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  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller

Mental Health in the Workplace

The roles of organizations and leaders

As conversations about mental health become a more frequent part of workplace interactions, leaders and organizations need to be sure they are equipped to respond in a consistent, supportive and compliant manner.

Role of the organization

Organizational culture plays a big role in how accepted and supported conversations about mental health are. If you are wondering how your organization measures up when it comes to mental health, there are a few areas you can assess and then address to create a more welcoming and inclusive culture.

Policies and procedures are tangible evidence of what an organization values. Resources to support employee wellbeing are another indicator of an empathetic culture. What do your organization’s policies and procedures signal? If your company has a process to set flexible work schedules or if this is within a manager’s discretion (and available consistently across teams), you may be on the right path. Similarly, if an organization has varied types of leave or generous time off policies, these can be supportive of employee wellbeing. On the resources side of things, a robust employee assistance program (EAP) with a responsive range of tools and services available for employees to access on their own can be another indicator of how an organization encourages employee wellbeing.

An organization’s investment in and prioritization of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is another signal about their commitment to employee mental health and wellbeing. When employees can be their full selves at work, they are likely to feel healthier and more engaged. Team relationships and trust are stronger in an inclusive organization that emphasizes belonging because there is likely to be a high degree of psychological safety. This, in turn, creates a rich environment for innovation and creative thinking.

Of course, policies, procedures, and even a health-oriented organizational culture are not as effective or impactful as they could be without manager and supervisor training on those elements that affect employees and the resources available to them. Research has demonstrated time after time that the direct manager has the greatest impact on employee experience so equipping people leaders with the knowledge, skills, and expectation to support employee wellbeing is essential for organizations.

Role of the leader

As a leader, you may be wondering what your role is in supporting employee wellbeing and mental health. Assuming you are well-equipped with the tools and resources available at your organization, it’s time to check in with yourself.

Good leadership requires a high level of emotional intelligence. When it comes to supporting employee mental health, self awareness is a good place to start. Be aware of your own state of mind and energy level. If you are feeling depleted, acknowledge that to yourself and do what you can to recharge before engaging with an employee looking for support.

It’s important to remember, that with few exceptions, managers are not trained mental health professionals. Your job is not to serve as therapist, but to be an active listener and connector to resources. Sometimes all an employee needs is to be heard and acknowledged. Other times, a connection to the EAP or other company programs may be useful. Ask the employee what types of support they are open to and engage them in creating a solution.

A client recently came to me looking for support managing workplace conflict and stress that was affecting their mental health. I was able to quickly connect with the HR team at the client’s organization, keeping their identity anonymous, to learn about the internal resources available to them. That small step was all they needed to feel like they were heading in the right direction and supported by their organization.

As organizations work to retain employees and fill open roles, a reputation as a supportive culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing can make a difference. Having policies in place that encourage flexibility and that managers know how and when to use can make a difference for employees and are an attribute of organizations with a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Focusing on these areas will set your organization and leadership apart.

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