How managers can prioritize their employees’ mental health

An inclusive culture is good for business — and your employees' behavioral health

Kanarys CEO Mandy Price

Mandy Price, CEO of Kanarys, says managers are at the forefront of the efforts companies can make to support the mental wellness of their teams.

Photo: Kanarys

Mandy Price is the CEO and co-founder ofKanarys, a technology company focused on providing the tools organizations need to create long-term systemic change around diversity, equity and inclusion challenges.

As employees start to head back into offices and return to a new normal of lingering health anxiety and hybrid working environments, it's even more important for employers to have appropriate policies in place to encourage mental wellness in the workplace. Now more than ever ignoring employees' mental and emotional wellness is simply not an option for managers.

The importance of promoting mental health

Nine out of 10 employers surveyed by McKinsey reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the behavioral health of their workforce.

Although mental health challenges were undoubtedly present in the workplace before the pandemic, the consensus among researchers is that these challenges have increased significantly. Forty-one percent of American adults — including 75% of Gen Z (18- to 24-year-olds) — surveyed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in late June 2020 reported struggling with mental health issues stemming from the pandemic. Employees are struggling and exhausted, and have been surviving in these conditions of constant stress for well over a year now.

Lost productivity caused by two of the most common mental issues — anxiety and depression — now cost the global economy one trillion dollars every year.

How to prioritize mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

There are company policies that can have a significant impact in supporting mental wellness at your workplace like:

  • Appointing a senior leader in charge of the initiative
  • Offering mental health benefits that are on par with physical health benefits
  • Ensuring easy access to resources without stigma
  • Measuring and meeting the real and current needs of your employees

However, while policies and practices have an impact, the path to wellness truly begins during the one-on-one interactions between managers and their employees. Managers are at the forefront of the efforts companies can make to support the mental wellness of their teams.

If you are a manager, it's essential to make empathy a priority. Here are some ways you can help your employees maintain their focus, productivity and mental balance.

  1. Notice and acknowledge the positive things people do. Set criteria for evaluating positive achievements. Keep the praise-to-criticism ratio at roughly five to one, meaning for every negative comment you make, you should share five positive comments as well. This has been found to be the ideal ratio for team member success.
  2. Talk to employees privately to find out what support may be useful and to express your concern. When someone shares that they’re having a difficult time, you’re not always going to know what to say, but what is important is creating a safe space where they can share and seek help when needed.
  3. Regularly check in with people to see what they need to feel included. Especially given that most people are working remotely, regularly checking in with your direct reports is more important than ever. It can be harder to notice when someone is struggling and needs extra support. Checking in shows you care and encourages them to come to you when they have a personal issue.
  4. Seek feedback from others on how to be more inclusive. You won’t know what your team members need if you don’t ask. Once you’re made aware of what they need, you can help problem-solve and call on company leadership to take a closer look at the policies and procedures in place that may be preventing them from having a mentally healthy workplace.
  5. Let others know when their behaviors are unacceptable or unproductive for an inclusive culture. This is a great opportunity to reiterate company values and practices around supporting mental health to help create a safe space. This sets the tone for what an inclusive workplace looks like and what behavior is and is not acceptable.
  6. Engage in respectful and curious questioning. In order to better understand others’ viewpoints, make sure to ask specific questions on what support would be welcomed. Be encouraging, wait to hear their full answer before offering support and always approach these conversations with an open mind.
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