Employee mental health is more important than ever these days. Over the past couple of years, the pandemic, political and social unrest, gun and racial violence — in addition to what might be going in one’s personal life — have had a significant impact on many people’s mental health. 

In 2021, the Harvard Business Review found that 68% of Millennials (up from 50% in 2019) and 81% of Gen Zers (up from 75% in 2019) have left job roles due to mental health reasons. As talking about mental health continues to become more commonplace, more people will get the help they need, but men are still much less likely to talk about their mental health than women, even though more than 6 million men suffer from depression each year. Four times as many men die from suicide as women — a number that has been on the rise over the last two decades.  

The World Health Organization lists six of the most common risks to mental health at work as: 

  • “Inadequate health and safety policies; 
  • Poor communication and management practices; 
  • Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work; 
  • Low levels of support for employees; 
  • Inflexible working hours; and 
  • Unclear tasks or organizational objectives.”

Just as work has the potential to negatively impact our mental health, one’s workplace can also be a positive influence. Jerome Schultz, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, explained that building strong positive relationships at work is essential. “Help make work interesting, social, and fun, so stressed-out employees aren’t working in isolation. Workplace relationships that are positive provide a source of support — that’s hard for anything else to replace.” 

Besides improving overall happiness and morale, other potential benefits of supporting employees include increased productivity, increased retention, and decreased healthcare costs. WHO estimates that depression and anxiety, in particular, cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity, but for every $1 a company invests in treating common mental health concerns, the return is $4 in productivity. 

Here are 10 other tips for creating a positive work environment:

  • Require mental health training for managers to recognize the signs of mental illness and how to support employees who might need help. 
  • Use a mental health calculator to assess the risk at your workplace and do what you can to reduce the risk factors mentioned above. 
  • Include mental health coverage as part of your benefits package. 
  • Offer an employee assistance program (EAP) for free counseling services and confidential support. 
  • Keep an open dialogue about mental health through a newsletter, workshops, or just reminding employees that someone is available to talk anytime. 
  • Encourage management to practice and model wellness for employees. 
  • Create a zen room or space where employees can go to decompress for a few minutes.
  • Promote well-being by offering flexible schedules, access to apps that can help with sleep and stress, encouraging employees to use vacation time, and developing a return-to-work process so that employees who need to take a leave of absence feel supported when they come back. 
  • Make sure employees know about and are encouraged to use programs and available resources. 
  • Incentivize exercise with team-building challenges or activities. 

Employees need to know that you care about them and their well-being. Taking the time to get to know them and their individual needs will help you develop better policies and programs that will help everyone to be their best selves — in and out of work. 

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