How to foster a mentally healthy workplace

Juli Walchuk, MHC-LP October 10, 2022

Whether you are a manager overseeing dozens of employees or a new hire, you have the power to make your workplace a more mentally healthy environment for yourself and your coworkers.

Once a taboo workplace topic, mental health is coming to the forefront as employees cope with various mental health conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic, today’s “hustle culture,” and the blurred lines between home and work are just a few of the many factors contributing to widespread employee burnout. Luckily, there are steps we can take to foster more mentally healthy workplaces. This shift can happen in many ways, but let’s discuss it on two levels:

  1. From the top-down, meaning policy changes and increased resource access as established by managers and people in positions of power in a organization.
  2. By changing the culture of an organization, which is something that employees at every level of a company can do.

For managers: 

Managers and others in high-up positions are in a unique place to promote mental wellness, so it’s important to harness that power to do good for your employees! Company policy and protocols are one widespread way to make change, such as offering employees more flexibility for remote work, establishing paid mental health days off, and encouraging employees to use all of their PTO. Most companies offer mental health services through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and Human Resources departments; managers can promote these programs to their employees so they know what support is available (often at no or little cost to them). 

A mentally healthy workplace is one with open communication, where employees feel they are valued and heard. Encouraging employee feedback and including employees in decision-making processes increases a sense of autonomy and purpose. Managers can also lead by example in destigmatizing mental health in the workplace, having more open conversations, and perhaps increasing transparency by sharing their own struggles.  

For employees at all levels: 

The culture of an organization, meaning the norms, values, and expectations, is created at every level of a company…AKA we all have the power to impact and change our work environments! This can begin with destigmatizing and normalizing having conversations about mental health and help-seeking behaviors with coworkers. Casually dropping, “Last week, my therapist said…” or “This project has been a huge source of anxiety for me recently,” in conversation can be more powerful than you think. While many of us may not feel particularly connected to our coworkers, creating a culture of communal care can benefit everyone. Become familiar with the warning signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns so you can keep an eye out for your coworkers and take action if you see someone struggling. 

Another transformative step towards a mentally healthy workplace is embracing diversity and inclusion in the truest sense; BIPOC and other employees of marginalized identities experience discrimination in the workplace, which is a major detriment to mental health. To be a better ally, advocate for real inclusion and speak up when you see instances of injustice.

Finally, setting boundaries at work can bring us closer to achieving that ideal work-life balance many of us strive towards. The pandemic and remote work have blurred the lines between work and personal life in extreme ways, but we can reclaim our time by normalizing boundaries, for example, setting the precedent of not responding to emails after 7pm. This step can be easier said than done, but collaboration with coworkers and managers to establish these norms can help. Though we may sometimes feel powerless in the workplace, remember that our small actions do have an impact. Together, we can change the culture of our organizations, creating more mentally healthy workplaces for ourselves and our fellow employees!

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