6 Fundamentals Employers Can Do for Mental Health

In 2023, it is reasonable to expect every company to have mental health and well-being on its agenda. Yet, many businesses are still unsure where to start and do not have a clear and coherent plan. To avoid throwing in some guidelines that won’t be followed through, paying for training that won’t be attended, and in order to see true ROI, we have listed the six essential actions to put into practice from day 1 to ensure you, as an employer, do your part for your employee’s mental health.

1. Build the right culture

Better than your “on the wall” values, make it part of your lived-in values.
The only way people will, indeed, address it publicly, managers or employees, is if the environment is conducive to it. If there is the right forum, the right time, the right approach, the right invitation, and the right reaction.
Ask how people are.
Something as simple as asking: Are you OK? Or how are you, really? with the intent to listen to the answer, makes a big difference.
It might come as a surprise in a society where independence and self-reliance are often praised to the skies, but many people actually want to be asked how they are. In a study from 2020 by Qualtrics titled The other COVID-19 Crisis: Mental Health, 41.0% of respondents said they want their manager to proactively ask them how they are.
It is interesting to note, also in that study, that people were more inclined to confine themselves to a colleague than someone from HR.
While it makes sense on a pure relationship level, a colleague will have had more opportunities to earn trust and probably also relate to a situation more easily. It is the human resources representative who will, in an ideal setting, have more tools and training to support an employee facing a mental health-related issue.
How to break the silo of departments and hierarchy and make mental health and well-being a company-wide topic and shared value is the key to a healthy company culture. 
Embrace diversity
Not everyone will act the same in a similar situation. The way people are brought up, their cultures, even gender, and past experiences will influence how each and every one of your employees will react in a given situation. While you want to aim to bring everyone together under your brand and values, you cannot expect that one size will fit all when it comes to caring for your staff.
Embracing all kinds of diversity in your team is a way to foster well-being and mental health. Being rejected or feeling like you are not fitting in is a very difficult trauma for a human being. By making sure that everyone is treated equally and respectfully, regardless of their differences, you nurture a sense of belonging and respect that will immediately impact the well-being of your employees.
Show Flexibility where you can 
Of course, as a business, there are rules and priorities that rarely allow you to give everyone a tailored experience to their exact needs, but there are plenty of areas where, as the employer, you are able to adapt and be more flexible.
Flexibility does not always mean working from home; it can also be adapted hours to allow for drop-off and pick-up of children at school or flexible start/end of day to allow for daytime appointments.
Getting to know your employees and their stories beyond their assigned tasks will allow you to better cater to their needs, creating a healthier work culture and a more productive environment.
This starts with the leadership team walking the talk.

2. Model healthy behavior

If we look at the primary definition of culture, it is explained as the sum total of the learned behaviors of a group of people that are generally considered to be the traditions of that group and are transmitted from generation to generation.
If we project that idea in a work setting, we understand that culture is learned by new employees by reproducing behaviors they see in their peers when they first arrive in a company.
If people are gossiping, afraid to speak up, and feedback is never acted upon, chances are, even with the best onboarding possible, it won’t take long until your new talent will gossip and stay quiet when it matters the most.
Whereas if an employee is welcomed into a place where they quickly notice that anyone is welcome to speak up, that feedback is welcome and used to improve the quality of the work and environment, where new ideas are celebrated and not shut down, and where leaders are showing their true colors, these are the behaviors your new member will adopt.
COVID brought a lot of challenges into our lives, but it at least leveled the playing field when it came to addressing emotional discomfort. Most of us, one way or another, experienced it at some point through the pandemic, and the topic rose to the surface almost out of necessity:
“This is happening to all of us; how do we handle it collectively?”
Talking about it was key. But it becomes even more powerful when, instead of coming from the employees, it starts with the people in charge, who open up about their personal experiences. From shared vulnerability comes trust, and trust is the cement of a good and healthy work environment.
It will also help stop associating mental health struggles with personal or professional failure, as they can be experienced by anyone, no matter their hierarchical position.

3. Communicate better

Building the right culture happens through the right behaviors as well as the right communication. What we do and how we do it matters; what we say and how we say it does too.
Get rid of the stigma
People are scared to speak about things that will paint them in a negative light in the workplace. Because they fear being rejected and seen as less valuable, less productive, or unreliable, they will hide their struggle. We have seen earlier that by modeling the right behaviors, leaders will encourage their staff to disregard those preconceived ideas; however, that might not be enough.
It is essential that the written rules, values, and guidelines of the company clearly address these topics and…
Be transparent
Being unclear about expectations or keeping staff in the dark about things that concern them and their work creates unnecessary mistrust and anxiety.
Humans have an overwhelming need to feel like they belong, and being in the know is a way to satisfy that need. It also shows trust and creates a much healthier environment.
When feeling trusted and part of something bigger than themselves, employees will tend to show greater engagement and loyalty towards the company.
Communicating also means listening
Effective listening skills at work are easy ways to build trust with colleagues and employees. Being able to not only listen but also notice and correctly interpret body language can be very helpful when it comes to creating a safe space and promoting well-being.
Some leaders, however, confuse communicating with hogging the mic. It is not a monologue but a conversation, and sometimes the most important part of that conversation is the listening part.
Active listening is an invaluable skill for a good leader, knowing to listen, not to respond, but to understand where and how they can guide and support.
Listening is often the first step in diffusing an issue, as many problems or conflicts often stem from feeling like we are not being noticed or acknowledged.
Give Positive Feedback 
We sometimes forget that feedback can also be positive and focus on giving feedback to “correct” a behavior we want to see improve. But humans thrive on positive reinforcement.
Regular performance appraisals are important, but they are not the only time management should show they care.
Receiving positive feedback makes the employee feel seen; it boosts their confidence, which allows them to dare (and innovate) more and even makes them want to work harder.
As a leader, you should pay attention to and acknowledge both hard work and the display of softer skills such as kindness, generosity, and empathy, which all help create a better work environment.

4. Invest in tools & training

For some, the sheer idea of “investing” in something “intangible” might sound scary, but the benefits of being proactive in that area have been proven time and time again
  • increase productivity
  • better talent retention
  • decreased health care cost 
To name a few of the obvious ones.
Mental health first aid kit 
This is something that can easily and quickly be done by your leadership or HR team and included as part of the onboarding process for all new employees.
When people are struggling, things that seem simple to all might suddenly become difficult.
Make sure you have created the shortest “path” possible from “problem” to “support”. 
This is where and to whom you can go for support or help, and this is how it works 
Train your HR team 
Just like you would have someone in your team “first aid” training for injuries, have your human resources team train in case of mental health issues. Make sure they know how to first react, where to refer an employee or a manager who needs support with a staff member, have them keep themselves updated on the national and international regulations, and keep your internal guidelines up to date.
If you wish to go further, there are actually mental health first aid courses delivered by universities and organisations.
Establish assistance program 
That being said, there is a limit to what HR personnel and managers can do. They aren’t trained psychologists, and it is not their role either. That is why it is very helpful to be able to rely on third-party tools such as Siffi that not only have the professional expertise to support your employees but can also provide feedback data to help your company continuously improve in that domain.
This brings us to measuring.

5. Measure 

Usually, when it comes to productivity, what matters is being measured. What better way to show your team that these conversations matter than by including well-being and mental health as one of your KPIs?
If you are offering apps and online tools, you can start by monitoring the usage of those tools.
Siffi’s dashboard, for example, gives monthly feedback on app usage as well as the most researched topics, all while preserving the privacy of each user. Those data can help the HR department identify trends and areas that may need more work to improve the overall well-being of the workforce.
Regularly measure the well-being” of your team through anonymous surveys asking about the work environment, overall satisfaction, and engagement levels. Regardless of the level of trust you have established with your team, making those surveys anonymous will help bring difficult issues to the surface much faster.
Looking at absenteeism and turnover are also relevant measures of well-being in the workplace.
Opening a forum, physical or online, for feedback is also a good idea. Either through monthly feedback sessions or the good old “suggestion box”, it is good for the team to feel there is a space for them to bring up ideas and improvements.
Now that you have this information, you need to do something with it.

6. Re-act

The question to ask is: based on those current results, what can be done better?
And put solutions, actions, and suggestions into practice.
If you ask for feedback, make sure to have clear timelines on when and how these will be addressed. Even if nothing can be done, it is important that this is communicated and explained clearly, not simply disregarded.
When receiving feedback, do not hesitate to ask questions to make sure you understand where it is coming from and are able to best respond to or fix the problem.
  • Whether the feedback is negative or positive, it is paramount that the leadership team receive it, take responsibility, and/or give credit to the right people to once again encourage transparency and trust.
Finally, if, based on this data and feedback, you decide to put in place a particular initiative, make sure you are going to be able to follow through and be consistent with it to properly inform the company, assess its success, and measure its impact.
It is not easy to get it right, but by nurturing the right culture, making sure your team demonstrates the right behaviors, that your leadership communicates clearly and often, that the right tools are easily available, that actions are measured, and that feedback is acted upon, you are definitely setting your business up for success when it comes to the well-being of your employees.