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Healthy Minds, Productive Teams: A Workplace Guide to Mental Health

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to fostering a better understanding of mental health issues and promoting the well-being of individuals both in personal spaces and at work.


mental health at work

We know mental health is important, but let’s start with the WHY. Mental health is the foundation of our overall well-being. It influences how we think, feel, and interact with the world around us. Good mental health enables us to handle stress, relate to others, and make sound decisions. In our workplaces, mental health is crucial for a healthy work environment where we can do our best work. Organizations prioritizing mental health often see improved employee engagement, reduced absenteeism, and higher productivity.

 

So how do we do that? In this blog post, we will focus on 3 ways to support employees’ mental health and provide 2 practices to bring those behaviors life.


Supporting Mental Health at Work


  1. Be Authentic: If you are having a tough day, don’t be afraid to say it! And if you have, or are having mental health struggles, be honest about that, too:

“Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own.” – Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol, Harvard Business Review

By doing this, we can create a culture of openness where discussing mental health is normalized.


2. Model Healthy Behavior: As leaders, we tend to focus on taking good care of our teams, and that may mean not doing the same thing for ourselves. One great way to model this behavior is by shortening meetings by 5-10 minutes to make sure everyone has time between meetings to get a cup of coffee, take a bio break, or stretch their legs.


3. Check in often: Don’t assume what your team needs! Build a culture of connection by intentionally checking in with each person and, to the best of your ability, offer flexibility to support the work-life balance they need in the season they are in. We’ve all needed different things at different times!


So, what are a few practices to bring these 3 behaviors to life?


The Power of the Pause

In the hustle of meeting deadlines and juggling tasks, the power of pause is often underestimated.

taking a short work break

Taking short breaks throughout the workday can significantly improve concentration, creativity, and overall mental well-being. Encouraging your team to step away from their desks, even for a few minutes, can help them recharge and return to their tasks with renewed focus and energy. But they need to see you do it first!

 

And not just renewed focus and energy, a recent Forbes article connects the power of pause with unlocking innovation: We’ve all had the aha moment that comes in the shower or in the middle of a long run. It’s called “mental incubation” and proves that when we give our brains time to switch “off,” we make space for new ideas and thoughts to emerge.


Take a Vacation!

Did you know that, every year, more than half of us give up time off? And, according to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2018, 768 million days of vacation time went unused?

 

Vacations are not just a luxury; they are a necessity for mental health. A Harvard Business Review article explains it this way:

“Taking a vacation provides greater opportunity for rest and better sleep (both quantity and quality), which can help unclutter your mind to create more mental space.”
take a vacation

I don’t know about you, but I would love to get better sleep and feel like I have a bit more mental space!

 

Stepping away from work allows individuals to decompress, leading to reduced stress levels and a refreshed outlook upon return. Research has shown that vacations can decrease the risk of heart disease and depression, making employees healthier and happier. Moreover, vacations can provide new perspectives and experiences, contributing to personal growth and resilience. And back to modeling healthy behavior, they need to see their leaders doing the same.

 

So, when’s your next vacation? 

 

By embracing and implementing these behaviors and practices, companies can create a supportive environment that acknowledges the importance of mental health. This Mental Health Awareness Month, let's commit to prioritizing mental health in the workplace, creating a culture where everyone feels valued, supported, and empowered to care for their well-being.

 

For more information on mental health and how to support it in the workplace, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) websites.

 

Footnote: 3 ways adapted from Harvard Business Review’s “8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health – to read more, click here. 

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