Discussing Mental Health in the Workplace

Thursday, August 1 2019

It’s not surprising that hundreds of thousands of organizations do not recognize mental illness, and therefore have no policies focused around mental health. The American Disabilities Act recognizes mental illness as protected for the purposes of workplace accommodations, but for individuals who are managing acute or sub-clinical conditions, those who do not wish to self disclose, and even for those who do disclose the ADA guidelines primarily address legal requirements not best practices on creating an inclusive and supportive office environment. This can be a huge issue for people who want to stick to the rules, but don’t know what rules to stick to. If you’re looking to make a change in your organization, here’s a couple ideas that can guide you to a more positive relationship with mental health in the workplace.

Create mental health policies and enforce them

If you’re in a leadership position at your organization, think about creating mental health policies for your workplace. Examples of a Mental Health policy may include creating a workplace relevant self-care plan for employees like the one designed by the National Center on Safe Supporting Learning Environments. This can assist teams and managers to understand how to support one another and how to catch signs of distress/burnout and address quickly before it escalates. If you’re not sure how to approach this topic, consider reading this article that outlines how one company created and enforced a mental health policy.

Alternatively, if you’re an employee who is passionate about this issue but are not in a leadership position, remember there is power in numbers. Ask around to see if any of your coworkers would be interested in pursuing this project, and then you can form a club or committee that works toward more inclusive health policies!

Normalize mental health-focused conversations

In most workplaces, coworkers will ask questions like, “How are you?” or “How is it going?”. If you want your coworkers to be more conscious about genuinely checking in with each other, you need to shift the conversation. Here’s a couple ways to turn common workplace small talk into mental health-focused conversations.

Don’t say: What’s up?

Say: How are you feeling today?

Don’t say: Why are you so bummed out today? Cheer up!

Say: You look down today, do you want to talk about it?

Don’t say: Wow, you look stressed out.

Say: You seem stressed. Is there anything I can do to support you? Let’s go on a walk to get some fresh air and coffee.

Champion your employee benefits

Does your office have an Employee Assistance Program that includes mental health resources, and if so, are your employees even aware of it? Are you an office that encourages employees to use all of their PTO? Employee Benefits are often touted as perks to attract great talent, but they are not always emphasized outside of recruitment. Make sure your employees are aware of what resources are available to them to support their mental health journey.

Encourage a work-life balance at all times

You can turn off your notifications starting at 5 or 6 PM, or put your phone on the charger and forget about it for the night. You can schedule in lunches away from your desk or a 15 minute walk alone or with a coworker to take a break. Want to do something a little more drastic? Try camping somewhere without cell service on the weekend, or going electronic-free for a Saturday. Whether you are in a management position or not, you can always speak up whether to help advocate for work-life balance or to support a coworker who appears to be struggling by encouraging them to establish their own work-life balance routine.

It's a win-win

In an average week an employee spends nearly 24% of their time at work; people’s mental health doesn’t have to (and should not) take a back seat for a quarter of the year. There are simple and effective ways to make mental health a workplace priority. And if you need any more convincing, employees report being 60% more likely to be engaged in a workplace that supports mental well-being. Discussing mental health in the workplace is a win for employees, managers, and the business as a whole.

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