Mental Health Awareness Month: The Role of Workplaces
Marcel’s passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion is a natural extension of their background working across sexual health, harm reduction, and reproductive justice movements. As a consultant on the Training & People Development team, Marcel uses their extensive background in facilitation, program development, and community activism to provide education and support around critical DEI issues.
Since 1949, the United States has observed Mental Health Awareness Month – a month meant to spread awareness, educate, and break the stigma surrounding mental illness. Mental health, much like physical health, is something that affects all of us and can shift dramatically throughout our lives based on our environments, genetic makeups, and other complex factors. There is one major factor — our workplace environments — that we encourage leaders to focus on this May.
How to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace
In 2022, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy officially cited toxic workplaces as hazardous to both one’s physical and mental health. At Paradigm, we focus deeply on the role that organizations have in creating an inclusive culture. In celebration of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we have a few strategies organizations can use to create a workplace that bolsters and normalizes ongoing discussions surrounding mental health challenges.
One way to build an internal mental health infrastructure at your organization is by normalizing conversations around mental health. You might be surprised to learn how many people have mental health conditions once the conversation is opened up. We all live complex, nuanced lives inside and outside of our work that impacts how we are able to show up each day. In the wake of troubling or horrifying current events, it is important to provide a space or, at the very least, an acknowledgment of how employees might be affected.
Giving people a chance to process at work is very beneficial for those looking for that type of support. Additionally, we should normalize using our joint time together to decrease rather than increase stress. Starting off meetings with a quick personal check-in or deep breathing/stillness exercises can encourage folks to take a moment for themselves when, all too often, we are unable to check in with ourselves at work.
Mental Health Resources
Another way to build out a mental health infrastructure at your organization is by creating policies and programs that proactively assume the importance of mental health. A few examples include:
- Paid wellness programs: Offering reimbursement for employees to participate in wellness activities outside of work such as therapy, gym memberships, art classes, or anything else that fills their cup!
- Employee assistance programs: Offering therapeutic or coaching support for employees looking to process their emotions and broader goals at work.
- Ensuring your health insurance benefits offer coverage for mental health services. Too often, mental health services such as therapy can be financially inaccessible so ensuring your plans allow for employees to access these resources is important.
- Holding mental health first aid training. Mental Health First Aid at Work is an important program that teaches employees how to recognize if they or a colleague might be experiencing a mental health crisis at work. These trainings empower employees with the language they can use to offer support and awareness of the resources available at their disposal.
- Wellness days — vacation is SO important for minimizing burnout and bettering one’s mental well-being and overall health! Having personal and/or company wellness days on a regular basis can be really beneficial for incentivizing rest and restoration on your team. In a similar vein, encouraging regular usage of PTO by limiting the amount of time that employees can roll over from year to year can also ensure that employees are taking time to rest!
- Four-Day Work Week. Studies have found that four-day work weeks — like wellness days — help to reduce poor mental health among employees and actually increase productivity. Piloting a four-day workweek at your organization can be a worthwhile endeavor if the interest is there.
Strategies to Consider for Mental Health Care
Finally, as the Surgeon General has cited, workplaces play a huge role in our mental health. While it is important to recognize the mental health needs that employees may already be bringing into their roles, it is equally as important to reflect on how our organizational practices impact our employees’ well-being. Are we helping to bolster or erode the mental health of our teams? To help ensure the former, here are a few strategies to consider:
- Encourage flexible work schedules, especially if you have a remote and/or widely distributed team.
- Reallocate work when necessary. If someone on your team is having a hard time, be willing to shift deadlines, reassign projects, and otherwise take things off their plate. Meeting people with compassion when they are struggling is important as all of us will struggle at some point.
- Make workloads sustainable to begin with. PTO and wellness days lose their efficacy when employees just feel like they’ll fall behind if they take time off.
- Managing bias and embracing an inclusive culture. Studies and lived experiences show that navigating a heavily biased workplace is corrosive to one’s mental health, especially for those from underrepresented backgrounds or those who already have a mental health condition. Ensuring that employees have the skills needed to manage bias is paramount in controlling this.
- Invest in pay and growth equity across your organization. If members of certain groups are more likely to be passed over for promotions and other opportunities or are not paid fairly, that not only engenders a culture of inequity but also has a detrimental impact on one’s mental health.
- Implementing “No Meeting” hours. Blocking time off each week where employees are encouraged not to meet (e.g., no scheduling team meetings or 1:1s with reports) is incredibly helpful in making sure that individuals get the time they need to get their work done. Overwhelming or heavy meeting cultures burden our workforces, so we want to make sure that we’re intentional with our meetings and not having them if they are repetitive or could easily be an email instead.
All and all, organizations play an important role in supporting the mental health of their employees. We spend so much time at work throughout our lives, it only makes sense from a mental health, and even somatic, point of view to ensure those hours are ripe with connection, exploration, and community. We deserve to feel good about the work we are doing and also how we are doing it. The process of getting there will look different for every organization, but let the process be exciting! There’s only fulfillment to gain, after all.
Provide Support with DEI Strategies
It’s necessary that we raise awareness of mental health issues and support people in the workplace to create a completely inclusive environment. For more strategies for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace environment, we encourage you to check out more resources provided by our DEI consultants.
April 26, 2023