Maggie G. Mortali, MPH, Director, Interactive Screening Program, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Over the past decade, employers have made considerable efforts to promote employee mental health benefits and services. With mental health conditions causing significant risk and disability worldwide, workplaces are well positioned to support employee mental health by creating a culture of well being and respect. Promoting mental health in the workplace is one of the most important steps an employer can take to improve an organization’s culture. Engaging employees in these efforts to create a workplace culture that promotes the importance and acceptability of help-seeking is even better.
Promoting mental and behavioral health as part of overall corporate wellness is critical to helping employees thrive and achieve balance and wellbeing. It is important that employees who are experiencing mental health concerns, as well as their colleagues, know that support is available and are encouraged to take advantage of that support. Embedding mental health promotion into organizational policies and procedures is an impactful way for employers to send a message of care and concern for the health of their employees, and to demonstrate that mental and emotional wellbeing is key to individual and organizational success. Workplaces should also consider engaging employees in conversations about ways to improve organizational culture. Involving employees at all levels will help to create cultural shifts that build resiliency, encourage employee help-seeking, and enhance the overall wellbeing of the workplace.
Understanding Employee Barriers to Help-Seeking
In order to engage employees in these efforts, it is important to understand the barriers— real and perceived— that employees often experience when it comes to mental health and help-seeking. Even when employees know where to go for help, some remain hesitant to reach out, afraid to admit or acknowledge that they are stressed, anxious, or depressed. They may not recognize that what they are experiencing is a common, treatable health condition. Critical to enhancing workplace culture is understanding organizational elements that impact employee help-seeking. Building a culture of wellbeing paired with mental health services and programming with specific efforts to address barriers to help seeking, will encourage employees to utilize available mental health services. Including stigma reduction is a core component in successful mental health and wellness programs.
As organizations begin to take more proactive approaches to identifying and managing mental health problems among their employees, these efforts must be rooted in a workplace culture that is supportive of employees in treatment for mental health conditions
Involving Employees in Mental Health Promotion Efforts
There are many ways that organizations can engage employees in mental health promotion efforts. Programs and activities directed toward employees should support efforts to reduce stigma associated with help-seeking and mental health conditions and enhance connectedness in the workplace and in the community. Workplaces can engage employees in mental health promotion in the following ways:
• Develop a ‘Workplace Wellness’ committee to support the planning and implementation of a comprehensive approach to workplace health and culture.
• Create policies that support emotional wellness. Create guidelines for job accommodations ranging from formal to informal/temporary (i.e., allow employees to allot time during business hours to participate in therapy and other mental health programs).
• Promote mental and behavioral health as part of overall corporate wellness campaigns.
• Invite speakers from the community to staff meetings or provide opportunities for employees to learn more about mental health (i.e., Lunch & Learns).
• Provide educational training for managers to learn more about mental health conditions and available resources (i.e., Employee Assistance Programs).
• Offer employees mental health tools to educate them on health plans, coverage, and EAP.
• Raise awareness for how employees can contribute to organizational culture by talking about wellness, mental health and safety in the workplace.
• Share information on a variety of health-related topics including stress management, emotional intelligence, sleep hygiene, work/life coordination, and communication skill building. Utilize employee talents to create posters, brochures, bulletin boards, etc.
• Highlight local events and community resources related to mental health and encourage employee engagement.
As organizations begin to take more proactive approaches to identifying and managing mental health problems among their employees, these efforts must be rooted in a workplace culture that is supportive of employees in treatment for mental health conditions. Successful culture shifts take a comprehensive approach to health that may include changes to the work environment to encourage healthy behaviors in multiple domains of health.
Key features of mental health promotion and programming for workplaces include reducing stigma associated with mental health distress and help seeking, improving access to mental health services such as EAP, and engaging employees in supporting workplace mental health promotion efforts. These efforts not only provide a pathway to elevate overall workforce mental health, but have the added potential to contribute to greater employee engagement and to the financial bottom line of an organization.