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Mental Health in the Workplace (Conclusion)

Steps leaders can take to build a healthier atmosphere for their teams

CHICAGO — While there are more options than ever when it comes to fostering better mental health, many are still hesitant to ask for help when they need it. While there is no stigma about going to a doctor when a virus hits or a bone is broken, seeking help for mental health issues is still seen by many as a form of “weakness,” allowing problems that could be treated to grow until they must be dealt with.

This was the message of “Workplace Discussions: Mental Health,” a webinar recently presented by the human relations firm PuzzleHR. Company Vice President of Customer Success Rebecca Burbridge and Regional Sales Manager Kimberly Marin hosted. 

In Part 1 of this series, we examined how mental health has been impacted in recent years by societal stresses, and how different generations are affected. In Part 2, we explored the cost of mental illness in the workplace, and today, we’ll look at ways leaders can help in building a healthier workplace for their team.

Ask the Questions

“One of the actions that your organization can take in getting a barometer on how the employees are feeling is surveying (them),” Burbridge says. “You can do it anonymously, because it can provide the organization with employee data to help you build emotional health initiatives that will match the needs of your employees where they’re at.”

She cautions leaders to not take a “one and done” approach to this action.

“This is something you want to do, at a minimum, on an annual basis, and we recommend every six months to check that barometer. Having this kind of knowledge and creating these types of programs are showing your awareness of your people and that you care.”

While a manager can sometimes tell from a team member’s work that something might be wrong, Burbridge believes there’s no substitute for open communication.

“I would recommend leaders hold regular town meetings with the entire company on a regular basis,” she says, “as well as one-on-one meetings with each of their employees. This is your time to really listen, and to learn to think about the world from your people’s perspective.”

Business owners need to instruct their leadership teams to help in this area, because they probably have more day-to-day contact with their teams, Burbridge says.

“Teach your leaders to be able to ask your staff, ‘How are you feeling today? How are things with you?’ Let them start the conversation, and let them give you the thermometer about where they’re at emotionally.”

Burbridge described a recent experience with one of her own team members that drove home this point for her. 

“Just this past week, I had a one-on-one with one of my people, and I could sense that there was something this person was struggling with,” she says. “Even though I’d asked her how things were with her, she didn’t open up yet. As leader, I had to use that sense and that intuition to just ask them if there was anything else going on.” 

Through this second pass of questioning, Burbridge found out that the team member’s grandfather had recently died. 

“So I said, ‘Well, tell me more about your grandfather. Tell me about your relationship.’ Because, to me, it’s a grandfather, but to her, he was the patriarch of the family. She had a very close relationship with him, and (it) was a crushing blow to the family.”

Burbridge provided a human touch and adjusted the team member’s hours.

“She still was able to do the work that needed to get done, but on a reduced schedule,” she says, “and she was so appreciative. She never would have brought this to my attention. But she was so appreciative that she even went to our CEO to let him know how helpful this had been with her.”

Building a Healthier Workplace

“The other thing we want to do is just build a strong culture to support the employees,” Burbridge says. “Having healthy competition in the workplace is great, but do you have a culture that pits your employees against each other? Or does your organization provide flexibility to allow your employees to be themselves, to allow your employees the time to take care of themselves and their families? Does your culture recognize and reward leaders and employees who create a healthy work environment? Or does your organization do the opposite?”

Building friendships at work is also a way to maintain better mental health.

“I would encourage your peers to have conversations with co-workers,” Burbridge says. “Gallup has done extensive research pointing to companies with employees who have a best friend or a confidant at work — they outperform other companies.”

To maintain workplace efficiency, Burbridge believes that time off is just as important at time at work. 

“Encourage your employees to take time off, and take time off yourself,” she says. “That’s very important because you’re not just encouraging them, but you are modeling for them. We all know that if I ‘do as I say, and not as I do,’ employees are going to watch your actions. So, model the way. Show them and tell them what you’re doing. Tell them that you’re taking that downtime, tell them that you’re feeling stressed, or you’re feeling a little burnt-out.” In this way, Burbridge says, owners and managers show that they are taking the time to care for themselves so they can be more effective in the workplace.

The “workaholic” mindset, once celebrated by many workplace cultures, is simply destructive in the long term, Burbridge says. 

“If you see managers who are not taking breaks, or they’re working unnecessarily on a vacation, they’re modeling the way for their employee,” she says. “As a leader, you need to encourage your managers and your supervisors to model the right way to work.”

Burbridge says she knows leaders can’t be everywhere and see everything, but by breaking down the stigma of mental problems and adopting an atmosphere where workers look out for each other, many problems can be solved before they become critical. 

“Educate your employees on mental health in the workplace,” she says, “because once employees are aware of the signs, and they see a fellow employee in distress, they’ll know how to react. They can encourage them. They can be a sounding board.”       


For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.

Mental Health in the Workplace

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].