Create a Healthy Workplace with Mental Health Awareness to Support Your Staff During Challenging Times

Written by: Joyce Marter, LCPC

There are many perks to creating a healthy workplace. Workplaces that promote mental health come with unexpected benefits that impact the bottom line such as reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and morale. The pandemic changed the way corporate America viewed workplaces as they identified “essential” workers and allowed others to do remote work. Now that the world is opening up, employers have been faced with big decisions on how to welcome employees back into the workplace (whether virtually or in person). On the upside, employers have a fresh opportunity to recreate their workplaces in an inviting way. It’s time to apply a little mental health first aid.

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has taken its toll mentally and physically. If employees haven’t returned to the workplace yet, they most likely have anxiety about it. According to new research, employees’ mental health is declining as they return to the workplace with rising rates of stress, anxiety, depressed mood and PTSD. A new study from Total Brain found that two-thirds of American workers say they feel somewhat or extremely anxious about returning to work. Limeade research found that 100% of employees surveyed are anxious about returning to the workplace, citing concerns over exposure to COVID-19, less flexibility, and commuting to work.

Workers were already struggling with their mental health pre-pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many also suffering from anxiety symptoms. The WHO estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

How can you create a healthier workplace?  For starters, business leaders can provide mental health first aid by:

  • Focusing on health and wellness training to facilitate a compassionate and collaborative culture through corporate wellness programming. Training sessions could include mental health awareness, time management, effective communication, conflict resolution, and conscious leadership training for management.
  • Incorporating mindfulness into the workplace. Organizations such as Target, Google, Aetna, Intel, Dow, and the United States Marine Corps have implemented mindfulness-based training programs with well-publicized success. They are incorporating mindfulness clubs, meditation rooms, and yoga into the workplace. Studies have shown that two-thirds of mindfulness training for organizations were helpful in reducing stress, enhancing well-being, increasing employee engagement, creating greater job satisfaction, and improving client outcomes. Mindfulness at work increases motivation and job performance, positive affect and working memory capacity, problem-solving, work-life balance, focus, concentration, creativity, innovation, safety, and ethical decision-making. Offering mindfulness apps like Headspace, Calm, and Ginger can also be helpful.
  • Encouraging employees to use their vacation time and their health benefits, including EAP benefits, health savings, or flex spending accounts. Employees need to take care of their mental and physical health, or they will not be able to be productive at work.
  • Creating a culture that facilitates psychological safety. Understand how to reduce the shame and stigma around mental health by paying attention to the power of language and creating space for honest and compassionate conversations about mental health. Watch your words. Employees should feel safe talking to leadership about what changes need to be made to support the wellbeing of their staff–their greatest asset–without fear of retaliation.

Creating a healthy workplace requires administering programming and resources to promote mental health. Mental health issues are prevalent in the workplace more than ever. Use these practical and innovative tools to help staff practice better self-care, access support, and increase work satisfaction.

If you’d like to learn more, attend my keynote “Mental Health Awareness: Breaking the Stigma & Promoting Access to Care” on August 12 at the Well 2 Work Healthy Living Luncheon or my workshop: “Mental Health First Aid: Building Resilience & Promoting Mental Health at Work” on August 13th in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I’ll also be signing my hot off the press book The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, which includes countless resources for ongoing workplace wellness programing.

About Joyce Marter:

Psychotherapist, Entrepreneur, Mental Health Thought Leader, National Speaker & Author

Joyce Marter has been a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor since 1998 and is an expert in self-esteem, mindfulness and career development. Joyce is the Founder of Urban Balance, a counseling practice she started and grew to over 100 clinicians working from ten locations in three states during her 13-year tenure as CEO. She successfully sold Urban Balance to Refresh Mental Health in 2017 and serves as Chief Brand Ambassador for this national leader in outpatient mental health. Joyce maintains a limited practice and is Adjunct Faculty at The Family Institute at Northwestern University where she has served as a Clinical Supervisor since 2005.

With a passion for advocating for the profession, Joyce has served as the Chair of the Midwest Region of the American Counseling Association, as President of the Illinois Counseling Association, and two-terms as President of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association. She is the recipient of several awards including “Distinguished Alumni of the Year” from The Family Institute at Northwestern University (2008), “40 Under 40” from Crain’s Chicago Business (2010), the “President’s Award for Excellence in Leadership” from The Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association (2017), and the Robert J. Nejedlo Distinguished Leadership Award from the Illinois Counseling Association (2020).

Marter is member of the National Speakers Association and is a national keynote speaker, trainer, and continuing education facilitator. She is a blogger for PsychCentral, Spirituality & Health, and The Huffington Post, has been quoted in more than ten books. Marter is routinely consulted as a counseling expert in the media, featured in such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, CNN, Real Simple Magazine and MTV. Her book, The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life will be published by Sounds True in July of 2021.