How to Create a Positive Work Environment That Promotes Mental Health

Human capital has become the most valuable resource in our economy. Most successful organizations have woken up to the fact that taking care of their employees’ mental health at work is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, most executives think that offering healthcare benefits to their employees is the most they can do in terms of ensuring a healthy workspace.

One in four adults experiences mental health issues every year, and depression causes employees to lose, on average, 27 workdays per year. When workers are not fit, the organization incurs heavy losses, yet healthcare conversations at work usually leave out mental health.

The consequences of mental health problems on the workspace are multiple. Affected employees use drugs or alcohol. They are absent from work. They are not productive or engaged. They are stressed and burned out. They quit their job. Sometimes, unfortunately, they commit suicide.

Companies that promote a healthy workplace and protect workers’ mental health are among the most successful. They have better rates of employee engagement and retention. Developing a healthy workplace is vital for ensuring productivity and sustainability in a company.

Entrepreneurs and executives should make sure their employees have good mental health for economic reasons, if not for ethical ones. Employees in a healthy workspace have better performance, engagement, retention, well-being, and happiness levels.

A healthy workplace is one where everyone, from the rank-and-file employees to the executives, collaborates continuously to protect and promote the health of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace.

Here are some changes that you can make right now in your organization to ensure everyone’s well-being.

1. Establish a good work organization

Some organizational risk factors that cause mental health issues are:

  • demanding work,
  • lack of support from the managers,
  • poor communication around the company and individual goals,
  • lack of job clarity,
  • time pressure,
  • lack of rewards or recognition.

If an employee is working on mentally exhausting tasks, they need to have the right organization in place to look out for their mental health. Managers should be adequately trained to support employees in their work and ensure functional interactions.

Employees should be adequately trained to carry out their tasks so that they don’t feel helpless. The company should implement excellent career development programs. Finally, employees should be recognized and adequately rewarded for their contributions.

Setting clear goals and ensuring everyone in the organization is aligned to them, and has the means to accomplish their part, usually goes a long way.

A good organization based on an effective goal setting system gives employees the flexibility to deal with work-life and health situations.  It allows flexibility in the location and timing of work, as long as they reach the business goals.

2. Develop a company culture that rewards healthy behaviors

Rewarding some behavior reinforces it. A company culture that rewards output without promoting the well-being of the employees will encourage people to develop unhealthy behaviors at the workplace.

A good example is the aggressive company culture at Uber, under CEO Travis Kanalick. It allowed the company to expand very quickly in cities worldwide, at the cost of workers’ health and dignity. That culture promoted harassment, bullying, and discrimination, which are commonly recognized causes of mental health issues.

A company culture that sets high standards of behavior by rewarding people who demonstrate them will develop a healthy workspace. Policies and processes should be implemented for proper recognition and reward of employees who adhere to these values, to encourage them to do more and inspire others.

3. Encourage constructive two-way communication

One key to successfully promoting mental health at work is to involve employees at all levels. They should be deeply engaged in improvements you’re making to your organization processes and monitoring the effectiveness of these changes.

The “command and control” management style doesn’t work. It limits employee engagement and prevents you from making real-time course corrections that will allow you to get the results you’re seeking.

Employees should not only be consulted about the changes but also actively involved. Constructive feedback should be sought out for, listened to, and implemented.

4. Put in place a continuous monitoring and improvement process

Employee surveys and interviews usually help identify and assess issues in the workplace. Inquiries should be frequently made instead of waiting for the annual performance reviews.

An excellent way to get frequent feedback is to set up a Happierco Pulse Survey system where employees get one workspace-related question every week or two. The surveys are anonymous for employees to be comfortable sharing their feedback.

Another way is to set up regular 1-on-1 between employees and their managers, but they’re only useful when there’s total trust between the two parties. Managers should be trained in communication and leadership skills.

Issues identified during one-on-one and surveys should be swiftly dealt with. Employees need to feel heard so that they continue giving their honest feedback when requested.

The most severe issues, like harassment, bullying, and discrimination, should be treated with zero-tolerance policies. Employees should receive training on how to deal with these situations when they’re affected.

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5. Promote good personal health practices

Workers usually think they have to sacrifice their health to meet the demands of their bosses and develop their careers. Sometimes they don’t see the need to care about their health until it’s too late.

Physical inactivity is becoming more and more rampant with employees seated at their desks all day long. Employees may also have a poor diet due to lack of access to healthy meals at work. A healthy body is necessary for a healthy mind. So poor physical health practices usually result in mental health issues.

Here are some perks that can be implemented to promote employees personal health:

●     Programs to encourage workers to develop healthy lifestyle practices

●     Flexibility for the time and length of breaks

●     Refrigeration to store food brought from home

●     Subsidized healthy food in cafeterias and vending machines

●     Fitness facilities and classes

●     Enforced no-smoking policies and smoking cessation programs.

6. Support people with mental disorders at work

While many of the changes mentioned above can help employees’ mental health at work, some people can suffer from mental disorders, even in the most healthy workspace.

Because of the stigma associated with these disorders, leaders need to make sure that affected employees feel supported. It’s the organization’s responsibility to help these employees in dealing with their issues and receiving proper treatment.

Policies should be implemented to identify distress signals like performance issues, harmful use of alcohol and substances, poor work attendance, and frequent illnesses.

Healthy team member
Image source: the office up

7. Show buy-in from company leadership

Any important change in the organization will not be adopted if its leaders don’t show the way.

It must start by listening to employees, especially those who are most vocal about workplace issues. It also helps to become aware of what actions other similar companies have taken to improve their work environment. You can learn from how these actions can be adapted to your particular case without reinventing the wheel.

Leaders must make a clear commitment to developing a healthy workspace, sign off changes, and communicate them to all workers.

Mental health issues are still a complicated subject, but it’s a subject that needs to be taken very seriously. You want employees to thrive in your organization and deliver their best work. Initiatives to develop a healthy workplace should be integrated into the company strategy instead of being isolated from core business subjects.

The best way to start making your work environment more supportive of employee’s health and well-being is to ask the following questions. What is the current situation? How does the ideal environment look like? What are the most critical gaps that need addressing? How to address them?

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