In recent years there has been an increase of discussion about mental health and the importance of building a robust personal mental health toolkit. However, discussions about mental health and how to build a work culture that both fosters good mental health and is inclusive of mental health challenges, has lagged behind.
Mental Health and the Workplace
On average, people spend about one third of their lives at work, or approximately 90,000 cumulative hours. Therefore, how we spend our time at work, and how it impacts of mental health, can make a big impact on our overall wellbeing. Yet so often, companies and organizations fail to consider mental health in their DEI initiatives, overlooking both the importance of providing accommodations for those with mental health challenges as well as proactively seeking to build a supportive environment that fosters mental fitness.
Mental health is an issue that affects us all from something as common as stress, to depression and anxiety, rates of which dramatically increased during the pandemic. In the first year of the pandemic alone the rate of depression and anxiety shot up by 25%. This increase disproportionately affected young people, women, and minorities—groups who felt further isolated and stigmatized from openly discussing their mental health. That figure alone speaks to the need to more adequately address mental health in our work lives.
Including Mental Health in DEI Initiatives
According to the World Health Organization, more that 60% of the total world population is engaged in the workforce. Everyone, regardless of their workplace, deserves to feel safe and secure in their working environment and that goes for mental wellbeing as well as physical and . To create a more accommodating office culture and work environment that recognizes and validates mental health in their DEI initiatives. Here are some steps your organization can take to create a work environment that supports mental health:
Lead with compassion
Creating a work environment where mental health is a key component of an organization’s value system begins with leadership. Consider bringing in an expert to educate organizational leaders about mental health challenges and how mental health intersects with inclusion. If an expert is not an optionyou’re your organization, there are webinars and trainings through mental health organizations that can provide your leaders the resources they need to create safe and supportive environments for their team. When managers and leaders are equipped with knowledge and resources on mental health and in the workforce, organizations are taking a pivotal step in creating a culture that leads with compassion on mental health.
Educate your workforce
Increasing institutional knowledge around mental health is only part of the work involved in creating a compassionate work environment. It’s essential that both leaders and staff have tools at their disposal to know how to seek help should they need it. Organizations can take steps in this direction by adding mental health resources to employee benefits, offering counseling services and making days off for mental health available in addition to traditional “sick days.”
Create an environment for open conversations
It can be difficult to talk about one’s own mental wellbeing and to encourage others to do the same. But one of the key components to a healthy office culture is having employees who know and believe that their management and HR care about their mental wellbeing and are open to discussing mental health and associated challenges. Providing space to regularly check in about employees’ stress levels and work/life balance can help pave the way for mental health conversations to be a normalized part of regular check-ins.
Place available resources front and center
According to the American Psychological Association, there continues to be significant disparities in seeking and utilizing mental health services among racial and ethnic groups. For example, Black Americans are 21% less likely than white Americans to seek out mental health services, and Hispanic and Latinx Americans are 25% less likely. Asian Americans are a staggering 51% less likely to seek those services than their white counterparts. Organizations can work to bridge these disparities and to insure all employees have access to the same resources by making sure resources are front and center. One way to do this is to provide employees with access to pertinent resources on seeking mental health services, as well as a comprehensive explanation of all benefits in all employee information packets and onboarding trainings and materials.
A Welcoming Environment
There has never been a better time than now to create a work environment that supports employee mental health. Doing so stems from creating a work culture that is both respectful and inclusive of mental health differences and recognizes mental health as a key piece of DEI initiatives. A work culture where employees feel welcome and respected, regarless of their background, identity, and challenges, helps to create a safe ans supportive environment, not only for individual well-being, but creates an environment of greater productivity, decreased absenteeism, and higher employee morale. Well mental health is recognized as a key DEI component, we all benefit.