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How To Support Mental Health and Wellbeing In the Workplace


Three coworkers talking about mental health at work.


Key Points


What is mental health in the workplace?


Mental health and wellbeing at work is a diverse spectrum of experiences that impact workers within an organization—ranging from a place of crisis to a place of thriving. It can include our emotions, behaviors, and ways we think and interact with the world around us. Mental health is a product of both individual and environmental factors—including the workplace—which makes it a collective responsibility of employers and individual employees.


All of these experiences can show up in different ways depending on the individual. In our work, we’ve sometimes seen some organizations hyper-focus on signs and symptoms and talk about mental health only related to diagnoses as “real” challenges. All mental health challenges workers experience—diagnosed or not—are worth exploring and supporting proactively.


Why is mental health in the workplace important?


Most full-time adults spend over half of their waking hours on work-related activities. A large body of research shows that work has quite a profound impact on employee mental health—both positive and negative. In fact, burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as a product of poorly managed working conditions. In our latest 2023 Mental Health at Work report in partnership with Qualtrics, finances and work itself were the biggest negative impacts to workers’ mental health.


Ultimately, an employer’s culture determines mental health. It is not only an ethical responsibility for employers to prevent harm from their work cultures, but also a strategic opportunity to harness the potential of their people through proactive support of mental health.


The U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework


Mind Share Partners was a contributor to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-being, which highlights it as a critical priority for public health. “It has numerous and cascading impacts for the health of individual workers and their families, organizational productivity, the bottom line for businesses, and the U.S. economy,” says Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General. 


When employers fail to support the wellbeing of their workforce, they suffer losses in retention, productivity, creativity, morale, and healthcare costs. Investments in mental health and well-being pay off, too. An Oxford and Harvard University study found that firm value, return on assets, and profits were all higher for companies with higher workplace wellbeing scores. And a meta-analysis by Deloitte found that proactive awareness-building and manager training have average ROIs of 5-6:1, compared to reactive treatment-based interventions at 3:1. 


Supporting mental health is not just good business practice; it’s also the right thing to do.  Cotter Cunningham, the founder and former CEO of RetailMeNot, shared his guidance on the matter. “In my opinion, I don't always love when we say, ‘Well, it helps the business to... or it increases profitability.’ I think we owe it to each other just to do the right thing. And so often, we don't. And we fail.”


How employers can promote mental health and wellbeing


It can feel unclear for employers on where to start. Here are three actions that employers of all sizes and industries can take to improve employee wellbeing in their workplace.


Start with culture.


In our work, we commonly see organizations lean heavily on individual support, like benefits and apps. New research shows that these efforts do not improve workplace well-being effectively on their own. Our latest national study found that workers rated a healthy company culture as more helpful than mental health treatment and self-care tools. 


This is why the first step to creating a mentally healthy workplace starts by looking at company culture. Culture is like the air we breathe, and the water we swim in. When the air or water quality is poor, it has negative consequences for our health. 


The path forward will look different for every organization, but can start with key considerations around: 


  • Measurement. In our work with clients, we always start with discovery conversations and surveys to understand the unique underlying workplace factors that are contributing to poor employee mental health. For example, our discovery assessment helped a major biopharmaceutical company’s team overcome the perception of mental health at work being a “fluffy” topic and prioritize it as a strategic, workforce priority. 

  • Leadership buy-in. From that discovery assessment, we recommended an executive session to deepen understanding for top leaders and provide direct context to how they can support their people. Across clients, we’ve also led leadership sessions to develop multi-year strategies for mental health.

  • Integration. When mental health is integrated into every step of the employee journey, it becomes a fabric of the everyday experience of work—not only in response to challenges or crises.


Utilize storytelling to remove the stigma and create psychological safety.


Workers’ comfort talking about mental health at work and feeling supported by their employers around mental health has declined since the pandemic. Creating psychological safety and addressing the stigma with employees is key. Without outward signs of support, employees tend not to utilize company resources offered, such as benefits, self-care apps, or mental health days. 


Mental health storytelling, particularly from senior leaders, can dispel the historic taboo around challenges employees might be facing and allow support-seeking behavior to happen. 


We launched an award-winning campaign called Leaders Go First that showcases examples of what leader stories can look like. One example includes Andrew Miller, the Chief Operating Officer of the Minnesota Vikings, who shared a personal story of his struggle with depression in a virtual all-staff meeting. Afterward, several of his co-workers thanked him for sharing his story and opened up about their own experiences. See his story here >


Help managers navigate mental health on their teams through training.


Managers serve on the frontlines in supporting their team members' mental health and experience of work, but most don’t feel equipped to help. At Mind Share Partners, one of the most impactful things we’ve seen our clients do is to train their managers on how to navigate mental health on their teams. 


Training can help managers understand their unique roles, build skills to create a safe team environment, navigate mental health conversations with care, and foster healthy and sustainable ways of working. Managers are great allies with their frontline knowledge and can even help inform new programs and policies that can be provided organization-wide. 


Remember, what’s most impactful is proactively creating a healthy work culture that supports employee wellbeing, rather than spending too much focus on noticing and averting crises.


Developing your workplace mental health strategy 


Our team of passionate experts offers a free strategy call to help identify targeted actions your organization can take to create the most momentum in bettering employee wellbeing in your workplace. 


Contact us to schedule your free strategy call or learn more about our approach.


 

Nina Tomaro Mind Share Partners' Content Marketing Lead

As Mind Share Partners' Marketing and Content lead, Nina develops and drives the organization's content marketing strategy. As one of the organization's early team members, Nina has a deep breadth of knowledge about workplace mental health and drives the creation of Mind Share Partners resources to support organizations in creating mentally healthy workplace cultures.




Bernie Wong is the Knowledge Lead & Principal at Mind Share Partners

Bernie Wong is the Knowledge Lead & Principal at Mind Share Partners. He manages specialized client services related to research and insights, leads knowledge management across the organization, and oversees Mind Share Partners’ brand design and virtual community for mental health ERGs.




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