3 Practical Mental Health Initiatives Your Workplace Can Implement Right Away
My clients and audience members in my presentations have heard me speak about how one of my pet peeves is the casual “throwing around” of mental health buzz words. I’ve seen and heard both organizations and individuals express that they’re making wellness a priority… but they couldn’t be any more specific than that. I’ve heard lots of discussion about resilience-building, but many who use the term can’t give a definition of what it actually means. When it comes to mental health in the workplace and in our personal lives, it’s impossible to effectively address it if it’s only a vague concept in your mind. In a workplace context, talking in broad strokes about employee wellness without much action around it eventually leads employees to feel mildly annoyed when the topic gets brought up, fostering a negative association with initiatives that, if well-executed (or if executed at all) could be really helpful. Supporting employee mental health is about more than getting mileage out of popular buzz words or simply checking a box. I’ve had the opportunity to work with enough organizations from diverse industries in different regions across the country so over the years I’ve seen initiatives that seem to work well quite universally and those that rarely yield a good return on the time/money/resource investment made. Today’s post is all about practical “start small” ideas to help bump employee mental health up the priority list in your workplace.
1. Put Your EFAP in the Spotlight
If you work for an organization that gives its team members access to and Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), boy oh boy, make use of it! All too often I work with companies who pay in to a robust EFAP but employees know little about it, which usually equates to low utilization rates and high disability claims for mental health related issues. If you send out a staff-wide communication regularly, start an “EFAP Corner” where you highlight the various services employees can access through the program – for example, a monthly newsletter might have a blurb about mental health care resources and supports, the next month talk about how employees can see a financial advisor to help with retirement planning, and so on. Talk about the EFAP at each and every staff gathering (like team meetings). Put up posters on the bulletin board in the break room. I know it sounds silly, but tack the information up on the back of the stall doors in restroom facilities, too – it’s the only place that’s 100% private and high-traffic in every workplace. Your goal is for every employee to know the EFAP’s phone number and website off by heart, and to be able to describe the ins and outs and what’s available and how to access it.
2. Start a Stigma Jar
Address and work to eradicate stigmatizing language in the workplace. We know that stigma continues to be the #1 cited barrier to wellness in Canada and in many other countries – in other words, fear of judgment and discrimination causes those who are struggling to delay or out and out refuse to reach out for help or accept help when it’s offered, despite knowing they could benefit from a little extra support. The specific words we choose really impact the message we communicate to others. Mis-using language that’s meant to describe a psychiatric condition communicates that mental health simply isn’t something you take seriously. The vast majority of the time this people use it for the sake of hyperbole, not to be malicious. However, it might not be a joke we’d find amusing if we were directly impacted ourselves -- for example, if I’m a person who’s struggled with my mental health long-term, or if I’m a primary support for a loved one who lives with mental illness. In the workplace and beyond it’s unfortunately commonplace to hear someone describe their high stress level as having a panic attack, to describe a cranky mood as bipolar, to refer to their co-worker who’s behaving a bit erratically as psycho… the list goes on. Use the concept of “putting a quarter in the Swear Jar” to address this problematic language in a way that’s safe and lighthearted for your team members. Be sure your team participates in training like Mental Health First Aid or one of our awareness sessions first so that everyone’s on the same page. Check out the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario branch)’s guide on understanding stigma and using sensitive, appropriate language HERE as well as the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s free printable Safer Language Reference Guide HERE, which is great to display in the workplace.
3. Recognize Psychological Health & Safety Under Your Occupational Health & Safety Umbrella
Many organizations start their journey to improving employee mental health by creating psychological health and safety policies. My suggestion is to create a psychological health “branch” within existing health and safety policies rather than keeping mental health and physical health separate. Because of stigma and our own unique life experiences, some people have the impression that mental health is a “fluffy” concept that’s not appropriate for the workplace, or something employees should deal with on their time off rather than it being something the employer should have on their radar. Incorporating mental health into your organization’s occupational health and safety policies highlights the fact that our psychological wellbeing is indeed a component of overall health, and makes it easier for everyone in the workplace to get on the same page. The same rules (regulations and laws) apply to mental health and physical health at work, including the Duty to Accommodate, the right to refuse hazardous work and more. Set the tone within your organization that mental health is taken just as seriously as physical health, and build from there. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety provides some useful tips and templates HERE.
One last consideration I want to share with you is that the culture in your workplace carries a ton of weight when it comes to whether any employee wellness program will be useful. Be sure to tailor all initiatives to meet the needs of your team members and account for cultural norms and interpersonal dynamics within the workplace. (That could be a whole other blog post – I’ve added it to my running list of ideas for topics!)
Enjoy the remainder of the week, everyone! Thanks for reading.
P.S. Got a topic related to mental health in the workplace that you'd like the Workplace Wellness Weekly to explore? Let us know!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.