Workplace Mental Health

Americans have come to a point where mental health in the workplace, post-Covid, has become a priority.  Companies are increasingly focused on providing support, promoting work-life balance, offering mental health resources, and creating open dialogues to address these challenges.  It is about fostering a culture of understanding and support. 

Think about as recently as a decade or so ago. You would not hear the phrase “Mental Health Day.” There was too much stigma; people suffered in silence. What I find most interesting is that workplaces are starting to adopt more and more of a responsibility towards an individual’s well-being. What will employers see when they have people who are mentally healthy working for them?  They will find that they have less downtime, employees have better productivity, and also less absenteeism. This is the next version of employers’ investment in health care for the same reasons.

But how much should the workplace be doing in the area of mental health? Creating a mentally healthy workplace is crucial.  Employers can foster a positive environment by providing mental health resources, support networks, flexible work arrangements, and raising awareness about mental health issues. I’ve always championed employees bringing their whole selves to the workplace—and sometimes that will mean on bad days too. By concentrating on having a supportive culture, prioritizing employee well-being not only boosts morale but also enhances productivity and retention rates. 

How does the workplace affect our mental health? One interesting parallel I see is that NASA conducted a now-famous study on the creative genius of humans to measure how creative we remain over the years of getting “educated.” The test results were shocking: 98 percent of five-year-old children fell into the “genius category of imagination,” this number dropped to 12 percent for fifteen-year-olds and to 2 percent for adults.¹  What the traditional education system is doing to our brains, our sheer capacity to imagine, stay curious, and be creative, is shocking, to say the least. All of us know that we are still sending children to schools and paying tuitions to make them ready for jobs, train them to test, and get admissions into colleges. What we don’t realize is, that in the process, all of us, including our children, are losing their most natural and precious skills. 

Does this parallel to the workplace and mental wellness? The workplace is a place of stress by its very nature. We have deadlines, we have high workloads, we often have a lack of control, there may be job insecurity, and therefore, a work-life imbalance. The average full-time employee spends approximately half of their waking life at work. “Further, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the nature of work for many and the relationship that some workers have with their jobs, often blurring the lines between their professional and personal lives and creating stress and burnout. In fact, nearly two in five (39 percent) workers report that their work environment has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to APA’s 2022 Work and Well-being Survey 

I share that study about genius—and then the one about burnout—because the connection might be, given that the answer was institutionalized learning and shoving people into cogs killed creativity, and took the genius factor from us, does the workplace have a similar role in mental wellness as pulling creativity from children did?  There may be simple solutions—flexible schedules, hybrid work environments, mental health coverage, and ensuring the workplace is safe and fosters connection and collaboration.

Fostering positive mental health in the workplace is crucial because it directly impacts productivity, employee morale, and overall well-being. When employees feel supported and mentally healthy, they perform better, have higher job satisfaction, and contribute positively to the work environment. By implementing a few simple strategies in the workplace, employers can create a supportive atmosphere that prioritizes mental health. It is a win-win for both the individuals and the company.