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How to Foster Thriving Mental Health and Well-Being in the Workplace

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    Mental health in the workplace is something every employer should acknowledge, support and prioritize. But mental health isn’t something any organization can “fix.” Rather, supporting your workforce’s mental health is about actively discussing the topic and providing ample resources to employees. Read why mental health in the workplace matters and 5 steps to foster and champion it.

    Our mental health is just as important as our physical well-being. Period.

    Seeking help for mental health concerns has historically been heavily stigmatized and involved significant barriers for many. Today, however, mental health doesn’t carry the same stigma in the workplace. In fact, 92% of employees believe mental health-related conditions are legitimate medical concerns, according to an April 2024 Pollfish survey commissioned by Paycom of 2,200 full-time U.S. workers.

    But even though mental health is widely acknowledged, that doesn’t mean every organization is equipped to help employees address it. We’ve begun to diffuse the stigma; now it’s time to foster environments that meaningfully support, discuss and champion mental health.

    Sound daunting? That’s okay. We’ll help you form a strategy around mental health at your company by exploring:

    In honor of Mental Health Month, let’s consider how to enhance your employees’ well-being all year round.

    What is mental health in the workplace?

    Mental health in the workplace refers to employees’ social, emotional and psychological well-being in a shared work environment. While the phrase suggests collective mental health, you should remember that every individual’s mental health journey is unique.

    Likewise, supporting mental health in the workplace isn’t so much about providing a specific solution. Rather, HR should identify and invest in resources that remove the barriers, create the access and empower individuals to seek the help they need. After all, the actions of caring for our mental health are our own responsibility.

    Why is it important to support mental health in the workplace?

    Supporting mental health in the workplace helps ensure every employee’s right to a safe and healthy working environment. Plus, it’s possible mental health issues affect more employees than you think. According to the Pollfish survey, nearly 75% of workers have experienced at least one mental health-related problem in the last year.

    Without properly addressing them, mental health issues can negatively impact a person’s:

    • health and well-being
    • confidence at work
    • development and career growth
    • ability to socialize and collaborate with colleagues
    • capacity to work productively
    • commitment to their job
    • and more

    On the other hand, properly supporting an employee’s mental health can help them cope with the experiences they may face in a healthy way.

    What are signs and symptoms of mental health issues in the workplace?

    The signs of mental health issues aren’t always obvious. In fact, only 29% of employees strongly agree they would recognize symptoms of mental health conditions in themselves, and even less (21%) believe they would recognize them in co-workers, according to the Pollfish survey.

    Despite this, even seemingly minor mental health experiences can become significant challenges without the right care. And between the stressors we encounter and experiences outside our control, it’s likely we’ll face at least one mental health challenge throughout our lives. According to the United Nations, the common signs and symptoms of waning mental health include:

    • mood swings
    • decline in personal care
    • changes in sleep and appetite
    • unusual and odd behavior
    • paranoia and nervousness
    • high sensitivity
    • a lack of desire to participate and be present
    • feeling disconnected from one’s surroundings and self
    • drops in speech, functioning, concentration and logical thought

    Keep in mind these factors don’t always mean someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. For instance, someone can lose sleep over a physical condition or something completely unrelated to their health — like noisy neighbors or a loud, obnoxious dog.

    However, an individual who experiences any potential sign of mental heath issues over an extended period of time should consult a licensed health care professional. This can even include your company’s on-site well-being advisor or your medical services team.

    Ultimately, mental health support should be readily available, especially to those who feel they’re a danger to themselves or others or are otherwise unable to meet their basic needs. In many cases, workers may ignore a mental health condition because of limited access to care. In fact, Pollfish found nearly half (49%) of employees surveyed cite finances as the most significant obstacle to accessing mental health-related care.

    What if your organization could help turn the tide and give your people the mental health support they need whenever they need it?

    How to talk about mental health at work

    Supporting employees’ mental health starts with normalizing conversations about the subject. To help illustrate how an employee might first start to talk with someone about their experiences, let’s look at it from their perspective. (After all, as an HR pro, you’re likely an employee, too!)

    First, Kelly Greenwood, the founder and CEO of the mental health nonprofit Mind Share Partners, recommends that you should make a point to privately speak with someone as soon as you feel it necessary. If your workplace offers an on-site well-being adviser, they can make it easier to have this conversation without the extra logistics of connecting with an external resource.

    Always set aside more time for this meeting than you think you need. This will help you avoid rushing or downplaying your concern while giving you the space to be clear and transparent about what you are experiencing. It may go without saying, but talking with a licensed mental health professional is confidential except when that clinician reasonably believes you are an imminent danger to harm yourself or others or if someone who can’t defend themself is being taken advantage of. Don’t shy away from discussing a mental health concern that you feel directly relates to work.

    You also don’t have to wait for recommendations. If you think HR or your manager could help, let them know. This could help you convey what you need in a way that’s productive for everyone involved. If you already have some ideas in mind, go ahead and share them. It might be easier to discuss this with statements like:

    • “It’d be helpful to know what resources I have available if I ever need them.”
    • “I think talking about working styles with my manager could seriously relieve some of my stress.”
    • “I’ve been looking into mentoring, and I think that would help increase my confidence.”
    • “I think I’d benefit from more chances to connect with my team.”
    • “I’ve heard a lot about online therapy, and I think I’d like to give it a shot.”

    Sometimes, sharing with your peers how you work best can be helpful in creating a healthier workplace for your mental health.

    Keep in mind that it’s also okay to not know what would help you the most. Ideally, your leader and/or co-workers can help you find a solution that offers at least some of the support you need. Of course, this process is easier within a work culture that normalizes discussions around mental health.

    5 ways to support mental health in the workplace

    There is no blanket approach to improving mental health in the workplace. However, many practices can make it easier for employees to discuss the topic and pursue the specific help they need.

    Access to mental health resources as well as time to engage these resources may be the biggest hurdle. In fact, 35% of employees told Pollfish they have difficulty finding time in their schedule to access mental health-related care. And just 49% of workers report access to employer-sponsored mental health benefits and programs.

    In today’s workplace, employees need support for their holistic well-being, which includes mental and emotional health. Keep these tips from the American Psychological Association in mind as you build a strategy to enhance mental health in your workplace.

    1. Train managers to promote mental health and well-being

    You can’t create a psychologically healthy culture without your leadership’s support. Help your executive team understand employees’ mental health needs. This will aid in gaining buy-in on helpful programs and initiatives that support individuals.

    Additionally, managers and supervisors who work directly with employees play a vital part in implementing and sustaining support. They should understand what goes into a generally supportive environment and regularly check in on their employees on a human level. You should also conduct regular training with every leader to help reduce bias and eliminate other sources of workplace toxicity.

    If your leadership is comfortable discussing mental health, that will encourage other employees to share and request support when they need it.

    2. Gather and act on employee feedback

    You can’t meaningfully help employees if you don’t know what they need. Use anonymous surveys, suggestion boxes and focus groups to gather their valuable feedback. HR should also help create opportunities where employees from diverse backgrounds can be heard.

    Remember, not every individual will be comfortable asking about mental health benefits in person. That’s why you should also consider an easy-to-use tool for employees to ask questions about what resources they have available.

    It’s also not enough to just gather feedback. Once you’ve assessed it and strategized a way of addressing the need, communicate the new initiative to your people. Don’t just use email, either. Consider sending out a required training or a message from a company leader explaining how the new program works and the purpose it serves.

    3. Implement an employee assistance program (EAP)

    EAPs are resources that help employees resolve a range of personal matters. While EAPs cover a wide spectrum of needs, they can also be used to support a positive culture around mental health. And even if a program doesn’t address a specific mental health need, it could help tackle the source.

    For example, an EAP that helps employees find child care could alleviate some financial and logistical stress. On the other hand, an EAP with programs targeting physical fitness could also have the added benefit of improving an employee’s mental health, too. An EAP with a broad range of resources is best suited to adequately help address the broad needs of a human workforce.

    4. Offer a mix of benefits

    Basic benefits like health insurance and retirement plans are still useful, but they’re also expected. Today, employees should have access to options that can address diverse needs. These could include:

    • pet insurance
    • dietary and nutrition support
    • on-site gyms
    • caregiver support
    • privacy booths for therapy and medical appointments
    • self-guided wellness education content
    • family-planning benefits
    • financial literacy courses
    • other unconventional benefits

    Like your mental health resources, the benefits you offer should be informed by what your employees actually want. While experimenting with offerings is fine, you should never assume what employees would like.

    5. Take a critical look at diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) policies

    A positive culture around mental health goes hand in hand with inclusive and equitable work environments. In fact, it will be tough to support mental health without a genuine commitment to DEIB. Without it, an organization could do more harm than good.

    DEIB shouldn’t just be a box to check. You should use it to demonstrate that your business values employees bringing their true, authentic selves to work. When employees know they’ll receive equitable treatment no matter who they are, it’s easier for them to see the value of long-term employment at your company.

    Make sure to host regular conversations and celebrations about DEIB. Implement DEIB into your regular training and communication to further foster inclusion and make empathy and mutual understanding a facet of your work culture.

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn more about mental health at work, benefits and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.