Today’s workforce is living in a unique world. Multiple traumatic events have occurred in recent years, from terror attacks to natural disasters, tragedies in homes and families (even the workplace), and even difficult financial situations which force companies to make major staffing changes or close their doors, leaving those involved dealing with the emotional aftermath. Yet, we don’t always do a good job of paying attention to our mental health – either as individuals or as employers. Leaders can make a difference here, in setting the tone and building a company culture that treats mental health as health, as merely the other side of the coin of physical health.

People continue to work, to support their families, and attempt to maintain normalcy in their lives when struggling with a mental health issue. But how do they function in the workplace when suffering from trauma or other mental health issues? And how can their employers support them in healing while ensuring that the business continues to operate efficiently?

Health at Work
  • Nearly one in five Americans will experience a mental health issue each year.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability among US adults ages 15 to 44.
  • Approximately 80% of people with depression report some level of functional impairment, while 27% report serious difficulties in their work and home life.
  • Evidence shows that mental illnesses are often obscured by physical ailments and the reverse is also true. Poor mental health can lead to physical health conditions and poor physical health can lead to adverse mental health outcomes.

Mental health issues are costly to employers, as paid and unpaid time off and reduced productivity affect a company’s bottom line. Therefore, business leaders should place a priority on their employees’ mental health. Invest time, training, and company resources to ensure their team members are supported when dealing with mental health issues and can look to their workplace as a safe place.

With so many people experiencing mental health issues, it’s crucial for employers to take the lead in providing support to their employees. There are ways to make the workplace a supportive environment, help employees through difficult times, and take care of employees who may be struggling, all while keeping the business functioning normally.

Walk the Walk
  • How you as a leader handle stress affects your team. Share your strategies for stressful situations and don’t hide your stress—let them know you are human, too.
  • If you see team members struggling, reach out to them. Express your concern for their well-being and let them know you want to help, don’t focus on their reduced productivity.
  • Offer to reduce their workload for a period of time. Let them know everyone goes through tough times and sometimes people need a break.
Talk the Talk
  • Let employees know its normal to have mental health issues. They’re scared to admit it and we’re still fighting stigma in talking about it. Foster an environment that treats mental health as health, not something separate, and make it normal to discuss it.
  • When you can, share personal stories of mental health issues/stress/tragedies. Part of what helps stigma and discrimination to continue is that we don’t know about other people’s experiences.
  • Make it clear that their health (both mental and physical) are key to the company’s success
  • Remind them how they contribute to the team and how much you value them; but don’t put additional pressure on them, especially early in recovery.
Show Them What the Company Can Do
  • Establish policies for mental health support that are confidential and easy to use.
  • Audit your company benefits to ensure they provide mental health coverage. Does medical time off include mental health?
  • Create a culture of positivity in the workplace, since employees spend a lot of time at work.
  • Find resources to support employees in a crisis and also to maintain mental health on a regular basis. Workshops and team building events can help boost morale and prevent your office from becoming a trigger for anxiety or a source of stress.

As a leader, you can have a big impact on the lives of your employees. As team members, we all need to work together to talk about, and deal with, mental health. It’s not a separate entity from our physical health – it’s just another aspect of it. Setting an inclusive and accepting tone in your workplace will go a long way to keeping you and your employees healthy, happy, and productive.