Employee Engagement

Building a culture that champions mental health

I was lucky to speak on a panel today with several other People Leaders who passionately believe in creating healthy workplaces. (You can watch the recording of our session at the bottom of this post). In our conversations, I found myself thinking about how special it is to be surrounded by colleagues who share my enthusiasm for celebrating employee wellbeing and mental health, and how tough it can be when you want to engage in this important work but don’t feel that you have the support you need to get started. 

There are a lot of reasons why launching a mental health program in your organization can be challenging, and if you find yourself wrestling with how to begin, this post is for you

Whether you’re facing internal doubt from stakeholders, grappling with stigma about creating space for more personal issues in the workplace, or trying to stretch a limited budget, there are many small ways to make progress. The most important thing you can do for your team is take a step forward. Almost anything you do to help your employees feel that their mental health wellbeing matters to your company will be noticed and appreciated -- and once you get a small start, you are likely to find that future steps get easier and easier. 

Here are a few ideas for opening the door to a mental health program or employee wellbeing program for your team:

1. Build community by talking about mental health wellbeing

For a lot of people, talking about mental health wellbeing at work is a terrifying prospect. It can seem like it opens up the door to private information or uncomfortable conversations, and it feels risky. For others, however, the opportunity to talk about this important part of their lives at work is exciting and creates engagement. 

When you as a leader clear space and model that acknowledging mental health is acceptable in your office, you’re very likely going to build some new connections with employees who share your interest. Take time to build relationships with these folks and grow the community of voices that are comfortable speaking on the topic. You are very likely to end up with enough interest for a committee or ERG that can help with planning other elements of your mental health program, or at the very least, some fresh ideas and a ripple effect that spreads across your team. 

2. Assess your resources

When you’re building a mental health program from scratch, it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what you don’t have. If you’re short on budget, time, people, or leadership buy-in, it can seem impossible to get started. However, we encourage you to take a strengths-based approach, and audit what you DO have

Maybe you’ve got a group of eager employees, or really strong communication channels to engage your team. Perhaps you’ve got physical space to have gatherings or deep relationships between employees that encourage employee appreciation, openness and vulnerability. Take stock of what’s already in place and working for your team, and look for ways to build on those strengths. 

One excellent strategy is to simply look at your health insurance benefit offering and get to know the mental health support elements that are available through this service that you’re already paying for! It doesn’t cost a dime for you to educate yourself and your team on how to use the benefits for mental health, but you’re knocking down a huge access barrier for your team. That can be a major win and a great place to start your company-wide communications about mental health.

3. Gather data to strengthen your mental health strategies

While you may have a good sense of what’s going on with your team, you’re not expected to be a mind-reader or know every solution out there. It’s a great idea to survey your team for a pulse of their experiences, challenges they face, feedback on your culture, strategies for mental health programs, and any other information that would be helpful to you as you think through what’s possible at your org. 

Getting data from your team may open up avenues for programming that you’d never considered, reveal interesting solutions that are attainable but weren’t on your radar, and drive dialogue around mental health. Surveying can also help you build a case for why mental health programs are important and build credibility to unlock budget, resources, or other support you need from leadership. You can use data from existing engagement surveys, or you can create a mental health and wellness survey that stands alone. Whatever you do, you’ll be signaling to the team that their voices matter and that your company is interested in working on this topic. 

4. Create a buffet of options to support your mental health program

When it comes to supporting mental health, there is truly not a one-size-fits-all solution, and you’re setting yourself up for letdown if you approach mental health programming with a one-and-done attitude. You will find that no matter what you do on the mental health front, it will resonate with some people but not with others. Instead of getting frustrated, embrace this reality and see it as a positive reflection of the diversity of people on your team. None of your solutions will be perfect, because there is no perfect when you’re aiming to support people with a wide variety of personal experiences, needs, and feelings. 

Accepting this can be an incredible stress reliever that allows you to be more creative, experimental, and unpressured. Think of yourself as responsible for creating a buffet with a little something for everyone instead of just one program that has to work wonders for all. This approach will allow you to build out resources and offerings over time, reduce the stress of having to have the “right” answer, and drive connections with more employees in the long run. 

Fostering a culture that champions mental health is a big project that will take thoughtful consideration, engagement from your team, and time. There’s no doubt that starting to climb that mountain can seem daunting, but we’re hopeful that you can use these tips to take your first steps on the journey. Your team will thank you. 

For more wisdom and ways to take action around mental health from a panel of passionate HR leaders, tune into the recording below of our session with Think Human and Sapling, “Let’s Talk About Mental Health Stigma and Creating a Culture of Support.” For more great webinars and planning resources, stay in touch on our Resources page.

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