Mental Health in the Workplace: What HR Leaders Can Do

Well-being

April 12, 2023

Taryn Hart

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7 min

87% of HR leaders say employee mental health is a serious risk to their business. Here’s how you can prioritize mental health in the workplace in 2023.

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Mental health related illnesses cost the global economy one trillion US dollars every year. If you still don’t think mental health affects your business – think again.  

Mental health is health. And it’s time we took it seriously,” says Avni Jain, M. Ed, Registered Psychotherapist and Workplace Mental Health Consultant. A South Asian woman who immigrated from the UK to Canada, Avni entered the mental health field to deepen her understanding of herself, and now has a decade of experience helping organizations develop authentic and sustainable mental health solutions.

This field of work has been really interesting. I'm always curious about how HR leaders are being proactive about workplace mental health. Burnout is on the rise, and everyone manages it differently. I work with many people who often present well on the outside but tend to be struggling in overdrive on the inside,” says Avni.  

Experiencing many unhealthy workplace cultures and environments firsthand led her to play an integral role in developing and implementing a hospital wide mental health program, COPEline, for Canada’s leading mental health hospital: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). You can find research-informed workplace recommendations in CAMH’s Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders.  

We sat down with Avni to discuss her thoughts on mental health in the workplace and what HR leaders can do to support their employees.  

How does workplace mental health contribute to culture?

A workplace culture is created by its people. If your people aren't doing well, your culture will be directly impacted. Supporting your employees better will ultimately trickle down and have tremendous impact on your business.  

The challenging part is making workplace mental health more sustainable. Bringing back office pizzas every Friday is not going to change your culture. Leaders need to think more strategically about evaluating employee struggles and, instead of putting a band-aid over it, invest in solutions that will help sustain culture.  

Thinking more sustainably is “how can we make our employees thrive?” versus “what can I do to support this right now?”. Even if your culture is doing great, it’s always important to think long-term when it comes to improving culture. Organizations that manage workplace mental health well are constantly reflecting on their practices and evaluating what is supportive and what’s not. I think the pandemic is proof of that – no one thought working from home would be sustainable, and we discovered it can actually be better than going into an office every day for many employees.

Should HR leaders be embracing people analytics in 2023?

YES. If we're creating solutions to a problem our employees are struggling with, why wouldn't we go directly to the source? Giving your employees autonomy to voice their feedback – whether it be through engagement surveys or eNPS – is key. As much as data is so important, so is action. Many organizations collect, collect, collect, but then don’t follow through or know what to do with the data. Your employees are telling you what they need, they’re giving you the answer, but for them to feel heard, employers need to hold themselves accountable to implementing actionable steps.  

What are some signs of mental health struggles leaders should look out for and how can they provide support?

Absenteeism. Are your employees showing up, and if so, are they engaged? Do they seem present at work, or more withdrawn?  

As a leader, or direct manager, it’s important to know these signs and ask yourself how well you know your team. Check in with your employees regularly to ensure their needs are being met. We have entire lives outside of work, and our personal lives play a huge role in how we perform at work. Encourage your employees to take time off when they need it – providing paid personal time, or unlimited sick days ensures your employees will actually take the time to rest, instead of worrying about limited time off.  

This all contributes to your workplace culture – are your employees feeling guilty or worried because there’s no one to cover or assist with the workload? As a leader, you need to be hyperaware of this and know when to lessen the workload or bring in more support.  

Organizations tend to offer mental health solutions outside of their organization. How do we bring mental health support inside an organization?

Leaders are the key agents of change, and they need to practice what they preach. A workplace culture that talks about mental health, but then has leaders who are not reinforcing the resources available doesn’t help reduce the stigma.

People are more likely to reach out for support if it's encouraged and demonstrated throughout all levels of the organization. This includes things like flexibility – encouraging employee wellbeing is pointless if employees aren’t given the flexibility to attend doctor’s appointments or manage their personal responsibilities.  

Employees have full lives outside of work, and companies that support their team's needs with compassion and flexibility are more likely to create a positive and healthy work environment. Effective leadership and compassion go hand in hand. Compassionate leadership is consistent communication, regular check-ins, transparency, and keeping those practices consistent beyond periods of change.

How can HR Leaders win over their executive team when pitching health and wellness initiatives?

Mental health issues are the leading cause of long-term disability claims in Canada. The research is there, and the numbers don’t lie. HR teams need to remember they have the data: retention rates, absenteeism, turnover, disability claims – all of which cost the business a lot of money. Leverage that data to drive forward better strategies.  

Investing in mental health training for leaders can be incredibly effective. Are your leaders building teams that foster relationships and team building? Have they built teams that support a culture of work-life balance? Train your managers in these areas so they can lead by example and are better equipped to respond to their team’s needs. You put the numbers together plus some good research, and you have the formula for a pitch that will get results.

How can HR leaders prioritize mental health in 2023?

Employees thrive when their employers care – they can show up to work as their whole authentic selves because they know they’re valued and supported. With that in mind, developing a mental health strategy that’s sustainable, thoughtful, intentional and tailored to your team’s unique needs doesn't need to cost a lot. It doesn’t need to be at a large scale either, you can take small steps to get to the bigger picture if you stay committed to it.  

Reach out to people who are fostering the best workplace cultures, continue to share information, and understand what’s working and what isn’t. Fundamental basics like expressing empathy and kindness and actively listening to your employees can go a long way. There’s plenty of resources out there to get you started, but in the meantime – just be human.  

Thank you, Avni for your time and insights.

How Kudos Can Help

Better culture starts with Kudos – our platform offers resources that can help employee wellbeing, and contribute to a healthier workplace culture:  

  • Peer-to-Peer Recognition: our brains are wired to crave recognition. When we receive appreciation, our brains release serotonin and dopamine which are the crucial neurotransmitters that make us feel good. Kudos makes it easy to send meaningful recognition to anyone, so all great work can be celebrated.  
  • Sentiment Surveys: it’s important to have a place where employees can submit anonymous feedback on how they’re feeling. Kudos' Sentiment Survey provides valuable insights about employee wellbeing in your workplace quickly, efficiently, and in one place, allowing you to assess the overall employee sentiment in your organization currently and over time.
  • People Analytics: Kudos’ robust People Analytics can help uncover key indicators that are impacting your culture, so you can assess areas that need improvement before it’s too late.  

Don’t wait for your culture to crash – book a demo today to get started with Kudos.  

For mental health support in the U.S. call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.

For mental health support in Canada call 1-888-668-6810 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or call 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 741741 for adults.  

Your Employees will LOVE Kudos!

Your Employees will LOVE Kudos!

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About Kudos

Kudos is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform, that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Kudos uses unique proprietary methodologies to deliver essential people analytics on culture, performance, equity, and inclusion, providing organizations with deep insights and a clear understanding of their workforce.

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