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The Bare Necessities of Improving Workplace Mental Health

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Not addressing mental health in the workplace is bad. The effects are tragic on the employees and the employer. It results in decreased productivity and effectiveness. It’s unethical, inhumane and in some cases, illegal, and could result in legal action ultimately detrimental to the employer. Plus, employers end up losing brilliant talent, talent unfortunate to lose, talent that needs work and money to live and exist.

Multiple appropriate and effective ways come to mind regarding proactive steps towards creating a safer and healthier space for all in the workplace. I’m sure many of you reading this can name more than a few, which makes me glad. Fortunately, many employers already work to create and maintain healthy experiences for their employees in a number of ways; these companies and organizations set a good example for those who unfortunately have not caught on yet. Thus, this is for the latter group, the group that has not started the recovery process. The following steps are what I see as the bare necessities in even beginning the journey to successful change around workplace mental health.

Acknowledge, Admit and Accept: A good amount of employers can casually acknowledge the issues around mental health in their workplace and some will even admit it out loud to their employees. The kink lies in the acceptance part. Employers will acknowledge the issue but do not seem to fully accept that the issue is an issue and that their lack of helpful action is a big part of the issue. Too many companies and organizations have the “it’s not me, it’s you” mentality when it comes to great talent that ends up leaving, be it talent with a mental health condition or not. They won’t say it out loud, but it’s easy to read between the lines that they see the “flawed” people who leave as the problem, instead of admitting to their own flawed ideas and behaviors that contributed to those people leaving. The psychology of employers must shift, and as much as the bottom-up push remains strong, the change must occur from the top-down.

Educate everyone: Successful and sustainable change begins with accurate and appropriate education. Employers and employees must make every effort to educate themselves on mental health and best practices for concurrently achieving and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace and organizational goals. Workplace leaders must encourage and implement this education, as well as support any employee ideas and efforts to educate their fellow team members. Furthermore, this education cannot be a one-time event. It must be incorporated into training and professional development programs and be ongoing. There are a number of resources work teams can reference and many quality programs teams can participate in to support this process. The following are only a few:

Examine everything: As part of their efforts to constantly improve and grow more successful, some employers make a regular effort to examine the ins and outs of how they operate and implement new and what they see as more effective practices to maintain success. They look at and analyze their past and present norms, achievements and errors to create a positive solution for moving forward. It is understandable to do this when the livelihood and success of a business are at stake, however too often, it seems to be done without acknowledging how the changes have an impact on the people doing the actual work. Employers must thoroughly and fairly examine their past and current norms around employee well-being. This includes recognizing and understanding their errors, and if necessary, enlisting the support of a person or qualified body of people more experienced in these matters.

Employers must accept and embrace that as a society, we neither need to nor can afford to compromise human well-being in the name of workplace success. By doing the right thing, we can have both. Only if and when employers achieve the initial and necessary steps above can they then move forward to make amends for their past errors around mental health, learn to live and embody a new, healthier, more humane culture, and with time and care, help other employers who struggle the same issues. It is neither an easy nor overnight task to achieve, but it is necessary, urgent, and for the benefit of all.

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Originally published: May 17, 2016
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