Let’s be honest. For the past five years, we’ve seen a trend in workplaces across America. A very public, tragic event occurs or is widely publicized, and there is also an immediate reaction from organizations. In 2017, there was the #metoo movement, and organizations suddenly wanted to address workplace sexual harassment. I conducted anti-harassment training almost daily until that “flavor” sold out. Then, after the murder of George Floyd, organizations wanted to acknowledge and address systemic racism in the workplace. That flavor seems to have sold out as well.
However, over the past two years, another crisis loomed in workplaces across America. A twenty-five percent increase in the number of people diagnosed with a mental health condition created a mental health crisis. In response to this crisis, many employees decided not to return to their toxic work environments for the sake of their mental health. And, if they did decide to stay, some are engaged in “quiet quitting,” the phenomenon of showing up to work, doing your job, collecting your paycheck, and nothing else. This prompted a new “flavor of the month” – adding mental well-being to DEI initiatives to bring talent back to work and retain their current talents.
As a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder during the COVID pandemic, I’m part of the twenty-five percent. I have a first-hand account of how toxic work environments have impacted my mental health. As such, I’ve pivoted my work to cultivating cultures of mental wellness in the workplace through a non-profit, The Bowman Foundation for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness. Through our work, we learned that employees are not confident that their organization’s efforts are genuine. In fact, we launched a LinkedIn poll asking about this, and these were the results:
As you can see, only 27% of respondents were confident that their organization’s efforts were genuine. That’s a problem, and here’s why. If organizations aren’t genuine about their mental well-being efforts, mental health conditions will continue to be stigmatized, employees will avoid getting treatment, and people will continue to suffer silently. So, how can organizations avoid mental health initiatives as the new “flavor of the month” and promote sustainable cultures of mental wellness in their workplaces? Here are a few tips:
- You can’t outsource healthily, psychologically safe work cultures. Workplace triggers cause 1 in 6.8 people’s mental health conditions. Apps, meditation, and yoga can’t address these triggers. They are addressed by our daily actions, behaviors, and words. Many people’s mental health conditions are triggered by microaggressions, bad leadership, lack of recognition and appreciation, lack of growth opportunities, and non-inclusive work environments. As you can see, addressing your workplace culture blindspots doesn’t have to have a budget. It’s about being consistent with what you tolerate in your workplace and being consistent with accountability.
- Maximize your relationships with current mental health solutions vendors and medical benefits providers, including your EAP program. As a former HR executive, I found many benefits in these contracts that were underutilized by the organizations I worked with. I also assumed that these providers were offering me their offerings. This is simply not the case. Conducting a complete audit of your current mental health solutions vendors is essential for sustaining cultures of mental wellness.
- Create a safe space for dialogue about mental health. A recent study by The Bowman Foundation for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness found that while many workers admit they struggle with their mental health and receive treatment, they are reluctant to share this with their employers. Creating a safe space for dialogue about mental health is imperative for sustaining cultures of mental wellness. Cultivating cultures of mental wellness in the workplace can’t be a cookie-cutter approach. There are over 200 classified forms of mental illness; each may demonstrate differently for each individual. That’s why it is vital that employees need to feel safe to engage in individualized conversations about their condition, the support they need, and what resources would be most beneficial to them.
Some mental health conditions can be life-threatening. It’s been less than two years since one almost took my life. Through The Bowman Foundation, I am on a mission to change lives and save lives. Cultivating cultures of mental wellness is an excellent start in this direction.