3 min read

Tips to Foster Mental Health in the Workplace

Tips to Foster Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health and wellness are critical to a healthy workplace. They also directly support physical health, productivity, and performance. Conversely, poor mental health can foster absenteeism and staff turnover, reduce productivity, strain working relationships, and produce conflict among staff. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. In a 2022 report, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that 76% of U.S. workers experience mental health symptoms.

Employers have a duty and an opportunity to support mental health and create a happier, more productive workplace. By supporting mental health, employers can build the groundwork for a workplace where employees feel valued, supported, and engaged. Here are a few things employers can do to set a foundation for strong mental health at work:

1. Normalize Mental Health Conversations

Having genuine and open conversations about mental and emotional health problems normalizes these topics and, as a result, decreases the fear, stigma, judgment, and discrimination that may come with reaching out for help. To achieve this:

  • Integrate mental health into workplace wellness programs as an integral part of workplace health discussions. Remind employees about the organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and ensure they can access its benefits and resources.
  • Language matters. Avoid using judgmental or stigmatizing words or terms that suggest a clinical diagnosis, such as “crazy” or “bipolar.” Encourage and model respectful dialogue when it comes to mental health issues.
  • Incorporate emotional ‘temperature checks’ into one-on-one meetings. For instance, a supervisor might ask their direct report, “On a scale of 1-10, where ten is great, and one is terrible, how would you rate your feelings this week?”

2. Recognize Signs of Mental Health Struggles

Mental health distress signs could mean an employee needs help. Signs at work might include:

  • Behavior changes such as being withdrawn around colleagues or being easily irritated.
  • A decline in work performance, motivation, or focus.
  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness.
  • Difficulty in decision-making or organizing tasks.

If an employee is exhibiting signs of struggling, a private conversation between the supervisor and the employee creates an opportunity to share resources and express empathy.


3. Create a Safe Conversation Space

Discussing mental health requires sensitivity and structure. Here are some steps supervisors can take to navigate these difficult discussions:

  • Prepare for the Conversation—Ensure you’re in the right headspace, have time to talk, can meet privately, and can provide EAP and HR contacts.
  • Conversation Starting Points—Use specific observations rather than vague statements. For example, say something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been quiet in our meetings. Can you tell me what’s happening today?” rather than “You don’t seem like yourself today.”
  • Express Genuine Concern—Ask open-ended questions. Be empathetic and listen to them.
  • Encourage Use of Resources—Share resource options, including EAP or HR, and explore the ability to talk to HR about accommodations if needed (e.g., a leave of absence, a change in schedule, etc.).
  • Follow-up—Check in with the employee periodically to see how they are feeling.

4. Involve Human Resources Early and Often

Supervisors should feel comfortable involving Human Resources at different stages:

  • Before having conversations.
  • When an employee has a health problem or needs accommodations.
  • After discussions and plans are finalized for help with follow-up.

HR can help answer questions and ensure supervisors follow legal requirements (e.g., exploring leave rights and/or reasonable accommodations for a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act).


5. Don’t Strip Away Boundaries

While a supervisor’s primary responsibility is to encourage workers and foster productivity, it is important not to discuss personal issues too deeply or ask questions that may make employees uncomfortable. They should also not ask employees about private medical conditions. If an employee expresses that they don’t want to talk about their mental health any further, the supervisor should respect their wishes and not continue to ask if they are ok. Employers must remember that their role is not to diagnose or be the solution for mental health challenges but to provide support and referrals.

Employers can make their workplace more supportive and productive by normalizing discussions about mental health issues, recognizing signs of distress, and involving their HR department. Additionally, supervisors should give employees a bit of empathy, resources, and space to be heard. When employees feel their workplace supports their mental well-being and health, they will feel comfortable, proud to be a part of the team, more productive, and engaged.

Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provide helpful employer information and resources. EAPs can also provide valuable support tools for employers looking to improve mental health in the workplace. Archbright members also have access to resources to help them navigate this complex topic, including Mental Health in the Workplace Keynote. For more information on membership, contact info@archbright.com.

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