Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Hannah Fuhlendorf M.A, LPC
5 Ways to Create a Mentally-Healthy Workplace
Published Jan 17th, 2022 & updated on Jan 28th, 2022
Employee mental health is becoming more of a hot topic these days, and for good reason! Phrases like “The Great Resignation” are being used to label the rise in unsatisfied and exploited employees leaving their jobs. In the United States in August 2021, more people left their jobs than any other month on record. People of all income levels and ages are saying loud and clear: “I could do better.”
Let’s face it, 2020 was a shitshow. And 2021 was a slightly more-organized shitshow. The stress of being an essential worker during a pandemic, a poor work-life balance, and stagnating wages and opportunities are all totally valid reasons to leave a job.
Retail, healthcare, and hospitality sectors are seeing the highest numbers of resignations, but every sector is being affected. You gotta keep employees satisfied! And employee satisfaction definitely includes a workplace that prioritizes mental health.
So how do you create a mentally-healthy workplace? If you’re a leader in any level at your work, or you’re looking for ideas to bring to your management team, here are five ways a workplace can prioritize mental health to make everyone’s work lives a little better.
Seems obvious, right? Higher wages = less financial stress = mentally healthier workplace. But does it really work?
We’ll give you an example. Dan Price is the CEO of Gravity Payments. He took a big risk six years ago by paying every one of his employees $70K USD per year, including himself. He sold his second house, and downsized his life to adjust from his former million dollar salary.
For Price, the return was worth it. He’s nearly doubled the number of employees in his company, still maintaining that $70K yearly salary. Employee turnover was reduced by half, which saved money on hiring and training new employees. And because employees stay longer, they have more experience and maintain high customer satisfaction.
When the pandemic hit, employees felt loyal to the company and took a voluntary pay cut. Those lost wages have now been paid back, and salaries are once again $70K/ year. Some employees credit Price for allowing them to buy houses and start a family. Price himself says that he’s much happier than he was before.
It’s interesting as hell, but that’s just one company. What does science have to say about it?
A 2018 study found that a salary anywhere from $60K to $75K USD is ideal for emotional well-being, and $95K USD is ideal for total life satisfaction. To put that into perspective, the average minimum wage in the United States is $11.80, which works out to just over $24K USD per year at full-time hours.
That’s a big freaking gap. So, if you’re really looking to take care of your employees, wages should be one of the first things you consider. Maybe your company can’t reach $60K per year for every employee, but the closer you get, the better off your workers will be.
Having a good work-life balance is so vital for your mental health. As many people have transitioned to working from home, the lines between work and personal time have blurred. Many toxic workplaces have used the change to justify near-constant digital supervision—even more than in an office setting—and use the convenience of technology to reach their employees at all hours of the day.
We mean this in the nicest way possible: fuck that.
How important is work-life balance, really? A poor work-life balance where you sacrifice your personal wellness for your work can lead to fatigue, health issues caused by chronic stress, and less time with friends and loved ones.
When managers don’t expect employees to be reachable 24/7, set achievable expectations, and show empathy for employees facing personal challenges, it helps avoid burnout.
It’s also worth considering switching to a project-oriented work structure rather than a time-oriented structure, if possible. The 40-hour work week is a cultural and legal default setting that often goes unquestioned. It’s often not an effective, evidence-based work structure. And even if you do need to stick with a 40 hour work week, check with your employees about what they want that to look like. If they want to get their 40 hours done in 3-4 days rather than 5, try to explore that.
Things are hectic right now. Many people are trying to balance work, life, health, and so much more. A little empathy can mean the difference between being honest and open about your struggles with your workplace and outright leaving your job.
Mental Health Safety Disclosures and Trainings
Most workplaces have safety disclosures to go over the hazards of a job, like potentially harmful chemicals, dangerous machinery, and ergonomic strain. But adding employee mental health into your safety programs can address potential long-term issues before they happen and protect employees in the long run.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends addressing the psychological hazards of a workplace, which can include expected pace of work, long hours, working alone or in isolation, conflicting demands between tasks, and fatigue. If your workplace has regular safety meetings, we suggest adding mental health to the list of concerns being brought up.
Surveying the staff confidentially can help people feel comfortable opening up. When employees feel heard and company policies prioritize mental health, a company can see reductions in time taken off, employee turnover, and lower work output caused by mental health struggles. Pretty great, pretty important, definitely worth looking into!
Free or Subsidized Mental Health Programs
Lots of companies offer incentives for employees to take care of their physical health. But what about incentives that take care of their mental health?
Employees that struggle with their mental health and burnout have higher rates of absenteeism, lower productivity, negative or cynical views of their job, feelings of exhaustion, and are more likely to resign.
This is where mental health benefits come in! Think of them in the same way you would think of other health benefits, like medical or dental. Implementing employee mental health benefits has been shown to lower rates of burnout, onsite violence, and workplace injuries.
Employers can provide mental health support through so many avenues! One can be paying for counselling for employees. Within the workplace, employers can provide quiet rooms, guided meditation and yoga programs, and hold workshops on things like grief, stress, anxiety, and emotional resilience. A great mental health resource that’s appealing because of the anonymity are mental health and wellness apps, which employees can use to navigate their concerns on their own time.
Speaking of apps! The DiveThru app has so many mental health resources to use, like a daily feelings tracker, hundreds of journal prompts, articles on mental health topics, and therapist-led courses on things like navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, managing stress and anxiety, and emotional self-regulation. Oh, and did we mention it’s free to download?? Check it out!
It’s one thing to say that there are resources available to workers, but if workplace culture tells people that they shouldn’t be taking mental health days or using those resources, these things will all go to waste! That’s why company culture is SO important when it comes to employee mental health. Which brings us to our next point!
Changing Company Culture
This part is going to take a conscious effort, time, and serious investment by leadership teams. Maybe your company culture is already embracing the importance of mental health. If so, heck yeah! We love that for you.
But some companies have a toxic workplace culture where they go on and on about the importance of mental health and then overwork their employees, fail to recognize their contributions to the company, or make them feel guilty when they want to take a break for their mental health. Companies need to practise what they preach if they want to keep their employees happy, healthy, and productive.
A place of work doesn’t have to be obviously toxic to be damaging, either. Subtle things can discourage employees from being open about their mental health. Maybe an employer says employees don’t neeeeeed to work overtime, but those who do are praised and promoted more often. That implicitly tells the rest of the staff that sacrificing your work-life balance and mental health will help you advance in the company. Not okay!
If a company offers mental health services, it’s super important for people in leadership positions to walk the walk. That means encouraging employees to use those services without judgment, and without rewarding those who choose not to partake.
When one person starts the conversation around mental health, more people will feel comfortable with sharing their own struggles. This is especially important if you’re in a leadership position. When leaders are vulnerable about mental health, their employees are more likely to use the mental health resources provided to them because the stigma around the topic is gone. And why bother providing the resources if no one is comfortable using them, right??
But not all vulnerability is appropriate or helpful at work. Take the advice from vulnerability researcher Brené Brown: vulnerability needs boundaries. In her TED WorkLife podcast interview, Brown says, “Are you sharing your emotions and your experiences to move your work, connection or relationship forward? Or are you working your shit out with somebody? Work is not a place to do that.”
While it is true that leaders should be vulnerable with their employees to establish trust and openness in a company culture, there’s a difference between disclosing that you’re also feeling the stress from a particularly busy time of year for your company, and discussing your marital problems with people who work for you. The former can foster an open and honest workplace. The latter is pretty inappropriate.
Now that you know the ways that you can create a mentally healthy workplace, start looking at your own workplace with a critical eye. What’s working? What needs to change? What steps can you start to take to encourage employee mental health in a tangible, nonjudgmental way? With resignations accelerating and the view of the ideal workplace shifting, there’s no time like the present to make workplace mental health a real priority!