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5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health in the Workplace

End the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Create a Healthy Company Culture 
5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health in the Workplace
The Future of Mental Health in the Workplace Is Not Hopeless 

Our world is a madhouse. And anytime it looks like things are calming down, we’re hit with a bunch of new drama like sudden inflation, cost of living spikes, and a chaotic employment market. ­­

After surviving countless unprecedented events and adjusting to dozens of new changes over the past few years, everyone is desperate for peace. But peace is hard to find. I talk to leaders all over the country, and the same challenges are showing up in every nook and cranny: People are lonely, stressed, burned out, exhausted, or raged out—sometimes all of the above. It feels like everyone is struggling with mental health challenges.

For leaders like you who truly care for your employees, you want to know how you can support employee mental health in the workplace. Before we dive into my five practical tips, let’s start by talking about how you can lay the foundation for a safe and healthy work environment.

End the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

For decades, the rule of thumb was to leave home challenges at home. We were told to live two (or more) lives and that talking about our fears, personal challenges or mental health needs at work was taboo. As people are demanding support for mental health and life at work, the stigma is changing right before our eyes. But change isn’t always fast—or easy. Many leaders want to be supportive, but they don’t even know where to start.

Supporting your employees’ mental health starts when you put an end to any existing stigmas in your organization. How do you do that? You change the way you talk about mental health and the way you support your employees.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Resist the urge to armchair diagnose people. We live in a world that falsely labels mental health diagnoses. We say things like, “He’s a narcissist,” or, “She’s always depressed,” and so on. Don’t play this game. Stay away from diagnostic dart throwing and focus on people and their behaviors.  

You can respect your employees’ and coworkers’ mental health by:

  • Avoiding words that label them as their condition
  • Not being scared to ask them how they’re doing and how you can help
  • Not minimizing what they’re going through
  • Talking about your own mental health journey

For example, instead of saying someone is “crazy” or “insane,” try using words that show acceptance for the person. And instead of describing someone by their condition, say, “She’s struggling,” or, “He’s working through some tough challenges right now.” Changing the way you speak about an employee’s condition and mental health makes them feel included and safe in the workplace.

The bottom line is this: Your employees need you to show them that their mental health matters, that their workplace’s culture is for—not against—them, and that they’re not alone.

Create a Healthy Company Culture 

We surveyed 3,000 employees in The 2022 SmartDollar Employee Benefits Study, and 29% of workers said they currently work in a toxic workplace. That’s madness.  

Here are some toxic workplace conditions they experienced:

  • Feeling unsafe to talk openly with their leaders 
  • Illegal, dishonest or unethical behaviors—especially by leadership 
  • High employee turnover rate 
  • Pressure to constantly work long hours and neglect work-life balance 
  • Fear of failure or being fired without warning 
  • Gossip and work-related drama 
  • Passive-aggressive communication 

A toxic workplace environment destroys an employee’s potential, morale and physical and mental health. They can’t thrive because they’re too focused on survival.

Yes, survival.


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Our brains are always scanning our environment and asking important questions. Two of the questions are: Do I belong?” and “Am I safe?”

When an employee is always scared of losing their job or of getting mocked or bullied at work (“Do I belong?”), their body is on high alert. As soon as they think about work, their body floods with stress chemicals, prepared to protect itself. It’s ready to fight, run or freeze at all times. This alert system is ancient technology, designed for defending us from saber-toothed tigers (“Am I safe?”).

In a toxic workplace, the answers to those two questions (“Do I belong?” and “Am I safe?”) are no and no, right? Your employees feel that stress. No one can be engaged, productive or loyal to a business that doesn’t make employees feel welcomed or safe. It’s essential that employers find ways to make their employees feel welcomed and safe. But how? Let’s dig into my 5 recommended strategies.

5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health in the Workplace

Meeting the mental health needs of your employees is a challenge. But it’s worth the effort. We just talked about how your company can support mental health in a broad sense, but now it’s time for some specifics. Here are some simple tips to help you support your employees’ mental health in the workplace:

1. Make yourself available. 

Making yourself available and being present for your employees is crucial in building a positive and healthy work environment. Gone are the days when you could expect your employees to leave their personal problems at the door when they walked into the office. Your employees need you today. They need you to be there for them.

I know this sounds tough and exhausting . . . and it is. But when business and HR leaders are available to their employees, they notice an upward trend in employee engagement, retention and productivity. Employees need to be known, recognized and not constantly under threat. Again, it’s the leader’s job to make this happen.  

The best leaders are present and actively engage with their employees. When an employee is struggling with a mental health issue, a relationship or the loss of a loved one, you’ll never go wrong by asking them what they need. Employees respond to leaders who listen to their needs and show them respect in all situations, especially about mental health.

Now, you’re not a therapist. Yes, you need to listen to your people. You need to be there for them. You should be empathetic to pain and stressors they bring to work. And that may look like:

  • Making the time to listen and engage
  • Providing a comprehensive referral list of appropriate mental health professionals 
  • Offering bereavement leave 
  • Setting up meal trains, gift cards or other support resources
  • Being flexible with scheduling and extra time off as needed 

2. Be a good listener. 

Being a good listener shows your employees that they matter, that their needs are important, and that you’re looking out for their best interests. In other words, listening is a product of your company culture.

If you normally get business done in meetings where everyone talks over each other and the winning idea comes from the person who screams the loudest, work with your employees to practice listening before speaking. You’ll demonstrate a different way of doing business that invites the quietest people in the room to share their thoughts. The quietest people are often brilliant. Doing business this way gives everyone in the room a chance to listen to new and different perspectives.

And listening before speaking is just as important in one-on-one meetings. When you’re sitting across from someone, it’s much easier for them to notice your attention—or lack thereof. Practice being a good listener by:

  • Being present (aka make yourself available)
  • Putting down your phone
  • Closing your computer
  • Looking at the person
  • Redesigning the room (for example, don’t let a desk separate you and your employee)
  • Leaning in
  • Asking clarifying questions

Your presence and attention in these meetings are powerful gifts.

But there’s a line you should never cross. Never make promises to keep the problems an employee shares with you a secret. As a leader, you need to get your employees the help they need when they need it. And promising to keep a secret can back you into a corner.

Remember, you aren’t their therapist. But be a person who’s trustworthy, and keep private information private, whenever possible. Sometimes, you do need to contact an executive leader or other resource professional, but always let your employee know when you’re going to bring others in.

3. Model good mental health habits. 

Leaders often believe the key to leadership is “looking the part.” Never let them see you sweat and all of that nonsense.

This kind of flexing, posing leadership is both exhausting for leaders and dishonest for employees. Pretending everything is perfect and that you’ve got it all together is robbing your employees of an important truth: Everyone has struggles in life, including great leaders like you. It’s okay to admit that life can be hard. And you can let your employees know that by showing them.

Speak up about some of your struggles and how you’re working through them. When you share your story with your employees, you give them permission to do the same. You’re telling them it’s okay to:

  • Have a hard day, week, month or year
  • Stay home and get better
  • Heal their body so they can be better at work
  • Go see a family therapist or a medical doctor
  • Prioritize their family above their work

The next time you’re struggling with an issue or have a priority to meet, share it with your employees. Share how you’re handling it. You’ll feel vulnerable in the moment, but you’ll be shocked by how it brings your team together. And over time, your employees will feel safe sharing similar things with you. Imagine going from a workplace where you feel discouraged or scared to share your emotions to a workplace where your family and feelings matter. The change will ripple through your organization in many positive ways.

So, the next time you have to attend a funeral, arrange your schedule to catch your kid’s game, go for a walk at lunch, or take time out of your workday for a counseling appointment, remember: You’re the billboard that says, “Mental health is a priority at this company.” 

4. Give employees permission to prioritize their mental health. 

When you make yourself available, listen to your employees, and model good mental health habits, you naturally give your employees permission to prioritize their physical and mental health.

Even though employees get PTO, sick time, maternity or paternity leave, and maybe bereavement leave, companies haven’t normalized taking time off for mental health reasons. And it’s just as important to our wellness as physical health.

Now, you might be thinking, couldn’t an employee just use a sick day or PTO and take that time off for themselves?

Yes, they definitely can. But whether they take that step has little to do with their desire for a day off and more to do with the environment they work in. Does their company encourage employees to prioritize their mental health by taking time off?

Your employees have to trust that mental health is a priority to you. Check out how one of the greatest basketball coaches ever built a relationship of trust with his team.

Coach Dean Smith is a giant in the coaching world. He learned that many of his college basketball players were afraid to ask to come out of the game. Maybe other coaches benched them for asking. Or they never had the option to speak for themselves.

Coach Smith saw this mentality was hurting the team—not helping them win. He built trust with his players by telling them, “If you’re tired and need to come out, raise your hand. I’ll sub you out. And when you’ve caught your breath, I’ll put you back in.”

When the players started raising their hands, Coach Smith stuck to his word. Here’s where the trust really kicked in—the team realized they could go all out in the game, take a break, and come back and do it all again. They became unstoppable. The players trusted Coach Smith to put them back in, and he trusted them to give it their all when they were on the court.

Trust like this doesn’t happen by accident. You have to build it and earn it with intention. Have you built a relationship with your employees where they trust they’ll have a job to come back to after taking a day off?

Let’s say an employee of yours is struggling with depression, like so many people do. Some days, depression makes it near impossible for them to even get out of bed, be productive, and engage with their peers. Depression and other mental health conditions play a big role in an employee’s ability to do their job well. And additional stress over finances and work can make it even worse.

The 2022 SmartDollar Employee Benefits Study found that 46% of employees said their mental health has impacted their ability to do their jobs the best they can. And according to The State of Mental Health 2022, half of all Americans experience significant stress on a daily basis. A lot of your employees need help managing their mental health at work. They need your support.

In situations where an employee needs mental health support, employers need to step up to the plate and encourage the employee to prioritize their mental health. If depression is keeping them from work, forcing them to come to work won’t result in productivity and engagement.

You have to establish a basis of trust that’s built on keeping your word in the small things so your employees trust you in the big things. Trust your employees when they say they need to prioritize their mental health, and they’ll trust you to keep your word. Do this and you’ll build a foundation and culture in your business that prioritizes mental health care.

5. Provide support and resources.

The two most common reasons employees seek new jobs are because their current company doesn’t support them and they lack the resources they need to do their job. Providing support and resources to help employees requires business and HR leaders to pour into their employees.

You have to learn about your employees. You need to get a pulse on how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and how they’re doing. Learn their names, about their families, and about who they’re becoming. Otherwise, you’re going to remain on the “hire, leave, replace merry-go-round” for the foreseeable future.

As a leader, you’re busy. You have a lot on your plate. So how can you find out what resources your employees need? Just ask! Employees love sharing their opinions.

Whether employees need resources to do their job or help finding medical and mental health recommendations, asking for their input is the best way to meet their needs.

Here are a few ways you can support your employees:

  • Recognize their hard work and accomplishments
  • Praise them privately and publicly
  • Learn what they need to be successful
  • Foster a sense of community (like hosting gatherings, special events or team time)
  • Offer training for professional and personal development
  • Offer benefits that help them mentally, physically, emotionally and financially

Talking with your employees is the first step toward finding helpful resources they need to thrive.

For example, mental wellness and financial wellness go hand in hand. If employees are unsure whether they have enough money to save or cover basic expenses, or if they owe people large amounts of money, their body will send them alarm signals that they’re not safe. (Remember, “Am I safe?” and Do I belong?”)

According to The 2022 SmartDollar Employee Benefits Study, employees reported that personal finances and money are the top causes of anxiety and stress. That means employees need tools and resources to help them manage their money—just like they need tools and resources to take care of their mental health. 

Offering a financial wellness benefit like SmartDollar tells your employees that: 

  • Their financial health matters. 
  • Their mental health matters. 
  • They matter. 

In a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 71% of employees believe their employers care more about their mental health today than in the past.1 This is a monumental shift in the workplace. Employers are offering more support and resources.

And employees are acting on this workplace shift too. Over 80% of employees surveyed shared that how an employer handles mental health in the workplace will be a major consideration when they’re looking for a new job.2

Employees of the future will look to their employers to support their mental health and offer the resources they need to maintain it.

There are many more ways you can support your employees’ mental health in the workplace, but my five tips give you the foundation you need to start now. So, think about this: In your current situation, how would you handle your employees’ mental health? And now, using my tips, how should you handle it?

The Future of Mental Health in the Workplace Is Not Hopeless 

When business and HR leaders value mental health in the workplace, the employees they lead and businesses they work for will both be better off. Breaking through corporate mental health stigmas, recreating support systems, and modeling vulnerability will take intentionality, focus and some hard conversations. But a workplace where employees feel safe, where they feel like they belong, and where money and mental challenges don’t stop them from bringing their full selves to work will be worth it.

For more information on mental wellness, check out my new book, Own Your Past, Change Your Future. If you want more information about how you can help your employees achieve financial wellness and beat money stress, go here.

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Dr. John Delony

About the author

Dr. John Delony

Dr. John Delony is a mental health expert with two PhDs from Texas Tech University—one in counselor education and supervision and the other in higher education administration. Before joining Ramsey Solutions in 2020, John spent two decades in crisis response, walking with people through severe trauma. Now at Ramsey Solutions, John writes, speaks and teaches on relationships, mental health, anxiety and wellness. He hosts The Dr. John Delony Show and also serves as co-host of The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk show in the nation. In 2022, John’s book Own Your Past, Change Your Future instantly became a #1 national bestseller. You can also find John featured on DailyMailTV, Fox Business and The Minimalists Podcast. Learn More.

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