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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 

As I talk to people all over the country, it feels like everyone is struggling with mental health challenges, including your coworkers and employees. People are lonely, stressed, burned out, exhausted or raged out—sometimes all of the above. 

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 personal or mental health challenges at home. We were told to live two (or more) lives—one at work and one at home—and that talking about our fears, personal challenges or emotional health needs at work was taboo. As people are becoming more comfortable being authentic, they’re demanding support for their mental health and personal 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 and emotional health and get clear about the way you support your employees.  

Before we get started, I want to lay out a good rule of thumb: Resist the urge to armchair diagnose people. We live in a world that falsely labels mental health diagnoses. We point fingers and 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, never refer to people by their mental health diagnoses, and focus on people and their actions.   

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

  • Not talking about people’s clinical diagnoses (and avoiding slang like “crazy” or “schizo”) 
  • Not being scared to ask them how they’re doing and how you can help  
  • Not minimizing what they’re going through 
  • Sharing (appropriately) about personal challenges you’ve experienced 
  • Acknowledging someone’s reality and clearly asking them how you can help them be successful in their job 
  • Creating accountability with deadlines and clear expectations of their role 

Your employees need you to show them that their mental health matters, that there is accountability for the work that needs to be done, that their workplace’s culture is for them—not against them—and that they’re not alone. 

Create a Healthy Company Culture 

Our brains are always scanning our environment and asking two important questions: “Do I belong?” and “Am I safe?” A dysfunctional or abusive workplace environment challenges an employee’s sense of belonging and safety. It destroys an employee’s potential, morale and physical and mental health. They can’t thrive because they’re too focused on survival.  

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 healthy work-life interaction 
  • Fear of failure or being fired without warning  
  • Gossip and work-related drama  
  • Passive-aggressive communication  

When an employee is always scared of losing their job (not because of performance but because of unclear expectations or poor leadership) or of getting mocked or bullied at work (“Do I belong?”), their body is on high alert and flooded with stress chemicals, prepared to protect itself. It’s ready to fight, run, or freeze at all times. And nobody does excellent work when they’re simply trying to survive. To be clear, if you lead a toxic workplace, you’re choosing for your business to be less successful.  

It’s essential that employers find ways to make their employees feel welcome, safe and in clearly defined roles. But how? Let’s dig into my five recommended strategies.  

5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health in the Workplace

As a leader, you care about supporting your employees’ well-being. You also have a job that needs to get done. Knowing how to carry both responsibilities (ethical and financial) can be hard to navigate. Here are some simple tips to help you support your employees’ mental health in the workplace: 

1. Make yourself available. 

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 feel under threat. 

The best leaders are present and actively engage with their employees. 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  

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. You won’t always be able to accommodate every request, but simply asking is an important step.

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 should be a core value of your company culture. 

Practice being a good listener by: 

  • Being present (aka make yourself available) 
  • Putting down your phone when talking with someone 
  • Closing your computer 
  • Looking the other person in the eyes (unless it’s culturally inappropriate)  
  • Rearranging the room (for example, don’t let a desk separate you and your employee) 
  • Using listening cues (like leaning in) 
  • Asking clarifying questions 

As important as listening is, don’t get it confused with being a problem-solver. Healthy, active listening empowers your team to find their own solutions or get clarity on their next steps. If you solve all their problems for them, they’ll never develop that leadership muscle or confidence.

3. Model good mental and emotional health habits.

Leaders often believe the key to leadership is “looking the part.” You know, never let ‘em see you sweat and all of that outdated nonsense.  

This kind of flexing, posing leadership is both exhausting for leaders and dishonest to 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. 

Appropriately speak up about some of your struggles and how you’re working through them. For example, it’s okay to share that you’re heading out early for a counseling appointment—but your team doesn’t need to know the nitty-gritty details of your personal life. Be a good example but don’t treat your employees like a garbage can.  

When you share your priorities with your employees—like getting healthier, going to church, or going to therapy—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 in certain seasons

You’re the billboard that says, “Mental health is a priority at this company.” So share how you’re handling it. You might feel vulnerable in a given 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. Your actions give people permission to take care of themselves. 

4. Understand how money impacts employee mental health.

According to The State of Mental Health 2022, half of all Americans experience stress on a daily basis. Although the reasons for their stress might vary, money is typically toward the top of the list.  

Think of financial stress like a giant wrench that gets thrown into a machine. It damages your employees’ mental health. Here’s what we found in The 2022 SmartDollar Employee Benefits Study about how financial health impacts employee mental health: 

  • 47% of employees lose sleep because of their finances. 
  • 45% of employees have been distracted by their finances while at work. 
  • 24% of employees are struggling financially or are in crisis. 
  • 50% of employees suggest that their financial health is connected to their mental health. 
  • 26% of employees say finances are their top stressor. 
  • 46% of employees say their mental health has impacted their ability to do their jobs the best they can.  

The connection between money and mental health is undeniable. Now that you understand there’s a huge connection between the two, you can start offering solutions to help.

5. Provide support and resources.

You have to learn about your employees: what they need, how they’re doing and what they’re thinking and feeling. Learn their names, about their families, and about who they’re becoming.  

For example, you may learn that your employees don’t know if they have enough money to save or cover basic expenses or that they’re deep in debt, so their body sends them alarm signals that they’re not safe. (Remember, “Am I safe?” and “Do I belong?”)  

Similarly, you may learn that some employees don’t fully understand the expectations for their role, so they struggle to feel confident in their work or that they belong on the team. Their perceived lack of job security and purpose makes it hard for them to their crush goals and win.  

Or maybe you find out that one of your employees is going through a rough breakup or divorce or is grieving the loss of a close friend or family member. They’re struggling to focus and engage at work. They’re not necessarily concerned about safety and belonging as much as they’re concerned about having time to work through their emotions (whether it’s grief, anger or frustration). 

Whether it’s growth opportunities, financial stability or mental wellness, you can offer your employees the tools and resources that can help them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Here are some ideas:  

  • Offer SmartDollar as a financial wellness benefit. 
  • Hold your employees accountable to an agreed upon performance plan
  • 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. 
  • Ask them for input on which resources would be most helpful. 

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 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 and 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 the six daily choices that can help you and your team build a life free from anxiety at work, check out my new book, Building a Non-Anxious Life. Then check out SmartDollar to continue learning about how you can help your employees improve their well-being.

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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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