Mental health policy and programming in the workplace must play a bigger role as modern workforces continue to evolve

Scrabble pieces spelling out "mental health"

Studies show that top executives have the greatest impact on worker satisfaction and health, from modeling a healthy work-life balance to prioritizing employee health in the workplace, says M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment’s Steph Lund.

Collectively, we are undergoing what is undoubtedly the most challenging time of our shared experience. Enduring a pandemic has been a time of reflection, tested us in countless ways and shed light on certain aspects of life that were unsustainable prior to March 2020.

No area of life has faced more scrutiny than “the workplace.” Many have had to transition their homes and living spaces into a makeshift office, testing boundaries that existed between work and life. This life-altering new reality has brought to light the many ways our mental health has been glossed over, even penalized by employers for so long. 

Headline after headline has explored the effects the pandemic has had on us and the toll that the last two years has taken on our physical and mental well-being. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly half of Americans report that the pandemic is harming their mental health, and a recent Harris Poll found that two of every three employees (67%) who consider leaving their job do so because their employer has not followed through on early pandemic promises to focus on employee mental health. On the flip side, studies reveal that employers that prioritize mental health in the workplace find it easier to retain their staff.

It has become increasingly important for employers to destigmatize mental health and promote open communication and awareness, not only to increase productivity and retention, but also to acknowledge on a human-to-human level, the obstacles we’ve encountered, and continue to work through for over two years and counting.

Studies show that top executives have the greatest impact on worker satisfaction and health, from modeling a healthy work-life balance to prioritizing employee health in the workplace.

Though there may be polarizing and divisive issues that scale within this discussion, there is no denying that the overwhelming consensus is that our mental health must be a priority. While personal and professional factors have a hand in that impact on individuals, leaders hold the keys to drive that change for their staff.

So what does this look like in practice? 

Employers shouldn’t address this as a hard-and-fast rule but rather look at their business and what they’re able to offer and continue to evaluate their policies, year over year. Core development can start with looking at all-employee initiatives, like offering annual wellbeing reimbursements, to offering group meditation sessions, to developing an internal speaker series of experts to address mental health topics with your staff. Other tactics can be increasing employer coverage costs to lessen employee financial obligations towards their healthcare, introduce additional paid time off reserved specifically as mental health days, and evaluate what days or times throughout the work week can be designated as off-camera to alleviate pressure. Above all, promote a greater open-door policy between the leadership team and all employees to discuss, support and come up with solutions to relieve day-to-day stresses and challenges within the workplace.

Extending to the physical space, offices can designate rooms labeled as “break” rooms or wellness spaces that can offer privacy and refuge; build out a portion of the office library to include mental health literature and resources. They can also cater to simple things like having a well-stocked fridge and pantry, allowing access to the company’s speaker system to play personal playlists, offering company bikes to rent for employees to use to and from work, etc. Small things can go a long way to aid mental health, particularly when staff are transitioning back to a commute and shared spaces, where they will need to reconcile giving up the comforts of their routine and home.

Our agency introduced a program in 2021 where the staff were able to undergo certification to become Mental Health First Aiders with a longer-term view of forming a committee devoted to our staff to support, promote and educate on mental health. The six-week course is company-funded and run within work hours. As this was so well-received, we will continue to offer this training year over year to all interested employees. In parallel to this, our committee runs quarterly workshops from experts to address stress, burnout, balance, coping strategies and more. 

Striking the balance between what works for your business while accommodating the needs of your employees is something that will continue to take shape and evolve as your organization does. But above all, it is about changing the conversation and culture in the workplace, committing to that change, and reinforcing those policies. 

It is a critical priority for leadership and one that needs to remain in focus even more so as we enter the next wave of modern working. It is not just a responsibility, but an honor for leaders to drive meaningful change for their employees surrounding mental health. As leaders, we must continue to normalize these conversations and double down on supporting tactics. 

Steph Lund is CEO of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, North America

This story first appeared on PRWeek US.

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