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Health-benefit packages have long been part of the hiring process. Potential employees consider the benefits packages offered by their potential organizations, and organizations strive to find packages that are competitive to attract the best hires. For the most part, these packages focused on options to support employees’ physical health. Companies looked at deductibles for physicians and specialists, and how specialists were integrated into the programs. Companies began to expand benefits to provide maternity leaves for their female employees, and over time some, companies also integrated paternity leaves. Incentive plans were built in to encourage employees to join gyms, attend classes and quit smoking. But little, if any, focus was directed at mental health.
Thankfully, this has started to change, and some companies are incorporating mental health as part of their health-benefits packages. While the advantages are obvious for employees, this positive trend also creates gains for the organizations. Organizations that offer concrete initiatives towards employee mental health experience increased retention and productivity and a reduction in overall health-care costs. But moving this idea out from the pages and pages of benefits packages into your organizational culture is the next important step.
When you are working to create a workplace culture rooted in mental wellness, consider the following.
1. Change the term
The standard perspective of “mental health” is based on a medical-intervention model used to manage a crisis; this supports the stigma surrounding mental health. The perspective of mental wellness is based on a preventative model focused on how to create and maintain optimal functioning. You and the organization aren’t focused on offering help only when there is a problem, but rather the idea of mental wellness creates a culture that fosters the optimal mental functioning of your employees on a daily basis.
2. Embrace a whole-health perspective
When employees talk about seeing a specialist for physical pains, there is typically concern and support within the work culture. When employees talk about seeing a therapist, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, there can be the opposite reaction. At best in these situations, the conversation might quickly end; at worst, the company does not provide flexibility for the individual to address his or her mental-health needs. Like physical health, mental-health issues can be best supported when addressed early and with the best care. By making mental wellness equal to physical wellness, you create the whole-health perspective of your employees.
3. Prioritize both mental and physical health
Mental health and physical health cannot be siloed. They are not separate parts of employees’ lives. When you adopt a perspective of mental and physical health as connected, you foster a culture supporting mental wellness. When your employees’ mental functioning is healthy, it has positive effects on their physical functioning. When their physical functioning is healthy, it has positive effects on their mental functioning. By separating these two aspects of the human condition, it creates a hierarchy in which one is “more important” than the other. The societal and workplace stigma is based on this belief, and the focus on physical health demotes mental health to a lower category.
4. Avoid negative stereotypes
Just as your workplace does not condone comments and actions that disparage employees’ race, sex, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or age, the same can be true for behaviors that contribute to the stigma of mental health. For example, psychological diagnoses should not be used to describe non-clinical behaviors. Comments such as “Stop being so OCD about that report” or “He’s so bipolar; one minute he’s happy and the next minute he’s obnoxious” minimize the significant challenges these clinical terms refer to and can ostracize anyone dealing with these or other psychological conditions.
5. Provide opportunities to support mental wellness
Creating a culture of mental wellness can also be as simple as providing opportunities. Make it comfortable for employees to ask for support with mental-health challenges. Provide employees with connections to in-house or outside resources such as professional coaches, therapists and counselors. Allow time for employees to meet with these professionals during work hours, which is now even easier with online-session options. By offering these options to employees, you demonstrate the support of their mental-wellness needs and the whole-health perspective of you and the organization.