Recent research found that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Perhaps that’s why the theme of World Mental Health Day 2017 is “mental health in the workplace.” After all, we spend a lot of our time at work, and realizing this, organizations are increasingly launching initiatives to support employee well-being, thereby increasing engagement and productivity.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2016 “Work and Well-Being” survey found several significant problems with workplace mental health. Even though less than half of Americans feel their organization’s climate supports their well-being, only one-third of Americans say they regularly participate in their organization’s wellness programs.

Clearly, organizations need better mental well-being initiatives – ones that truly support employee mental health and that employees are motivated to engage with. The benefits of such initiatives include:

  • Decreased absenteeism and increased productivity
  • Enhanced employee engagement
  • Increased organizational performance
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased employee retention

On the other hand, risk factors for poor mental health include:

  • Poor health and safety policies
  • Ineffective or inadequate communication and management practices
  • Employees with limited control over their work or over decisions that affect them
  • Low levels of employee support, including opportunities for professional development
  • Unclear tasks or goals
  • A mismatch between an employee’s tasks and his or her competencies
  • Low team cohesion or social support
  • Bullying and psychological harassment

Fortunately, learning and development professionals are in a great position to combat these problems and enhance employee well-being. A guide from the World Economic Forum recommends taking a three-pronged approach that includes reducing risk factors, developing the positive aspects of work and employees’ strengths, and addressing mental health problems regardless of their cause. Here are some strategies and best practices to keep in mind.

Develop and implement health and safety policies and practices.

These policies should include identifying signs of poor mental health and substance abuse, providing resources to manage those problems, and supporting a healthy work-life balance. They may include offering mental health days, company-sponsored support groups or mindfulness training. Cover these policies and practices during onboarding programs.

Empower employees by involving them in decision-making.

Research shows that employees who participate in decision-making at their companies feel valued, make better decisions for themselves and feel more motivated. They also have better mental health.

Train managers on mental health topics.

APA’s 2016 survey found that the key to supporting employees’ mental and emotional well-being is leadership support for the wellness initiatives. Employees who feel that support tend to feel more motivated, have more job satisfaction, have more positive relationships with supervisors and co-workers, and stay at their organizations. It’s also important to train managers to recognize the signs of mental health problems and to work with employees on coping strategies.

Provide development opportunities.

According to the APA, the second-highest source of job stress for American workers (after salary) is “lack of opportunity for growth or advancement.” The WHO also recommends providing development programs as a way to support mental health in the workplace, as well as acknowledging and rewarding good work. The U.K. National Health Service reports that learning can build self-confidence and self-esteem, purpose, a better ability to cope with stress, and connections with others.

World Mental Health Day is observed by the WHO every October 10. This year, let’s take some time to consider our own mental well-being and the well-being of the people we work with. What can your organization do to ensure its employees are healthy, happy and productive?

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