Here’s the truth: Our careers and mental well-being are closely related, with 58% of employees saying work has at least a moderate impact on their mental health. 

Yet, many workers feel like they need to be tight-lipped about this. In fact, that same survey found that nearly 40% of employees said they’re not at all comfortable discussing their mental health at work, and another 26.3% said they’re only slightly comfortable bringing this up. 

You wouldn’t expect employees to act like everything is “business as usual” if they recently had surgery or had a horrible case of the flu. Yet, mental health issues in the workplace still carry a stigma, which means they’re often swept under the rug.

That’s not the right approach. Mental health in the workplace (and remote work mental health) is important, and it’s up to leaders and managers to promote a culture that prioritizes and supports the mental well-being of its employees. How? Let’s talk about it. 

Why is mental health important at work?

Why should mental health issues be a core focus for your organization? Well, to put it simply, because you care about your employees and their wellbeing. Their physical, emotional, and mental health needs to be at the top of your priority list if you want to foster a positive culture and a thriving team. 

That human-to-human compassion should always rank above financial performance or productivity incentives. However, ensuring the mental health of your employees offers a number of other benefits for your employees and organization as well. 

As the World Health Organization explains, workplaces that actively promote mental health of employees and offer adequate support are far more likely to:

  • Reduce absenteeism

  • Increase productivity

  • Experience economic gains

Especially given recent pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic when 70% of workers admit they feel more stressed than at any other point in their entire career, employers need to follow managing remote employees best practices.

How to spot mental health issues in the workplace

The National Alliance on Mental Illness shares that mental health conditions run the gamut from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more. That’s why symptoms of mental health problems will vary depending on what an employee is specifically dealing with.

However, when it comes to noticing employees who are struggling with their mental health, it can be helpful to look for:

  • Decreased performance and productivity
  • Reduced enthusiasm and engagement
  • Difficulty concentrating on conversations and in meetings
  • Irritability toward you and others
  • Negativity toward their work and responsibilities
  • Consistently low mood — measuring mood changes with an Agile Niko-Niko calendar can indicate this

Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive checklist. Indicators can vary from employee to employee, and it’s ultimately not your job to play doctor and diagnose employees. 

Rather, it’s smart to keep an eye out for these signs so that you know when you might need to offer more support, provide resources, and further promote mental health within your team and company. 

So, let’s talk about how you can go about making mental health a priority within your organization. Here are five tips to prove to your team that you’re invested in their mental well-being. 

1. Offer benefits that support mental health

You need to start with the basics. All of the candid conversations and team-building exercises won’t mean anything if the right foundation isn’t in place. 

But, unfortunately, 18.3% of respondents in one survey conducted by Paychex said their employer doesn’t offer mental health benefits. 28.8% of respondents rated their company’s health benefits and resources as “poor.” 

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, supporting employees starts with ensuring your company offers things like: 

  • Health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for mental health counseling and medications
  • Free or subsidized clinical screenings, counseling, or coaching programs
  • Employee assistance programs (EAP)
  • Employee support groups
  • Flexible schedules or opportunities to take mental health days
  • Assessment tools, apps, and other mental health resources

By making these things available to your employees, you empower them to take control of their mental health — not just in the workplace, but outside of it too. 

2. Adequately train supervisors and managers

Your company’s supervisors and managers are the ones who are the most in touch with their teams, so they should have their antennae up for any red flags of burnout or other mental health issues so that they can offer support when necessary.

Don’t expect them to know exactly what they should be looking for — it’s your organization’s responsibility to provide adequate training. This can include:

  • Pamphlets, books, videos, and other learning materials
  • Seminars or lectures from mental health professionals
  • Roundtables where they can share advice and tips

This equips them with the knowledge and information they need to keep their finger on the pulse of their team’s emotional and mental well-being, as well as their own. 

3. Make resources available to your entire team

Those mental health resources shouldn’t just be offered to your managers — they can be helpful for your entire team. 

Store them somewhere that’s organized and accessible to your entire staff, so that people can get those resources when they need them. 

Keep in mind that not everybody will be comfortable approaching a manager or HR representative when they want to get their hands on this information, so it’s best if all of your employees can access those resources on their own without help or intervention from someone else.

4. Remember work-life balance

More than 40% of employees admit that they’re neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which can increase their vulnerability to mental health issues.

Yet, 55% of employees agreed with the statement, “I am afraid of getting punished for taking a day off to attend to my mental health.”

Obviously, there’s a gap that needs to be bridged here, and offering mental health days is a great place to start in terms of ensuring better work-life balance.  

One way to do this is to simply offer enough “personal days” for your employees to use. Whether they need to go to the dentist, have a horrible cold, or need a day off to mentally decompress and reset, these days allow them the time they need (without having to give a thorough explanation of why they need time off).

If and when an employee explains that they want some time to tend to their mental health, make your best effort to give them the time they need and avoid asking invasive questions or flooding their inbox with requests while they’re out. 

5. Have candid conversations

As long as people continue to keep their lips zipped about the importance of mental health, there will always be a stigma around it. So, one of the best ways to get your team more comfortable with talking about their mental state is to model that behavior.

This will require that you and any other company leaders get vulnerable and open up about some of your own struggles and emotions. However, it’ll send the message that you have an open, honest, and supportive environment where people can bring their whole, imperfect selves to work.

Additionally, as a leader, don’t neglect the importance of genuinely checking in with your employees — especially about their obligations and passions outside of the office. 23% of employees say that they think it’s a problem that their managers don’t ask about their lives outside of work.

Mental health promotion strategies you can do remotely

Maintaining positive mental health on your team is always a challenge, but it becomes extra tough when you’re all working remotely. You lose some connection and a sense of togetherness, which makes this sensitive topic trickier to address.

The good news is that all of the strategies we outlined above can be used with a remote team. In addition to those, here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Check in with employees frequently: When you aren’t co-located, it’s harder to pick up on emotions and nonverbal cues. Make sure you’re checking in with employees one-on-one more frequently than you would in a traditional office environment. 
  • Practice and model good boundaries: Work-life balance is a key part of positive mental health at work, and managers should lead by example when it comes to setting boundaries. They should honor set “shutdown” times, avoid emailing late at night or on weekends, and generally show employees what it looks like to maintain adequate balance. 
  • Find creative ways to connect: The sense of isolation that comes from working remotely can exacerbate some mental health problems. From virtual happy hours or trivia contests to Slack channels where employees can share tips and resources, find creative ways to keep your work bonds strong. Don’t be afraid to ask your team if they have any ideas for things you should implement!

Creating policies for mental health engagement at work

Mental health is crucial, but it can also be a somewhat awkward or sensitive topic for your company to address. You don’t want to turn a blind eye or sweep things under the rug, but you also don’t want to make employees feel like they aren’t valued or noticed.

A documented mental health policy is helpful for demonstrating your commitment to employee well-being, while also giving everybody a single source of truth for the steps your company takes to address mental health.

At the bare minimum, your mental health policy should include: 

  • Your policy’s goals, such as removing the stigma around mental health or fostering a supportive, inclusive culture
  • Your company’s actions, such as what steps you’re taking to prioritize mental health or how you’ll address mental health risks like overwhelming workloads or a toxic work culture
  • Your resources, including links and information about the different programs and options that are available to employees

This policy will turn out best if you treat it as a collaborative process and source opinions and feedback from fellow leaders, employees, your HR department, and even mental health professionals you can connect with. 

Mental health matters at work and outside of work

The conversation about mental health in the workplace has been gaining more attention in recent years. That’s for good reason: mental health has a big impact on our work, and our work has a big impact on our mental health.

With that in mind, the mental health of employees isn’t something that employers can write off as a personal problem or not their responsibility.

Use this as your guide to promote positive mental health in the workplace so you and your entire team can benefit from a more supportive and honest work environment.