According to a recent Ad Council study, 95% of employees take time off due to mental health issues but cite another reason.
In early November of 2022, the Ad Council announced its multi-year Mental Health Initiative, which aims to change social norms, reduce stigma around mental health and encourage people to take a proactive approach to their mental health issues.
At every step, the effort will be guided by mental health experts, amplified by partnerships across every sector and rooted in extensive research with key audiences.
The topic of mental health is not a new one, but the escalating mental health crisis in our nation and around the world, has brought another layer of focus to the conversation: At a time where conversations around mental health are being normalized, how can we ensure we prioritize talking about it in the workplace?
“As an organization, it’s important for leadership to be aware of the power they have in normalizing conversations around mental health,” said Ashley Menschner, Senior Vice President of Media, and burnout committee member at the Ad Council. “Create spaces, open dialogue and lead by example. By taking a proactive approach and checking in, you can empower your team to do the same.”
Prioritizing conversations around mental health in the workplace involves a purposeful and holistic approach to accomplishing. This includes proactive communication, creating spaces for people to come together and a top-down approach to normalization. To help others begin to have and/or further the conversation around mental health in the workplace, below we have compiled a list of both internal and external resources that may be helpful for organizations and employees looking to prioritize conversations around mental health in the workplace:
Internal Resources & Efforts
Below we have highlighted some steps organizations can take and to normalize the conversation from inside an organization.
Spaces of collaboration
In an effort to normalize and destigmatize the conversation around mental health in the workplace, it is important to provide moments for people to come together in a safe space, to share thoughts and feelings on the topic. Whether it is a monthly check in, a special work group, or something as simple as bringing up the topic on a weekly status, it is important to proactively include the mental health of employees in the conversation. Below we have included a couple examples of the kinds of spaces that may be helpful to curate:
Internal committees can be an extremely helpful way for an organization to proactively create conversations about mental health in the workplace. Committees have the unique power to not only establish the conversation, but to steer it along the way as well. They also have the power to do so from a starting point that brings in diverse perspectives and can brainstorm around changes in policy, companywide communications and other efforts—all without putting the burden on any one person or group.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Another helpful way to provide space in the workplace is through employee resource groups (ERGs). These groups are voluntary employee-led groups who aim to bring people together to foster diverse, inclusive workplaces and allow for spaces where people of similar characteristics or life experiences can be with each other. This can provide spaces where employees can bring conversations around a variety of topics, including but not limited to mental health. ERGs can help to create a natural place of shared understanding for those in specific communities to come together and feel heard and supported in the workplace, outside their daily department or work groups. Examples of possible ERGs: An ERG for working parents; LGBTQ+ ERG; An ERG for people of color; ERG for Veterans; Disability/Accessibility ERG
Language & Policies
It is important that the normalization and destigmatization of the conversation around mental health to be integrated through a top-down approach. Language and policies at any organization have the power to make the most immediate impact in ensuring employees feeling supported and safe when discussing such topics at work. While prioritizing these language nuances in the day-to-day culture, it is important the organization’s language and policies communicate the same. See below for some examples of adjustments in language or policy that can make a large impact:
- Health days: As the conversation around mental health evolves, many organizations are noticing and adjusting the language they use surrounding “sick days” to instead reflect the reality of their employees’ health and well-being. By adjusting an organization’s language from “sick day” to “health day,” the employee starts to become more centered in the conversation. An individual’s health is made up of a lot more than just physical well-being—it also includes mental health. Just as employees know they should feel free to take time to rest and recover when their bodies are sick, it is also important for them to know they can use these days off as needed to focus on their mental well-being as needed.
- Flex hours: The last three years have been an eye-opening time for many people and we as nation have learned a lot, including the reality that the traditional 9 – 5 hours of a job may not the best structure for everyone. For hybrid or fully remote organizations, adjusting to a more flexible schedule can be beneficial for employees, especially for those who’s organizations space across the country and across time zones; have children or are care takers; or for employees who may be enrolled in school, course work, or have other scheduling elements to work around.
External Resources and Efforts
Below we have highlighted some steps organizations can take and to normalize the conversation with support from resources outside of an organization.
Organizations and speakers
No one can integrate mental health conversations in the workplace alone. Sometimes it can be difficult to even find a starting point, but fear not, there are plenty of great resources that already exist that can be shared with staff to encourage and support mental health conversations. We have included a brief list of some external organizations and speakers that may be a helpful starting point in introducing the topic of mental health in the workplace:
- Mind Share Partners is a national nonprofit focused on changing the culture of workplace mental health. They offer a variety of resources ranging from workplace training to hands-on facilitation and self-serve resources.
- Remote Work Prep is an organization that offers fractional (interim) Head of Remote services for companies who want to set up their remote team members for success. Those services include a variety of coaching, consulting, and course related support on the topics of burnout, remote work, and meeting overload.
- Active Minds Speakers takes a peer-to-peer approach to normalizing the conversations around mental health. Organizations can work with Active Minds to host one of their acclaimed speakers for a workplace panel, webinar, presentation, or discussion.
- Workplace Mental Health Playbook:
This playbook from the Health Action Alliance serves as a comprehensive guide to equip organizations with the tools to best support employee mental health in the workplace.
- Workplace Well Being Resources from the Surgeon General:
A framework and resource list for prioritizing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, from the US department of Health and Human Services Office of the Surgeon General.
- Mindfulness & Mental Health Support Platforms such as: Calm Business, Headspace for Work, Ginger Mental Health Care.
Whether mental health is an active topic of conversation, or a new one to your organization, the growing mental health crisis clearly shows now more than ever people need to be able to speak honestly about how they are doing and the workplace is no exception. The resources listed above are by no means intended to be exhaustive, but instead to showcase the variety of ways organizations can begin, or further, the conversation and the efforts to normalize talking about mental health in the workplace.