captivated audiences for an additional reason: her decisions related to mental health. When Biles bowed out of competition for mental health reasons, audiences seemed uncertain how to respond. Was she brave for protecting her mental health, or was she failing to fulfill her responsibilities to her team and her country?

Plenty of opinions on both sides have been shared, some more graciously than others. Simone Biles and the unique circumstances of the Olympics aside, however, similar questions resonate for all of us across all the various aspects of our lives: at home, at work, with friends, with family, and in our own minds.

How does our mental health affect these areas? In the context of work, what role should mental health play in our decisions and responsibilities?

Mental Health and Your Workforce

During the pandemic, questions like these took center stage as employers tried to support their workers from remote locations while dealing with the stresses of COVID. In August of 2020, Harvard Business Review reported that 42% of employees have experienced declining mental health as a result of the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, however, mental health was already an important issue that deserved discussion. Issues like stress, burnout, work/life balance, and mental health stigmas shape employee experiences at work. 

The good news is that employers are starting to recognize the role work plays in an employee's overall health and to take that responsibility seriously. 2021 has brought those concerns into sharp focus as we look for healthy ways to move forward after a traumatizing year. 

Here are five things you can do to support mental health at work:

1. Encourage mental health discussions.

Everyone experiences mental health struggles. Discussions around mental health issues help to normalize those experiences so people don’t feel alone. Because mental health still carries a stigma in many workplaces, change must start at the top if you hope to shift the culture to be more inclusive toward mental health issues. For example:

  • Consider policy changes to support mental health. Flexible work hours, mental health days, and leave policies help support a healthier work environment. Look for ways you can support employees so they can do their best work while avoiding burnout.
  • Normalize the use of mental health services. Provide regular communication about what services are available and how employees can take advantage of them.

  • Model healthy behaviors from the top down. It’s not enough to talk about healthy work/life balance; positive behaviors must also be modeled by senior leadership, from the C-suite all the way down to direct supervisors. For example, take scheduled breaks, don’t make a habit of sending work-related texts and emails in the evening, and use your vacation days.

2. Add mental health options to your benefits offerings.

If your current insurance plan does not include mental health benefits, consider adding an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to your offerings. An EAP is not technically health insurance, but it can help with things like assessments, referrals for mental health treatment, and substance usage. An EAP may also assist with training managers to recognize warning signs of behavioral or mental health issues, as well as offering wellness programs to support both physical and mental health. An EAP may offer:

  • Telephone consultations with licensed clinicians
  • Face-to-face and telehealth counseling sessions
  • Resources for assistance with work/life balance issues including child care, elder care, adoption, and more
  • Webcasts about topics of interest
  • Tool kits for stress management and behavioral topics

Some insurance companies will offer EAP programs as an add-on. If yours doesn’t, or if they offer limited services, you may want to consider a stand-alone EAP provider in conjunction with your insurance plan.

3. Consider your legal responsibilities with regard to mental health. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees with mental illnesses may request reasonable accommodations such as flexible hours, adjusted job tasks, and leave when necessary. They may also be entitled to FMLA depending on the surrounding circumstances. Be sure you understand how these laws affect your company and what they require of you as an employer, as well as how they are designed to help employees be successful at work.

4. Proactively help employees find solutions to pressures they may be feeling.

Stress and burnout happen when the pressures we face feel unresolvable. Managers can help alleviate that pressure by helping employees find solutions using available benefits, policies, and collaboration. For example, if an employee is struggling to find child care, remote work opportunities may be an option. If a team consistently works too many hours, managers may need to reconsider the workload. In each individual circumstance, leaders should consider whether an employee is taking advantage of the opportunities available for help and work with them to find a solution. 

5. Create a culture of positivity around mental health support.

When Simone Biles advocated for her mental health, not everyone was cheering. Plenty of people criticized and condemned. It takes a strong personality to advocate for themselves when the culture is not supportive, and many people can’t or won’t do it. That’s why it’s so important that employers create a culture where mental health is not stigmatized. As managers, senior leaders, and HR policies work together to create a culture of support and positivity, more employees will find the courage to get the help they need.


Taking the Next Step for Better Mental Health at Work

The most important thing leaders can do to create a culture that prioritizes mental health is to lead by example. Cultural changes start at the top, and they must be adopted and promoted by everyone from the C-suite down. If mental health is a new topic of discussion for your organization, here are some additional steps you can take:

  • Create a strategy for change. Talk with company leaders about what needs to change and what steps need to happen. Create short-term and long-term goals to bring those changes about and encourage adoption. 

  • Update current policies and practices where needed. Consider whether your current policies support your goals. If they don't, identify areas where you can make positive changes. For exampe, add mental health benefits or offer a mental health seminar.

  • Communicate organizational values regularly. Use multi-channel communications to create a culture that values mental health and healthy stress management. For example, include a mental health corner in your employee newsletter, ask managers to check in with employees during one-on-one sessions, include mental health tips on your intranet home page, send emails about available services, and incorporate microlearning assets into learning and development programs.  

  • Reach out for help. If you need help implementing new policies or creating educational assets, talk to your PEO. They will be able to provide guidance and recommendations about policies, benefit options, and employee handbook development. They may also be able to assist with training and employee conversations about work-related stress. 

Looking for HR help? Maybe it's time to partner with a PEO! We help you get the ball rolling with our one-of-a-kind PEO matching tool. Start your search today! 


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