Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Mental health in the workplace received a lot more attention during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Three years later, it remains an important topic among employers and team members, as turnover, financial constraints, and shifting priorities create uncertainties and stress for many workers.
Here are four ways to support the workforce's mental well-being.
1. Understand What Employees Want
Every workplace, and every employee, has different needs and challenges. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to be effective. Before embarking on any initiatives or training, employers should first understand what would be most helpful. These may include:
- More flexible scheduling
- Leaders who are open about their own struggles
- Periodic, one-on-one “check-ins” between managers and employees
- Better, more frequent communication
- Realistic expectations and workloads
In their article for Harvard Business Review, Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol of Mind Share Partners write, “Don’t make assumptions about what your direct reports need; they will most likely need different things at different times. Take a customized approach to addressing stressors, such as challenges with childcare or feeling the need to work all the time. Proactively offer flexibility. Be as generous and realistic as possible.”
2. Offer Mental Health Resources and Education
Workplaces may benefit from resources such as employee assistance programs that help address personal issues that could affect work performance. Managers also should receive training on how to identify and address signs of mental health concerns in the workplace.
Employees should also receive appropriate training on how to use the resources available to them. Team members who are struggling with mental health-related issues may not know whom to contact for help and support. They may not know how best to use their mental health coverage. Even if employees do not use every available resource, they should all understand their options if they need them.
3. Build Emotional Intelligence (EI) in Leadership
Emotionally intelligent leaders can encourage workplace mental health because of their impact on the work environment. They can help employees feel more engaged and valued at work and better prepared during times of uncertainty. Leaders with EI are also better communicators, demonstrating empathy and potentially reducing conflict.
Organizations can encourage EI in their leadership by understanding its value and assessing their teams to understand their current strengths and weaknesses. Workplaces should then create a strategy for building EI, such as offering training programs and gathering employee feedback.
4. Beware of Moral Injury
Moral injury can occur when an employee struggles with conflicting priorities that may lead them to make decisions that go against personal convictions. While this is closely related to burnout, moral injury can become a deeper issue, causing distress and disillusionment.
Studies of moral injury often focus on healthcare and military veterans. However, the condition may affect any organization that experiences conflicting priorities that may lead employees to make decisions that go against their own convictions or fail to meet certain standards. Employers should be aware of the risk of moral injury, advocate for their team members, and seek to reduce conflicts between business decisions and personal convictions.
Mental health struggles can have serious effects on a workplace, increasing absenteeism, turnover, and costs, while reducing engagement and productivity. Creating a more supportive environment, and providing mental health resources for employees, can help improve mental wellbeing in the workplace and build a stronger team that is better prepared to overcome challenges.