How to Create a Strategy for a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Every organization has a responsibility to provide a safe, equitable and healthy workplace for its employees. This includes creating a work environment that is mentally healthy and psychologically safe. Not only is there a moral and ethical obligation to provide this level of care for employees, but it also has a positive impact on an organization’s bottom line.

Unfortunately, a vast majority of employers do not have a clear plan to identify and address the mental health needs of their people and organization. It is well-known that people have always brought their troubles to work. Whether they are struggling with relationships, family, or finances, leaving those concerns at the door when they show up to work is difficult.

Although the stigma around mental health has improved, especially during the pandemic, it is still a significant barrier that prevents people from getting the support and help they need. One of the biggest misconceptions is that many people equate mental health with mental illness.

The reality is that mental health is a continuum we move along, from excellent mental health to poor mental health (including mental illness). There is this whole in-between area where most of us live. And that can change day to day, week to week or month to month. Over the last two years, many of us have been all over that spectrum.

It’s essential for organizations to provide people with the training to recognize when someone’s struggling and then give them the tools to intervene. A mentally healthy workplace offers training and tools to reduce stigma and create a culture of help-seeking and support.

What is a mentally healthy workplace?

A mentally healthy workplace is one in which physical and behavioral risk factors are recognized, understood and addressed to minimize their potential negative impact on employees’ mental health.  It reduces stigma, encourages open communication, boosts employee engagement, elevates staff loyalty and raises productivity.

What is a psychologically safe workplace?

A psychologically safe workplace is one where people feel comfortable speaking up without feeling embarrassed or rejected. Employees are comfortable taking risks, sharing their thoughts and ideas freely, and voicing unpopular positions or options to engage in healthy conflict. Psychologically safe work environments are structured in a functional, proactive, and healthy manner, allowing employees to bring new ideas to the forefront. It’s a win for employees and the organization.

Strategy Design Considerations

A well-designed, sustainable workplace mental health strategy is fundamental to an organization’s people and culture and its ability to thrive. Establishing a mentally healthy workplace culture is essential for attracting and retaining employees, increasing loyalty and morale, improving performance and productivity and creating a better bottom line.

Each workplace is unique in and of itself. There may be diverse groups within each workplace that might have vastly different jobs and subcultures than other groups. Larger companies might have multiple locations that have their own cultures and roles.

It is imperative to look at all aspects of the organization when constructing your mental health strategy. Different departments, locations and groups may have distinctive needs. Talk to the people who oversee those locations and teams to discover their unique challenges. You might find teams that are growing and performing well versus others that are hemorrhaging employees.

Gain Leadership Buy-in

Leadership buy-in is vital for a sustainable workplace mental health strategy to succeed. Even the best approach is destined for failure when it is not supported by leadership. So, how can strategy stakeholders gain buy-in from organizational leaders?

Most leaders respond more favorably when there is an associated financial opportunity or financial responsibility. Identifying key performance indicators such as churn rate, absence rates, and general productivity is a great place to start. Data from exit interviews and pulse surveys are also valuable for identifying cultural trends that can be addressed with a mental health strategy.

Another leadership buy-in tactic is to link your organizational priorities to the priorities of leadership. One of the best ways to get leadership’s attention is to tailor your strategy to your organization’s unique needs and solve the pain points it’s experiencing.

Communicate the Strategy

We can have the best intentions and roll out the best programs and plans, but if people don’t know about them and are not engaged, all that energy can go by the wayside. After your organization develops an action plan, it must be communicated effectively so that employees understand the value proposition of the mental health strategy and the reasons behind the change. People are more open to change when they realize the why and the benefits.

Before rolling out your strategy, it is recommended that you train your managers on organizational expectations. Like your employees, they must understand why you are implementing the plan and have talking points for employees. After all, managers will be fielding most of the questions from employees and will need to know how to respond appropriately.

Role Modeling

We discussed the importance of leadership buy-in for creating a sustainable workplace mental health strategy. Role modeling behaviors that promote the organization’s workplace culture is highly significant and could be the difference between a succeeding or failing strategy.

How often have leaders told their employees to go to a workshop, webinar, or even seek help, yet they don’t participate in those events? When employees do not see leaders practicing what they preach, they are less likely to want to participate and be fully engaged. Organizations need more than buy-in from the top down; they also need active leadership participation to achieve a mentally healthy workplace culture.

Find a Partner

Creating a sustainable workplace mental health strategy is an investment that requires a significant commitment. Organizations must be realistic about the available resources and the gaps to create a long-term strategy.

Partnering with a mental health solutions provider like BHS ensures that your organization has the right people with the expertise necessary to transform your workplace culture. These experts understand the best way to uncover the gaps and identify resources that align with the strategy’s vision.

In addition, a mental health solutions partner will work with your organization to measure your strategy’s effectiveness. It is critical to understand what is working well and areas that need improvement. Your partner will be able to analyze the data and make recommendations for modifying your approach.

Want to dig deeper? Watch our webinar on Creating a Sustainable Workplace Mental Health Strategy for All to Thrive.

Post Written by

Director, Organizational Development

For over 20 years, Thomas has focused on the human dimension of organizations, helping them develop in leadership, employee engagement, team building, and change effectiveness. An accomplished and sought-after facilitator, he has worked with several highly valued brands and well-known clients throughout the mid-Atlantic region. His experience includes leading people, helping teams grow, and aligning employees to their organization's mission, vision, and culture. Thomas holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business from York College of Pennsylvania.