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The Future of Work

The Keys to Prioritizing Workers’ Mental Well-being

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Mental Health First Aid at Work, from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, educates employees at every level and teaches them how to identify, understand, and respond to other adults who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge in the workplace. We talked to the program’s vice president, Tramaine EL-Amin, about the best ways to promote mental well-being at work. 

Tramaine EL-Amin

Vice President, Mental Health First Aid

“If a company can tangibly demonstrate that they care about the health and well-being of its employees, they will attract and retain the type of talent that can help them succeed in the long run.”

Why should employers invest in the mental well-being of their workers? 

Employer investment in the well-being of their workforce is essential because mental health is a fundamental part of our overall wellness.  

Naturally, challenges may arise in the workplace. Investing in the mental well-being of employees can help them implement best practices for self-care and build a more resilient mindset at work, especially during times of heightened stress.  

Unmet mental health needs can impact an employee’s job performance, attendance, productivity, engagement, and communication at work. Ultimately, if a company can tangibly demonstrate that they care about the health and well-being of its employees, they will attract and retain the type of talent that can help them succeed in the long run.   

Which companies are doing the best job of caring for their employees’ mental health? What are they doing that sets them apart?  

Kate Spade New York comes to mind as a company that cares for its employees’ overall health, including mental health. For over a decade, they’ve been providing women and girls with access to mental health resources, globally advocating on the issue and using their platform to help destigmatize mental health issues. They have also recently announced a commitment to supporting 100,000 women and girls by 2025.  

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing has partnered with Kate Spade New York on several campaigns and initiatives, and in April 2022, we awarded them with the Mental Health First Aid Partnership Award, which celebrates an organization or individual making a tangible, measurable impact on their communities in changing the conversation around mental well-being. 

What is one thing any business owner or HR leader can start doing to improve the mental wellness of their workforce? 

Business owners and HR leaders can use communication and inclusive language to help reduce stigma surrounding mental health and substance use challenges at work. Our choice of words can help break down misconceptions and stereotypes about mental health challenges. For instance, using person-first or identity-first language, which puts focus on the individual and not their diagnosis, can go a long way in validating an employee’s experiences.  

Leadership investment in employee workshops and trainings can also help staff learn about the signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use challenges at work. Before rolling out large-scale mental wellness programs in the workplace, it’s important that education is first provided to increase mental health literacy among team members. 

Are there any common mental well-being programs or practices that you see as ineffective or in need of updating?  

Workplace well-being programs that are siloed from the rest of the organization are in need of a refresh — the changes needed must be experienced through both dialogue and organizational structure. Mental health offerings should be provided within the context of workplace policies and procedures, and fit within the needs of the larger organization.  

The most effective mental well-being programs are tailored to each workforce, and reflect a company’s industry, culture, and employee base. It’s ideal when a workplace well-being program offers industry-specific information, since employees in different sectors face unique challenges.  

How can employers prioritize the mental well-being of workers who are not in the office or work from home at least part of the time? 

The workplace, whether remote, hybrid, or in-office, is where many adults spend most of their waking hours each week. Remote or hybrid work does not have to mean isolation for employees if proactive measures are taken. Some tips for employers include:  

Celebrate the efforts of your team members: Start a Teams or Slack thread for shouting out specific accomplishments, spotlight project successes in team meetings, and ensure all workers feel appreciated, whether they are working remotely or in the office.  

Incorporate regular check-ins: Build relationships with your team members, whether you’re meeting face-to-face in a conference room or are scheduling weekly Zoom calls to catch up. Scheduling regular check-ins with your employees can help you focus on them as people, not just as employees to help build stronger relationships.  

Respect employees’ work/life alignment: Caregivers who work from home may need to step out to drop off or pick up children or others that depend on them from school or other activities. Team members with pets may need to step out for a walk during lunch or visit the vet during typical business hours. Much like in-office employees are not tied to their desks, encourage your remote and hybrid workers to manage their own time and communicate their schedules with their managers.

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