The WHO nailed it with their easy-to-understand definition of mental health, and isn’t being able to cope with the stresses of life what we all want in life – and in work?
In the workplace, supporting that mental well being is a joint effort between employers and employees to produce a healthy and productive team. It’s a commitment to creating an environment that is healthy for all.
We sat down to chat with Hassel Aviles, founding director of Not 9 to 5, a non-profit global leader in mental health advocacy and training for the hospitality and culinary industry, to talk about workplace mental health and how employers can create a space where the phrase “mental health” is not a bad word.
Through their important work, Not 9 to 5 is working to remove the stigma in mental health and provide resources to help employers and employees prosper and provide physical and psychological safety in the workplace. As Hassel explained, there is a role for both when it comes to workplace mental health.
“Employers establish policies, processes, and provide resources, while employees manage their own mental health and seek assistance when required,” said Hassel.
The challenge for employers is understanding the different steps that can be taken to foster a healthy workplace and how to respond when needed. Read on to learn more from Hassel on how employers can create a safe space while supporting mental health in the workplace.
1) Create a Safe Environment
Creating a psychologically safe workplace is the first, and arguably the most important step in fostering healthy mental health in the workplace. Creating an environment in which employees feel comfortable in sharing their vulnerability, in taking risk, and making mistakes without worrying about negative consequences or fear.
“When people feel fear, that’s not a psychologically safe workplace,” Hassel said.
Hassel explained that an ideal and healthy workplace is an environment where employees feel like they are included, that it’s safe to ask questions and learn, and also to challenge the status quo.
Among the ways employers can help create a safe workplace is by implementing the policies and procedures that will both protect employees while letting them know they are in a safe environment. Policies such as Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) let underrepresented staff know they employer is aware that underrepresented individuals may experience different challenges in the workplace.
“Leaders can acknowledge and address systemic inequality by creating that sense of belonging in the workplace for everyone, regardless of what you look like…psychological safety is very interconnected with DEI practices,” Hassel said. “The more diverse, equitable and inclusive a workplace is, the more psychologically safe it is.”
A DEI policy is a good first step, but other assets include developing an employee handbook, implementing workplace mental health policies, and outlining what support employers and their team offer employees.
“People say workplace mental health costs so much money, but it actually costs money, time, and effort…if you can’t do the money piece you can do the time piece.”
2) Provide Access to Resources
An employer’s role is be available and open to discussions from staff about their mental health challenges, not to provide psychological support, but to direct them to the resources that make the most sense and will bring the most benefit.
“I like to remind leaders, you’re not the help, counsellor or therapist, you are just connecting employees to the help they need,” Hassel explained.
Resources are available through Not 9 to 5, but the first step is to be able to listen to team members and to seek out their input. Hassel suggested considering conducting anonymous surveys to bring up issues about mental health and gauge the level of security team members feel in the workplace.
Surveying could glean information like asking what resources are needed, and gauging the current sentiment in the workplace. Whether survey responses indicate staff are struggling with anxiety, burnout, or depression, having those answers can help employers by letting them know what resources they should be seeking out.
“The more conversations you have about these topic, the better,” Hassel said.
Free programs are available online to support workplace mental health, and Hassel suggested reaching out to local community groups and organizations like Not 9 to 5 who may have resources they can share with employers.
3) Walk the Talk: Be a Role Model
A recent study that involved more than 3,000 participants and spanned 10 countries showed that an employee’s mental health is more affected by their manager at work than by their doctor or therapist.
That’s a big responsibility for employers to carry, and as Hassel noted, often leaders also need their own support.
Serving as a role model of good mental health practices can let staff see what is needed to be healthy psychologically. For employers, this can mean demonstrating a healthy work/life balance and taking care of themselves.
“When leaders role model certain behaviours it gives permission for everyone else to take care of themselves as well,” said Hassel.
4) Invest in Education
Investing in education, training, and proactive programs that promote positive mental health is crucial to avoiding potential issues.
“The more informed staff are, the more supportive they are, and the more encouraged they are,” said Hassel.
Not 9 to 5 offers the CNECTed Certification Course, a program for employers and employees in the hospitality industry that offers five modules on understanding mental health, stress & trauma, depression, anxiety, and substance use. Content delivered through this program is written in everyday language and has been reviewed by legal and industry professional workers.
The program features a series of videos where people share their stories to help humanize important topics like preventing burnout, fostering psychological safety, what to do in a crisis, and active listening. It includes quizzes throughout and at the end there is a test and a downloadable pdf of takeaway tools.
“The program really helps when people feel like they resonate with other people and see themselves in their stories,” said Hassel.