There’s no shortage of information available to us on mental health in the workplace. In fact, Googling “workplace mental health” with bring up 275 million results! The more, the better… right? Well, not necessarily. A problem I frequently hear my clients express when I begin my consulting working with them is that there’s too much information out there – it can feel overwhelming, leaving them with no real idea of where to start. Much of what you read online might also highlight ideas and concepts without giving you a whole lot in the way of practical, ready-to-implement strategies. And how do you know which strategies will be effective in your workplace, taking into account your organizational culture, industry, geographical location, size and more? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but here are four things your workplace should consider if you’re thinking about starting or expanding employee mental health initiatives:
1. Assess needs
This sounds obvious, but I’ve seen many organizations start up mental health initiatives because it’s the popular thing to do at the moment, and/or they’re aware that other companies are doing it. Before you begin, you need to be clear on what problem you hope to solve by addressing psychological health and safety. Asking for input from your team members is a valuable process, either informally or through a method like a survey. Rather than setting a vague or general goal that’s hard to track or measure (for example: Improve employee mental health) try using SMART goals (for example: Reduce turnover in Department X by 15% by September 30th). Don’t get caught up in the “latest and greatest” or focus on what other organizations or industries are doing. Every workplace’s needs are different so your approach must be tailored to yours.
2. Engage and allocate appropriate resources
Everyone in your workplace can play an important role in making the environment psychologically safer and healthier, but it’s something that needs to be discussed in detail and decided upon in advance. Don’t just tack “mental health stuff” on to your HR professional’s responsibilities – they probably have a full plate already. Get a team of key players together than ideally includes representation from all departments – executive level leaders, supervisors, frontline staff – and decide who will be responsible for what. Ensure those involved are committed to fulfilling their duties and that they have the time available to do so.
3. Strategize communication
Since humans absorb information differently and getting the word out about your new wellness initiative is vital, it helps to have a communication plan. Some of your team members likely read internal communications, like company-wide newsletters, from start to finish. Others will be more likely to notice visuals, like a poster in the break room. Auditory learners will be best served by listening to a member of their leadership team verbally communicating the new initiative at a team meeting. Think about the different communication channels at your disposal and don’t be afraid of repeating yourself: most adults have to be exposed to the same information 7 times before they internalize it! In addition to the logistics of the initiative, don’t forget to share the “why”. This includes sharing specific goals you carved out in point #1.
4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Start small! Going from zero to sixty overnight typically results in what I refer to as the Firework Effect: your new initiative or program will take off a rocket speed, only to explode in the sky with the shrapnel falling to the ground. A few months later few of your employees will be able to recall what the initiative was all about, or what purpose it was supposed to serve. Making small, systematic changes can pack a big punch, and can give employees time to acclimate and for the changes to really take hold. This provides a solid foundation for growth. Improving psychological health and safety doesn’t necessarily require a big budget. You have to start somewhere!
Mental health is on the radar of most employers, especially in light of the global pandemic. We all know it’s important. Now it’s time to take action!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on 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.