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10 Ways Leaders Can Support Positive Mental Health in the Workplace – 2019 Winter HR Lab Recap

The statistics are alarming, yet we are not normalizing. Did you know that one in every five adults experience a mental health disorder each year? Pause, take a deep breath and rest on that for a second. Do the math. If you have 500 employees, that’s 100 employees that are suffering from some form of mental health disorder. The most common being anxiety and depression.

I won’t even pretend for a second that I‘m a doctor or any form of an expert in this area. But I do want you to know that the numbers are staggering and tell a powerful story we can’t afford to ignore. 70% of Americans with depression are in the workforce, 200 million workdays are lost to depression each year, and work-related stress costs the U.S. economy nearly $300 billion per year.

While employees may not come forth and disclose the state of their mental health and wellness, it’s imperative for employers to educate and equip leaders and HR professionals to properly handle mental health in the workplace. Experts list possible signs of mental health issues in employees, such as lack of focus, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, withdrawing from relationships, and difficulty sleeping. As a leader, are you slowing down to recognize the potential signs, and show you care for your employees? Are you asking the right questions out of the goodness of your heart?

Now, I recognize that some of my fellow HR colleagues or employment law friends are getting nervous right now, and I get it. So, I would be remiss to say that as an HR professional for nearly 15 years, I’m acutely aware of HIPAA laws, ADAAA, and FMLA. Yes, we must abide by these laws. But most of the situations that arise are not black and white, and as trained HR professionals, we must be comfortable living in the grey, and show we care while complying with the laws.

So, bear with me. When was the last time you asked someone how they’re doing? I’m not talking about the drive-by hallway talk where you don’t stop to listen to the answer or the third run-in at the breakroom for your coffee refill. I’m talking about slowing down, noticing the people around you, and asking how they’re day is going. Maybe it’s time to make a conscious effort to do more. If the answer is one word but body language or behaviors tell you otherwise, ask again, “no, really, how are you doing?” Or perhaps another question would be, “is there anything going on outside of work you need to talk about? Or maybe, inside the walls of work?” And then be quiet, listen, show compassion and concern, and offer resources to help.

What happens if you don’t know what to do, or you feel you can’t provide the help the employee needs? I’m glad you asked! Lucky for you, on December 5th, we hosted an HR Lab on this very topic. Impressive professionals and subject matter experts in this space dropped knowledge, wisdom, tools, and resources to help employers be proactive with mental health and wellness in the workplace. And guess what?! I’m hitting you with my top 10 list from our event because frankly, this is a topic worthy of your attention and action.

10 Ways Leaders Can Support Positive Mental Health

  1. Create a Culture that includes Mental Health and Well Being – This starts with the benefits you provide. Some companies are now offering mental health services paid for at 100%. When one in every five employees suffers from a mental health disorder, offering care for the whole person is worth every penny!
  2. Talk about it. Voice it. Say it Out Loud. – Yes, I get that we must be careful of HIPAA and medical privacy laws. I am not asking you to share others’ health information. I am not asking for you to share your own. I am asking leaders and people in influential positions to share the statistics, the research, and the data. Put together a business case, gain approval, and implement proactive solutions. Become an employer of choice in the world we work in today.
  3. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – If you don’t have one, get one! There are many great options and I encourage you to compare and choose wisely. Look at programs that extend these services to family members beyond the employee. When families are healthy, employees are healthy.
  4. Get a Room! – Not that kind of room, get your head out of the gutter. I’m talking about a room to practice mindfulness. Turn an office or private space into a place where employees can listen to guided meditations, watch animations to help with visualization techniques, or meditate. The research is out there to support the benefits of practicing mindfulness. Don’t believe me? Google it!
  5. Assess your Culture. – Develop A Plan. Implement the Plan. Measure the Plan. Revamp where appropriate. Repeat annually.
  6. There’s an App for that! – There are many apps for employers to provide that offer mental health assessments and cognitive and behavioral therapy options through the application.
  7. Budget-Friendly Options – While I can argue all day long why it’s worth it to invest in resources, I am not the one in charge of setting or approving budgets. So, should you be in a penny-pinching situation, utilize the free resources available to you. One that resonated with me was from the University of MN,
  8. Mental Health First Aid – You can become certified just as you would for CPR. Again, one in five employees are suffering, why not educate yourself more on what warning signs may look like in the workplace, how to have those conversations, and how to get your employees the help they need.
  9. Create a Health Model for the Whole Person – Be sure it includes the component of mental health. Make it a critical component of your company culture.
  10. 1-800-273-TALK – Stop what you are doing right now and put this number in your phone. You never know, you could help save a life. Outside of this number, here are a few links to other resources:


The Panelists:

  • Courtney Patt – Senior Health Management Consultant @ Marsh & McLennan Agency
  • Mariann Johnson – Mindfulness Instructor @ University of Minnesota Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing
  • Jean McGrory – Director, Total Rewards @ Mortenson
  • Sarah Prom – Director of Solution Delivery @ Vital WorkLife
  • Ali Delaney – Senior HR Advisor @ Landscape Structures


HR Lab Downloads/ Handouts

Missed the event or just want a digital copy of the handouts, click the PDF image below to download them.

  • HR Lab Presentation: Mental Health & Wellness In the Workplace
  • 8 Tips to be More Grateful
  • 10 Simple Ways to Manage Stress at Work
  • Benefits of Mindfulness
  • How Do You Take Charge of Your Health & Well-being?
  • Mindfulness at Work
  • Mindfulness Programs
  • Well-being Workshop Series
  • What Do Experts Recommend for Healthy Sleep?
click the image above to download the handouts from the 2019 Winter HR Lab


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Photos from the Event

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