4As: Build AWARENESS and a Supportive Culture
Learn about strategies for spreading awareness about mental health issues and ensuring a supportive workplace culture.
Proven strategies for building a mentally healthy workplace include educating workers on mental health conditions and substance use disorders and taking action to foster a supportive workplace culture, including encouraging workers to seek help if needed.
Managers are the face of an organization’s culture. One of the best ways to build awareness about workplace mental health is through manager education. When educated on workplace mental health and provide support to their employees, managers can create an environment where openness and inclusivity reigns supreme.
What should manager training include? Investing in professional training programs that address topics such as recognizing stress in employees, supporting workers in their recovery and enhancing one's own mental health and well-being, enables managers to effectively promote positive mental health. They should also be trained on identifying potential substance use disorders issues in themselves. By establishing manager education programs, employers empower them to lead by example, setting their organizations up for success.
Managers should also be educated on ways to create a psychologically safe work environment. These environments encourage employees to talk about their mental health and reach out for resources and support. Additionally, members of marginalized communities may face additional stress and concerns due to a history of limited legal and social protections, which underscores the need to maintain confidentiality and privacy when employees reveal mental health concerns.
Remember to help develop your managers’ soft skills when relating to colleagues and their mental health needs. Addressing mental health conditions such as substance use disorders takes great tact and awareness as well. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers an instructive video to demonstrate effective tactics for managing an employee with a substance use disorder. It takes strong communication skills and emotional intelligence to create a positive psychological environment that promotes mental well-being.
Additionally, "Mental Health and the Federal Workplace: What Can I Do" and its accompanying workplace guide (PDF) can assist agency leaders, employee resource groups (ERGs), and others who want to raise awareness and facilitate discussions about collaborative approaches to workplace mental health.
Other best practices for supporting worker mental health include:
- Offer mentoring, coaching, and peer support to your employees.
- Conduct mental health awareness training and inform employees of available resources.
- Ensure mental health supports are culturally and linguistically responsive and accessible.
- Establish a shared understanding in the workplace of mental health and factors impacting employees with multiple marginalized identities.
- Consider trauma-informed principles and address the impact of cultural and societal contexts on individuals with different marginalized identities.
- Provide mental health and substance use disorder screening and access to secondary and tertiary treatment.
- Provide flexible work arrangements, such as flex-scheduling and telecommuting, as well as work-life balance programs. Include mental health strategies for different work environments, including remote, hybrid, and in-person workspaces.
- Offer fitness programs to improve employees’ physical health, which in turn promotes positive mental health. Include a range of activities from exercises to team sports to informative sessions on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, including nutrition, ergonomic, and fitness advice.
- Offer employees stress management training to develop relaxation, mindfulness, and resiliency skills to manage workplace stressors and enhance mental well-being.
- Involve employees in decision-making and problem-solving processes.
- Develop collaboration strategies across HR, ERGs, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Establish action steps across organizational resources and promote leadership accountability.
- To the extent possible, create a work environment that connects with the outside world through natural light, plants, etc. and provide a versatile, flexible range of spaces. Think about ways to meet employees’ needs for quiet and privacy, as well as spaces that promote positive collaborative work activities.
- Develop and implement anti-bullying policies.
- Sponsor awareness-building and anti-stigma campaigns.
Several awareness-building resources can be accessed through the Center for Workplace Mental Health. An initiative of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, the Center offers a range of tools to help employers create a more supportive workplace environment for people with mental health conditions. Its “Working Well Toolkit” features lists of exemplary practices, case studies, and turnkey programs you can implement in your organization, including:
- ICU Program: The ICU Program is an anti-stigma campaign that teaches employees how to identify the signs of distress and connect with coworkers who may need support.
- #IWILLLISTEN: #IWILLLISTEN is a social media-based public service campaign designed to create awareness of the prevalence of mental illnesses and reduce the stigma associated with them.
- Right Direction: Right Direction is a creative educational initiative designed to reduce stigma and motivate employees and their families to seek help when needed. The initiative offers employers free resources ranging from content for intranet sites to template PowerPoint presentations.
- Stamp Out Stigma: The Stamp Out Stigma initiative is a campaign to reduce the stigma around mental illness and substance use disorders.
- In Our Own Voice: The National Alliance on Mental Illness' (NAMI) “In Our Own Voice” program consists of a 90-minute group interaction led by two group facilitators with serious mental illness, in recovery. Facilitators present a video, share their experience, and lead discussions.
- Living Well, 4Mind4Body Campaign: This Mental Health America (MHA) initiative provides free resources to support mental health including 10 tools to achieve wellness.
- NAMI StigmaFree: This program promotes acceptance and actively challenges social stereotypes. Individuals, companies, organizations, and others can all take the pledge to learn more about mental illness, to see a person for who they are and to take action on mental health issues.
- Notice. Talk. Act. At Work: The e-Learning program aimed at assisting leaders and people managers in understanding the influence of mental health on their workforce and organizations.
- R U OK: a public health promotion charity that encourages people to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives.