As we mark Healthy Workplace Month this October, employers should consider more than their employees’ physical welfare. On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will miss work because of mental illness. Regardless of size or industry, mental wellness needs to be on every organization’s agenda.
As you are probably aware, there is a human rights obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with mental health concerns, but employers can also look to prevent mental illness (and related absences) by taking a holistic approach to employee wellness initiatives. Promote mental wellness by providing support, education, strategies, and initiatives to employees before they are struggling.
We all experience some level of stress at work. Minimize the negative impacts by fostering an open and supportive work environment. Empower employees by creating a safe workplace that aims to minimize unnecessary stressors. Ask employees what they do to handle stress outside of work, and then facilitate some of those coping strategies in the workplace.
Overworked employees need a break? While it may not be feasible or cost effective to introduce a nap room or smoothie bar a la Google, how about creating a coffee corner and bringing in healthy treats once a week? Do you have space to designate a comfortable nook for low key time outs?
No room for a foosball table? Lighten the mood by encouraging some healthy competition. Keep a few board games in the conference room and call an unscheduled games break on Friday afternoon.
Encourage employees to take breaks by chatting with them briefly about topics unrelated to work. Research suggests that connecting with colleagues socially increases job satisfaction, and a friendly interaction can provide an immediate mood boost and lower stress levels.
Go green and bring nature inside with potted plants: you’ll improve air quality while decreasing employee perceptions of stress.
Become a Resource
When you’ve established yourself as an effective leader, employees feel comfortable coming to you with their mental wellness problems and concerns. Make sure you can steer them in the right direction by educating yourself on available resources. Build a network of wellness professionals around you so that you can provide helpful guidance, and have easy access to helpful handouts.
Provide employees with the tools necessary to make meaningful changes. If you don’t offer a benefits program that covers counselling, many communities have organizations offering free or sliding scale counselling services. Finding out if your community offers something similar can be as simple as making a few phone calls.
Establish strategies to encourage mental well-being. Yoga and meditation are great tools to encourage stress reduction and healthy minds. Research indicates that workplace yoga programs can be a great at reducing perceived stress, improving psychological well-being, and decreasing absenteeism. Consider partnering with a local yoga college to offer lunchtime sessions for employees. Emerging yoga instructors get to practice their skills and your workplace gets to reap the mental health benefits.
Be flexible with time and reduce workplace stress with flexible work hours. If it’s not possible for employees to work from home, set core work hours and allow staff to create their schedule within those parameters. Whenever possible, empower employees to set their own break times. Let employees to make health decisions for themselves by relabeling sick days as personal days. Avoid micromanaging and trust that your employees want to do a good job. Building trust into your policies legitimizes employees’ mental wellness needs and can help open a dialogue with employees who might benefit from mental wellness services.
Making subtle changes in the workplace to reduce stress and encourage mental wellness can increase enjoyment, foster a sense of purpose and create opportunities for meaningful connection. Which, ultimately, is what we all want!
Your Engaged HR Assignment
Do some homework. Educate yourself on the mental wellness resources available to your employee, and assemble a mental wellness first aid kit for your workplace with what you’ve learned. Want to take it a step further? Consider signing up for Mental Health First Aid training designed to help coworkers and managers identify mental health concerns.
What strategies do you use to encourage employees’ mental fitness? Leave your response in the comments below.