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May 6, 2024 How To

How to make mental health a workplace priority

The workforce is demanding employers take the lead to normalize mental health in the workplace, and leaders of any size organization can create positive culture shifts. Supporting your staff’s mental and emotional well-being boosts employee mental health, company morale and your bottom line.

Photo / Sweetser
Jayne Van Bramer is the president and CEO of Sweetser. She can be reached at

The stigma attached to seeking and providing mental health support and treatment is thankfully reducing. Here are some ways to make 2024 the year to prioritize mental health at your company.

Promote a positive environment

Leaders should create a positive, open and respectful environment. As with most initiatives, it starts with a commitment to model this behavior.

That means showing care for your team, offering public praise but private criticism, unplugging on your vacation, not sending emails on the weekend and taking care of yourself. If your employees see you burning the candle at both ends, snapping at teammates and not taking care of your own mental health, they will not believe that you take theirs seriously either.

Once top leadership is on board, it is time to focus on managers. These are the people who work closely with employees and will be first to identify an issue. Managers should be trained in recognizing when an employee is not well and know how to best respond.

Sweetser is proud to offer free Mental Health First Aid training to any organization looking for their teams to better identify and respond to emerging behavioral health issues.

Prevent psychological harm

The most impact leadership can have on their team often relies on how they support their staff, not only in terms of work performance but in reducing psychological stressors.

Make sure your staff has well-defined roles and performance expectations. Lack of clarity can create undue worry and stress. Ensuring your people experience their jobs in a purposeful way is also important. Ask employees for their input on decisions and for their suggestions. No autonomy, high workloads and pressure can be a sure-fire recipe for a toxic work environment.

For some easy environmental solutions, bring some plants into the office, promote lunch breaks and healthy eating and make sure your office temperature is around 70 degrees, a level most find comfortable.

Intervene early

Difficulties arise and unexpected things happen. It is important as a manager to be aware of any changes in the behavior of employees so you can intervene early and support your staff’s health and avoid the development of more severe disorders.

Some behavioral changes to look out for are an employee frequently arriving late when they haven’t been known to do so, skipping lunch, missing deadlines, and either becoming more extroverted, or more introverted than normal.

Emotionally, employees who are struggling may show new irritability and a loss of confidence. Increases in mistakes and trouble concentrating and decision making are also initial warning signs. These are important to note for early intervention. Having an opportunity to talk and listen to your employee before things get worse is key to maintaining a healthy workplace when the inevitable life struggles occur.

Support rest and recharging

While the idea of work-life balance can mean something different to each person, employers should encourage staff to use their earned time off. Create a culture where this is openly talked about as a positive.

Suggest staff take a mental health break during the day. Short bursts of activity like going for a walk can reenergize people — even if it is just around the parking lot. This provides an opportunity to reset their mind away from computer screens and office spaces. Taking time to rest and recharge has been proven to help increase concentration, creativity and productivity.

When it comes to retention, consistency and results, promoting a healthy and emotionally resilient workplace is one of the most impactful ways you as a leader can support success and growth.

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