We are always happy at work, aren’t we? We love our jobs. We love our team. We love our clients. What is there to ever be stressed about, right? All kidding aside — mental health is a serious issue, both at home and in the workplace, and one that has been overlooked and undervalued in the professional landscape for far too long. With my background in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, my goal is always to help our clients create happy, productive team members who thrive in a supportive work environment.
Let’s face it: Work can be stressful — even the best jobs can cause major stress. There is not much you can do to prevent your team members from ever feeling stressed. However, strong mental health can help us cope with that everyday stress so that we can still work productively. We can deal with workplace stress, while still feeling joy and fulfillment from our work. Fortunately, there is increasing awareness being put into mental health in all aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, there is still a gap between recognizing the importance of mental health and actually implementing policies and practices to support mental health in the workplace. In this blog, I’ll take a closer look at this critical issue and help you position your firm to be a standout workplace, providing team members with mental health support and care.
As a firm leader, why is it important for you to implement mental health initiatives within your organization?
Mental health problems can affect an individual’s ability to work effectively, leading to absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced motivation and productivity, and even increased turnover. Furthermore, those problems can negatively impact your overall firm culture and contribute to lower morale among your team. For example, members of your team could misidentify mental health issues as job dissatisfaction. A strong leader should take the time to recognize and promote mental health awareness before issues have the chance to impact both the individual and the organization negatively.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five American adults experience some form of mental illness each year. How many team members are in your firm? If one out of every five of your team members is struggling at some point with their mental health, how do you think that is impacting your organization as a whole? Chances are mental health is impacting your business in one way or another.
So what should you, as a firm leader, do?
There are several steps that employers can take to help promote mental health awareness within their team. The first and most important step is simply removing the stigma around mental illness and creating a safe environment for your team members to discuss any issues they are having. It can be difficult for employees to recognize when they need to seek help, and they often don’t know where to seek that help when needed. As a team member, it can feel daunting, terrifying, and intimidating to disclose mental health issues to an employer. So, as a firm leader, it’s vital to create a safe space within your firm, thus removing the fear, stigma, and intimidation factor. Make sure your HR department, or whoever handles your HR functions, is knowledgeable and equipped to handle mental health concerns from your team in a professional and thoughtful manner.
Consider having a mental health campaign. This could be a fun, positive, firm-wide initiative to open up the dialogue on mental health and remove the stigma around the subject. This campaign could take many forms, from a speaker series to a lunch and learn session, posters around the office, a series of educational emails, or swag that encourages team members to break the stigma. The goal is to create a culture of openness so that your team members will not only feel comfortable seeking the help they need, they will also feel supported by their employer in this very important aspect of their overall well-being. When we as employers need to deal with tough topics, one of the most powerful tools we have available to us is communication. The simple act of talking openly and honestly about something can help your team take a needed deep breath, feel safe and supported, and feel an increased sense of loyalty to the organization as a whole.
Another important step you can take is providing education on mental health to your team. Having a strong, healthy mind is important to performing their job within your firm, right? So, provide the tools they need to stay in top mental shape. Just like any other on-the-job training, provide resources and information to your team aimed to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Educate them on access to support services should they need them. On that note, don’t overlook the critical step of making sure your team does, in fact, have access to support services. Make sure your health plans offer coverage for mental health services like therapy and even medication. However, as not all of your team members may take part in your health coverage plans, make sure those team members are not overlooked. You could also consider providing your own employee assistance program that would allow all your team members to access help equally should they need it. Liaise with mental health organizations locally to see what options and resources you could jointly offer to your team.
Also, remember that your team members have varying amounts of support in their personal lives. Never assume that they will have the resources outside of their work environment to handle their mental health issues. In fact, as we spend so much time with our work “family,” our colleagues may actually be the first to notice when something seems wrong or off about us. In addition to being a team that accomplishes our work projects, being a part of a team also means looking out for one another. Check on your colleagues and friends at work. Check in on those who report to you. Keep the dialogue open so that they know they can discuss any mental health issues they are having without fear.
Lastly, don’t forget about yourself!
Being a leader certainly carries its own stressors! The best thing that you can do to protect the mental health of your team is to stay mentally and emotionally strong. This will not only help them see the importance you place on mental health, but as you can imagine, any mental health issues you are experiencing as a leader will certainly affect your team if left unmanaged. Be a model for your team on healthy behaviors both mentally and physically by recognizing your own need for self-care.
The mental health of your team is simply too important to ignore. Work-related stress is a significant contributor to mental health problems. Smart leaders recognize the multiple demands your team members face, and how those demands create challenges to their mental health. Even the growing pressure of balancing their home and work lives can be a huge strain for your team members. To keep that strain from creeping in and affecting your firm negatively, recognize the key role you should be playing in actively supporting the mental health of your team.