Peak Mind Pro: Moving the Needle on Employee Mental HealthMay 04, 2023
Despite recognizing that mental health has tanked in the past 3 years, our efforts to make meaningful and significant gains in how we support employees remain insufficient.
We've all seen the startling statistics:
- Dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and stress
- Burnout rates through the roof
- Workplaces (and managers) contributing to a huge portion of an individual's chronic stress
- Lost productivity due to mental health concerns
Employees and employers seem to be in agreement that mental health is a real concern that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the typical solutions - like an EAP, insurance coverage for therapy, psychiatry, or coaching, access to a mindfulness app - while truly valuable, just aren't enough.
As psychologist and CEO Dr. Daniel Selling said in a recent Forbes interview, "Offering mental health services to employees that they are unable to access or results in a poor user experience is counterproductive."
I couldn't agree more.
As an actively practicing clinical psychologist, I am well aware of how difficult it is to find the right provider. Wait lists are long right now, and not every mental health provider is the right fit for every individual (Just like you don't see a cardiologist when you have a broken bone, there are different specialties, areas of expertise, and treatment modalities within mental health). Cost, scheduling availability, and stigma can all be prohibitive as well.
Besides, self-guided apps, therapy, coaching, and psychiatry all put the onus of mental health and psychological wellbeing on the individual. They neglect the impact that our environments and relationships have on our wellbeing. It's like choosing not to smoke and then being surrounded by smokers all day, 5 days a week. No matter what you do personally, your health is being negatively impacted by those around you.
Moreover, these individual solutions may not be considered until it's too late, meaning that mental health has already taken a huge hit. It's the equivalent of waiting until you have a heart attack to start thinking about cardiovascular health. Instead, making healthy lifestyle choices, catching problems early, and intervening at the first sign of concern can actually stave off some of those scary, major outcomes.
It's the same thing with mental health.
We spend a significant chunk of time at work, so our workplace culture, relationships with colleagues and managers, and the day-to-day environments and activities we engage in have a tremendous impact on our mental health. Because of that, they also offer opportunities to support and protect everyone's mental health...if we're willing to take them.
While it's easy to feel disheartened and helpless when it comes to effective supports for mental health, there is actually a lot that can be done!
1. Keep those traditional benefits...but make them more accessible.
Barriers to mental health benefits utilization include: lack of awareness, stigma, concerns about confidentiality, and difficulty navigating internal and external systems.
- Be sure to frequently promote any mental health and wellbeing benefits currently available.
- Lead by example. If leaders are willing to talk openly about their mental health and psychological wellbeing - and how they take care of it - that sets the tone that the company really does care and is supportive. It gives the "green light," so to speak, to others to take proactive steps.
- Individuals can help combat stigma, too, be initiating and participating in conversations about mental health.
- Leaders and managers can also support employees in accessing their benefits by providing time off for appointments, building breaks in for mindfulness practice, and having open, non-judgmental conversations.
2. Invest in skill development.
Feeling valued is a protective factor. One way to make employees feel valued is to invest in their development through skills training.
- Provide training in areas specific to their job, role, or profession.
- Providing organization-wide training in psychological strength skills is a way to concretely invest in people while also protecting their mental health.
- Specifically, initiatives designed to build emotional intelligence and psychological flexibility would be a way to support mental health on an individual level, improve relationships on an interpersonal dynamics level, and shift culture on the macro level.
- Trainings of this nature help bake mental health and wellbeing into the day-to-day experience. By framing these as professional development or wellness initiatives, we also get around stigma and help people address mental health before it's a problem.
- Peak Mind offers training solutions in these areas. We'd love to talk about your organization's needs and how you can effectively meet them. Contact us at [email protected].
3. Consistently encourage and model work-life balance.
With hybrid and work from home models, combined with so many technological options for immediate communication and pressures to meet financial targets or carry high workloads, it can be difficult to draw firm boundaries between work and non-work times. Work stress has always bled over into home life (and vice versa), but this spillover effect seems to be amplified these days. People at every level of an organization can help support work-life balance by setting, maintaining, and respecting boundaries around time and availability.
- Set email and other communication curfews so that you can set work aside and focus on non-work tasks during specified times of the day.
- Take PTO...and actually take the time off.
- Allow autonomy or flexibility with schedules when feasible.
4. Create a culture of psychological safety.
Psychological safety means feeling safe to be authentic and to make mistakes. It means feeling seen, heard, and supported. It promotes a sense of belonging and is the foundation of truly successful teams. While every single person in an organization contributes to the culture, it is especially important for those in leadership or management roles to be intentional, courageous, and effective in setting the tone for psychological safety.
- Create an environment that is inclusive and supportive of everyone.
- Solicit honest feedback, especially from those who are not in the majority group, and ensure that everyone's voice is heard.
- Create systems for employees to be able to give feedback to/about managers and higher ups.
- Be open to feedback - tap into empathy, not ego.
- Be curious, especially when it comes to differing opinions, lived experiences, attitudes, and ideas.
- This new TEDx talk from Solomon Wilkins, M.A. shares how to have hard conversations at work. It's well-worth the watch.
- Finally, consider how you respond to mistakes. Are you creating a culture in which it's ok to make them? Are they viewed as learning opportunities or threats to job security?
The Building Psychological Strength podcast and blog is your go-to resource for actionable information and practical tips for creating a joyful, effective, and resilient life experience, at and outside of work.
Check out these episodes in particular:
And these posts:
“Positive workplace mental health requires investment (i.e., time, intention, action) from all levels of an organization..."
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