How to Increase Productivity by Improving Workplace Mental Wellness

Last Updated on July 13, 2020 by bigfish-admin

The majority of American professionals spend a third of their lives at work – which is why work culture is so important. It’s a huge part of our lives. While there are a variety of factors that can influence culture, making employees feel valued lends to a workplace with the strongest and most positive cultures. This doesn’t just mean good compensation and company perks; Employees must feel that their employer cares about their overall well-being. When employees know they have this support, they are more likely to find meaning and purpose in their work, which, in turn, increases engagement and productivity. 

Occupational depression is costing employers $1 trillion in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization. 

Let’s learn about how to combat it.

Occupational depression (which happens when a work environment has a negative impact on an employee’s mood, thoughts, feelings, and actions) costs employers an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.  Although it is a serious issue, it is often passed off as job stress or workplace burnout. 

Signs of occupational depression include:

  • Withdrawal from the team
  • Indifference to colleagues
  • Missed deadlines
  • Mistakes and accidents
  • Absentminded behavior
  • Procrastination
  • Lack of self-confidence

It is unrealistic to expect employees to always keep their work lives in one neat compartment and their personal lives in another. Most employees bring their career demands and stressors home from time to time. Similarly, when good things happen at home, it brightens workdays. Work is intensely personal, so asking employees to compartmentalize is not only unrealistic, but potentially damaging when it comes to mental health. 

A wellness culture is encouraged in many businesses as a way of promoting the health and well-being of both the employees and the company. When a work culture pushes employees to be too hardworking, it can backfire in ways that hurt the company.  Creating a culture that prioritizes mental wellness in the workplace can play a big part in employee engagement and satisfaction, which fosters a better quality of life overall. 

According to the American Heart Association, more than 75% of the American workforce has struggled with at least one mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. 

Your employees are your organization’s most valuable asset. Investing in their mental wellness is essential to their health – and the health of your business. The way employees think, feel, and behave impacts everything from productivity and communication to their ability to maintain safety in the workplace. Absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased health care costs are just a few of the ways a lack of mental health support can actually cost employers money. 

Here are some meaningful ways to improve mental health in the workplace and inspire your team to feel energized, motivated and positive about their work. 

Creating A Culture of Work/Life Balance 

One in three employees admit to being chronically stressed out at work. Chronic stress increases the likelihood of mental and physical health challenges and diminishes quality of work. In a world where technology can keep us connected to work around the clock, it is important to encourage employees to put down the work phone and develop a rich, full life outside of the office. Engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and taking time for self-care results in healthier and happier employees. 

Without a healthy work/life balance, productivity will ultimately decline, and lead to employee burnout. The following programs are ways you can support a healthy work-life balance for your employees: 

  • Technology breaks – Allow your employees time to unplug from their daily work responsibilities and do not expect people to answer emails around the clock. While technology makes it difficult to completely disconnect, prioritizing and mastering this is a critical aspect of self-care. You can create a work environment where staff do not feel the pressure to always be ‘on’ by thoughtfully avoiding contacting them about work during their time outside the office, whenever possible. Set boundaries to unplug when you are home, and encourage employees to spend time on themselves so they may return to work energized.  Allow your team much-needed time to disconnect and enjoy their personal time without their phone pinging in the background.
  • Flexible work – It is critical to consider work flexibility when evaluating work-life balance. With only so many hours in a day, it is common for professionals to feel spread too thin when it comes to their work and personal lives. These negative feelings can lead to burnout and high stress. Offering flexible scheduling or remote working options is a great way to mitigate these demands. These options can help employees be more present and focused when they are at work. 
    • Flexible Scheduling: Instead of requiring all employees to work the same schedule (such as 8 to 5), flexible scheduling gives employees a degree of autonomy by allowing them to choose the hours that work best with their lives. There is still an expectation that employees will work a full workweek, but those who have children may choose to begin their workday following school drop-off times; others may choose to start earlier in the morning in order to have more evening time for family, classes, or hobbies. 
    • Remote Work: Also referred to as “working from home” or “telecommuting,” remote work allows employees to complete their work obligations without coming into a traditional office every day. Remote work benefits employees by eliminating time spent commuting and allowing them to focus without typical office distractions. Companies that adopt remote work benefit from reduced office costs and a much broader talent pool to choose from. 
  • Time Off – Taking some time off can go a long way in preventing burnout. Encourage your staff to take their allotted vacation time. When you insist that employees take regular vacations in order to care for themselves and recharge their mental batteries, your organization will benefit in the long run. Be transparent about your PTO policies, and be vocal about how they are designed to aid work-life balance.

Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark, set an incredible example when his employee Madalyn Parker requested a mental health day. In response to her note, he wrote: 

“Hey Madalyn, I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.” 

Parker shared this exchange on Twitter where it went viral. Simple encouragement from supervisors is important and lets employees know that it’s okay to take a day off to recharge. 

Praising employees who work late and arrive early or expecting them to work from home in the evenings hurts your company in the long run. Without a healthy work/life balance, overall productivity is likely to decline, and your employees are more likely to burn out. 

Implement Health & Wellness Benefits & Policies  

It is important to offer benefits to your employees that promote health and wellness. If you put care at their fingertips and ease the barrier, more employees may be willing to seek the care they need. Here are a few health benefits that you can implement into your organization to make sure your employees are happy and healthy. 

Mental Health Benefits to Offer:

  • Mental Health Days or PTO – How many times have you had to come up with an excuse like food poisoning, car troubles, or taking your kid to the doctor in order to take a day for yourself? Sometimes you just need to recharge and get back into a good mental headspace – we have all done it! 

Time off can go a long way, but this benefit expands beyond the typical PTO many businesses offer. Organizations are creating a new category of PTO specifically for mental health-related work absences, referred to as ‘mental health days.’ Offering this type of PTO can support employees through challenging life events. ‘Un-sick days’ can be used for preventative checkups or to recharge after a particularly stressful week. Consider implementing mental health days and, if you do, communicate the benefit and encourage employees to utilize it for their mental wellbeing. 

  • EAP – An Employee Assistance Program (EAP), gives employers access to free and confidential assessments, counseling and referrals. EAPs can help employees deal with issues that detract from their performance (however, they may need reassurance that the EAP is free of charge and completely confidential). This is another way to connect staff with resources they may need to manage and cope with personal or work-related issues. Offering an EAP benefit that allows employees to access a handful of no-cost therapy sessions is important. Remind your employees to use the EAP, and remind them of its benefits often. 
  • Reasonable Accommodation – Create an environment that embraces balance and recognize that individuals in your workplace have their own individual needs and work practices. Understand that no two employees are exactly the same. Employers and employees should work together to identify reasonable accommodations (not special treatment) in the workplace, in order to best facilitate the mental health of a successful team.
  • Mindfulness Programs – Implementing mindfulness programs in the workplace can help business leaders and employees effectively manage stress, maintain greater focus, boost overall health, enhance cognitive performance, and improve interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness is a relational practice that teaches us to reframe our relationship to stress, burnout, anxiety, and other challenges at work. Offer quiet spaces or a “Zen-like room that can be used for mindful reflection and decompression when employees are feeling overwhelmed by their work. Consider sponsoring subscriptions to mindful meditation apps, such as Headspace, which can help to guide individuals who are struggling with their mental health but don’t know how to start their mental wellness journey. 
  • Productive Atmosphere – A health benefit that is often overlooked, but contributes to daily mental wellness, is a wellness-friendly work environment that inspires productivity. A few design elements are proven to contribute to a productive workplace atmosphere, these elements include: 
    • Clean & Functional: Keep workspaces clean and functional at all times. A comfortable and well-designed environment goes a long way, which starts with a clean, organized area.
    • Get lighter: Ensure your workspaces are well lit, preferably with natural light. Natural light is 100 times brighter (10,000 Lux) than indoor light (100 lux), so nix those closed window blinds and let some sunlight in! Natural light also combats depression and increases office energy.  
    • Plants: Studies show that the greenery and fresh oxygen that plants provide improves mood and brain function at work. Employees with small plants on their desks have lower stress, anxiety, and depression than those who don’t. 
    • Outdoor Areas: Get up and out when possible! Whether it’s a quick walk, lunch break, work errand, or even a mobile meeting, research suggests that spending time outside helps to improve mood and lower stress.
  • Nutrition & Fitness – Healthier choices related to nutrition and fitness have a direct impact on how our brains function and develop. With employees spending more waking hours at work than anywhere else, it is important to implement healthy choices, especially in the workplace. 
    • In regard to nutrition, allow employees to feed their brains the right nutrients to optimize function and stay energized throughout the day – without feeling excess stress or fatigue. Stock your office kitchen with healthy foods, and avoid snacks and meals high in refined sugars and saturated fats. 
    • When considering fitness in the workplace, it is important to note that while physical activity is scientifically proven to combat psychological conditions, a staggering 80% of adults do not get the recommended amount of daily exercise. Promoting healthy movement among employees is a sure way to boost positive mental health and even improve the company bottom line. Fitness in the workplace can be as simple as standing and stretching, holding walking meetings, offering lunchtime workouts, or anything that encourages movement.

Offer supplemental health benefits and policies that support mental wellness, and consider expanding mental health coverage in your insurance plan to help employees proactively manage their conditions. In addition to providing these benefits, it is important that you communicate benefits effectively. It is important that you make employees aware of these benefits, as they often do not know what is at their disposal. Communicate these benefits often, whether that be in company town halls, company-wide emails, or regular reminders of the benefits that are available.

Achieve a Positive Culture & Open Communication

A key component to mental wellness in the workplace is a positive culture with open avenues of communication. Encourage a positive workplace culture through co-worker relationships, which will help your employees feel connected and supported through genuine friendships. Positive attitudes are another essential attitude to mental wellness in the workplace. Managers should motivate employees to stay positive and not ruminate. Consider suggesting a time limit to stew about negative workplace transgressions or experiences, then move on! Negative thoughts often propel further sadness and negativity, without solving the root issue. Recognizing employees and showing gratitude also has a direct impact on employee happiness. A culture of recognition reduces stress, builds stronger teammate bonds, and establishes a generally positive environment while motivating employees to thrive. 

Beyond proactively offering resources, it is important to keep an open line of communication surrounding mental wellness in the workplace. Speak from the top to create an environment where employees feel free to talk about their challenges and struggles. Develop empathy and compassion between your staff, and encourage employees to recognize when a co-worker  may be in distress and how to best approach the situation. Overall, talk about it! Starting thoughtful conversations about the overall well-being of your team can raise new opportunities to truly make a positive change in their lives and careers. 

Benefits of Implementing Mental Wellness Programs

Employers that provide benefits that are not directly related to the company’s day-to-day shows employees that they are valued as people outside of the office, which supports continued personal growth. 

Creating a mentally healthy office space can help with:

  • Retention: Less than 1/3 of Americans are happy with their work. Employees are less likely to leave the company if they feel secure and comfortable working with those around them. Constantly hiring new employees and battling high turnover rates can be costly to a company. It will ultimately save your business time and money if you’re not constantly looking for new employees. 
  • Productivity. When employees aren’t distracted by other stressors, or anxious about a co-worker or boss, they can be much more productive in the workplace, giving the business their full attention.

Providing employees resources beyond HR offers an outlet for personal issues, allowing them to be more present at work. The more resources you offer to demonstrate that employees are seen and valued, the more likely they are to come to work as their best and most productive selves.

Personal well-being, choosing healthier food and drink options, and exercising are priorities for many people in daily life. Shouldn’t we be putting the same emphasis on wellness in the workplace as we do with the company’s bottom line? Stressful careers can make employees feel overwhelmed in far-reaching ways in their day-to-day lives beyond work. Whether you are an executive, manager, or part of a team, there are many ways you can help improve the overall culture of your office, which can have a big impact on morale and productivity.

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