Promoting Mental Health and Wellness at Work: The Ultimate Guide

Table of Contents

4 Pillars of Mental Wellness Programs

No workplace wellness strategy is complete without a focus on mental health. Its impact on the workplace can’t be overstated: When employees feel their best, they perform their best. While HR leaders can’t always control the challenges their team members face that can impact their mental health, they can play a crucial role in providing the support they need to overcome them.

Strong mental health and wellness programs at work address four distinct areas: Knowledge, Visibility, Culture, and Accessibility. Combined, these four pillars form the shape of a comprehensive strategy that has the potential to transform both employee and organizational health. 

This complete guide simplifies this process, helping you navigate every facet of creating a wellness strategy that prioritizes mental health at work—one step at a time.

Knowledge: Understanding How Mental Health Impacts the Workplace

Mental health in the workplace continues to be a hot topic of conversation in the corporate world. You may have heard of its influence on employee productivity and workplace retention rates, but just how deep does its impact go?

To address the question of mental health at work, you first need to understand it. Getting familiar with the breadth and depth of the topic allows you to: 1.) Build a stronger case of its importance to key decision makers, and 2.) Craft a more informed strategy that creates a positive impact within your organization.

What do we talk about when we talk about mental health in the workplace?

The term “mental health” encompasses a broad definition of our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. Contrary to some narratives, mental health describes a more comprehensive state of being rather than just the presence or absence of mental illness, which is only one component. When someone improves their mental wellbeing—overcoming mental illness or not—they are happier, more productive, and more resilient in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.

As a significant part of many of our lives, our work and our mental health are often closely related. Obstacles we face outside of work can impact how we perform in our jobs, and vice versa. 

HR and Benefits leaders can and should play a role in supporting employees while fostering an environment that prioritizes mental health and wellbeing. While we can’t always control the events that impact employees’ mental health, we can control the resources available to them and how we respond to their moments of adversity.

How can you build a case for promoting mental health and wellness at work?

Making the argument to make mental health a core component of any workplace wellness strategy is good for business and for humanity. 

Mental health concerns are more widespread than many assume. In the United States alone, as many as 1 in 5 people experience mental illness each year. And, this figure does not account for the impact of mental health concerns outside of illness, including workplace stress, burnout, and presenteeism.

Parallel with the high instances of mental health concerns in the US, a relatively high number of working people say they want more from their employers in terms of mental health support. 81% of individuals said they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health when they seek future job opportunities, according to the latest APA Work and Wellbeing Survey

Fortunately, this same survey reports promising data around the effectiveness of mental health support, with >80% of employees showing improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction after treatment for mental illness.

The rising epidemic of workplace stress

The mental health crisis at work isn’t some distant prediction. It’s already here and impacting workplaces everywhere.

According to the latest reports, stress at work has never been higher for employees. Higher workloads, shaky job security, and overbearing managers all contribute to this alarming trend, which is estimated to cost the global economy as much as $8.8 trillion every year. Although HR and Benefits teams may not be behind this rising stress, they have an opportunity to get in front of it. By recognizing the early signs of workplace stress and providing the right support to their employees, organizations can actively improve employee wellbeing, productivity, and engagement. 

Read more: Workplace Stress is at an All-Time High. What Does That Mean for HR/Benefits Teams?

Visibility: Breaking the Stigma Behind Mental Health

Despite enormous progress made, there still exists a stigma around seeking and receiving help for mental health. Whether for depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, or even just managing normal daily stress, many people will reject support out of shame or sometimes even fear of repercussions from their employers.

Struggling with your mental health is a normal part of the human experience. If you want to promote mental health and wellness in the workplace, it’s important to do your part in undoing the stigma. The first step to dismantling this shame is to spread awareness, making mental health as immediate and visible as physical health.

Why is mental health awareness important?

Positive change often begins with a simple conversation. When it comes to changing the narrative around mental health, the more conversations we can have the better.

If someone is struggling with their mental health, they may assume they’re just “down on their luck.” Or, maybe they think they need to toughen up, wait for the storm to pass, and keep focusing on the work in front of them. Raising awareness around mental health support shows people that there are better alternatives to platitudes and suffering in silence. The sooner employees reach out for help, the sooner they can start their healing journey to feel more like themselves again.

Promoting this awareness can happen between individuals who share their own experiences. Or as information disseminated to the larger organization through educational content. HR and Benefits teams should be at the forefront of this charge to create more awareness, making mental health and wellness a normal part of everyday conversation.

Read More: Help Overcommitted Employees Find Balance

Helping managers build their empathy and emotional intelligence

As those who work closest to employees, managers have an outsized role in monitoring the stress of their teams. 

A company’s culture and tone are set by the leadership team. In a culture built on fear, employees are more likely to hide mistakes, lie, burnout, or quit. However, organizations that actively commit to training their leadership team in empathy and emotional intelligence have shown an increase in workforce civility, productivity, and retention.

Believe it or not, empathy works similarly to a muscle—the more you train it, the stronger it becomes. HR teams can help galvanize more candid conversations around mental health by equipping organizational leaders with the tools and training they need to show employees they care.

Read More: 8 Tips to Help Employers Build Their Empathy Muscle

Identifying struggling employees and connecting them to support

Not every employee who is struggling with a mental health issue will raise their hand. Sometimes, a caring voice of support can encourage and connect individuals to the help they need. People have the power to lift up other people. So recognizing the signs of an employee who may be struggling and starting a conversation can be the spark an individual needs to address their mental health concerns. 

HR teams should lead the charge in offering training to managers and other employees to help identify these signs. These trainings are crucial, as mental health concerns like suicidal ideation or substance use disorders can be sensitive topics to broach.

Culture: How to Build a Culture of Mental Wellness at Work

Many organizations claim to prioritize employee mental health. Unfortunately, not enough of them walk the talk. 

Building a culture of mental wellness won’t happen after writing a paragraph into the employee handbook. It requires a deep commitment through every layer of the organization, all the way from executives to entry-level employees. And while it may seem like a mammoth task to complete, the benefits of championing a workplace culture that prioritizes mental health far outweigh the challenges. Studies consistently show that employees who feel valued, trusted, and heard are more productive, less likely to leave, and more engaged in their work. 

A culture of mental wellness is a culture of strength and resilience. So how can you develop that in your own workplace?

What elements of workplace culture do HR and Benefits leaders need to consider?

There’s no single lever HR and Benefits leaders can pull to make this healthy workplace culture appear overnight. Promoting mental health and wellness at work should be woven into the fabric of the entire employee experience. From the moment they are hired to the time they log off of work each day. 

What do employees care about most around work-life balance and wellbeing?

When planning how to promote employee mental health and wellness at work, it can be helpful to prioritize your actions based on what will make the most impact. 

A quick online search will yield a long list of workplace trends, perks, and benefits you can try to improve your culture. But if we let the data guide our decisions, employees care most that their employers offer the following things to support their wellbeing and work-life balance, according to the latest APA Work and Wellbeing Survey:

  • Flexible work hours (41%) 
  • A workplace culture that respects time off (34%)
  • The ability to work remotely (33%)
  • A four-day work week (31%)

These types of perks and benefits can have a significant impact on your employees’ collective wellbeing. Ultimately, however, culture is a lived experience and not a list of benefits. The most effective HR and Benefits teams are attuned to the needs and changing priorities of their employees. Show your organization that you care by caring to listen.

Injecting fun into your workplace culture

Mental health is a serious matter. But in building a healthier, more supportive workplace culture, there’s plenty of space for fun and levity. In fact, introducing elements of play can help counteract some of the negative impacts of workplace stress, reducing fatigue, boredom, stress, and burnout.

Organizing wellness challenges and competitions is the perfect place to start. Not only do they introduce this element of play into the workplace, but they also help employees build healthy habits while creating more social cohesion. 

Read more: How to Organize Wellness Challenges and Competitions for Employees

How mental health fits into a healthy company culture

Company culture is more than your mission statement. It’s the lived experience of working at your organization every day. When you think about shaping your company culture, you may think of facets like adopting a get-it-done attitude, championing philanthropy, or hosting weekly happy hours. And while these elements can have a place at the table of your company culture, your organizational health will never be strong if you don’t also consider the mental health of your employees. 

Read more: How to Create a Healthy Company Culture

Accessibility: Lowering the Barrier of Access to Mental Health Resources

Mental health support can take on several different forms. It can be as formal as sessions with a clinical psychologist, or as informal as a five minute guided meditation session during the workday.

Everyone’s need for mental health support looks a little bit different. Many employers struggle to meet these needs, preventing people from getting appropriate care.

Prioritizing the accessibility of mental health resources positions you to make the most positive impact on employee wellbeing at your organization. To design the right strategy for promoting mental wellness, start by asking: “How can I lower the barrier to getting help?”

Why is accessibility of mental health resources important?

Access to mental health support is often plagued with barriers preventing people from seeking help. It may be too expensive, too riddled with stigma, or physically unavailable in certain regions of the country.

Less than a third (30%) of employees reported that their employer offers health insurance with coverage for mental health and substance use disorders, according to the latest APA Work and Wellbeing Survey. With so many employees calling for more support and so little offered by employers, this gap represents an opportunity for organizations to take the lead.

HR and Benefits leaders can help lower the barriers to mental health support both by organizing the programs and benefits employees need most, as well as promoting these resources to increase utilization.

Helping employees find clarity and peace of mind

The modern workplace is riddled with stress, distractions, and things clamoring for our attention. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. But what organizations can do to fight back against these stressors is to equip employees with the tools they need to navigate them. 

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has helped individuals find mental peace and clarity for hundreds of years. And, when introduced appropriately, mindfulness in the workplace has the ability to help employees achieve higher levels of wellbeing, counteracting many of the modern pitfalls that threaten productivity.

The best part about mindfulness? It can be practiced anywhere, with nothing more than a comfortable seat and 5 minutes to spare. If an employee is strapped for free time, integrating mindfulness can serve as a highly accessible way to improve mental wellbeing.

Read More: Mindfulness in the Workplace: The Key for Enhancing Employee Wellbeing?

Promoting nutrition and fitness

Our physical health has a direct impact on our mental health. More and more, science is understanding the link between proper nutrition and adequate exercise in promoting mental health and wellbeing. There are several ways organizations can help their employees eat healthier and move more, which in turn can improve employees’ mood, boost productivity, and reduce absenteeism.

Read More: Promoting Nutrition and Fitness in Your Workplace

Read More: Eating Disorder Informed Wellness Programs

Close the support gap with a comprehensive EAP

Developing a workplace wellness strategy to improve employee mental health and wellbeing can feel overwhelming. There are many moving parts, things to consider, and layers to navigate. 

Sometimes, if you want to provide support, you need to be open to receiving support yourself. A comprehensive employee assistance program (EAP) that offers diverse, effective, and accessible mental health and behavioral change services simplifies the process. Proven EAPs can transform the health and wellbeing of your employees, increasing productivity and reducing quiet quitting.

Provide the Mental Health Support Your Organization Needs

The right mix of accessible, effective, and people-first mental health support services can transform your employees’ wellbeing. Carebridge EAP offers the comprehensive mental health and behavioral change services that modern workplace needs. To learn more and get your free quote, connect with a member of our team today