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Fostering Mentally Healthy Work Environments Through a Collaborative Approach 05.15.2024 | Melissa Gunshon

Today’s workplaces are as fast-paced as they are demanding, so prioritizing mental health within these spaces is imperative for fostering productivity, creativity, and overall well-being. Creating sustainable, mentally healthy workspaces isn’t just a trend—it’s a necessity.

We also know so much more about mental health and its impacts than we did a few decades ago – despite there still being much more to learn- which empowers us to better understand how to protect it. For example, consider this:

  • According to the WHO, 1 in 8 people globally are affected by a mental illness.
  • The same WHO study (2022) revealed that in just one year, anxiety rose by 26%, and major depressive disorders rose by 28% following the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
A Closer Look at Mental Illness in the Workplace

Mental illness is a general term for a group of health illnesses that involve significant disturbances to a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and behaviors. There are several types of mental illness, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, and many, many more.

With the help of social media, mental health discussions in the workplace have become more normalized. However, many employees directly impacted by mental illness find it difficult to talk to their employer about their specific needs or challenges as they feel as though it may be perceived as a weakness and jeopardize their job security. Breaking down this barrier is critical, but it involves employer and employee engagement.

Here’s how an employer and employee can foster sustainable, mentally healthy work environments:

  • Providing management-centric training for mental health.
  • Distributing mental health literacy training and awareness across all levels.
  • Ensuring there are spaces for employees to communicate to employers what flexibility and accommodations are needed. Employers should listen and be mindful not to overpromise and underdeliver the support they can provide.
  • Adopting behaviors that promote stress management and mental health.
On a Personal Note…

As someone living with mental illness, I’ve had to learn how to advocate for my needs so that I can be productive, happy, and my most authentic self within the workplace. I’m fortunate to work with a manager who actively listens and collaborates with me on solutions and workarounds for any barriers to success. Here are some examples of things my manager does to help me and others on our team:   

  • My manager will always respond to a non-urgent/non-escalation-based email with a smiley emoji. For someone like me with an anxiety disorder and who struggles with emotional permanence, this is a visual reminder that my manager read my email and sent an acknowledgment.
  • When our team (which is relatively new) started having regular one-on-ones, my manager made a point of saying these one-on-ones could be as structured or relaxed as we wanted or needed. Whether it was catching up about the latest show or discussing personal topics, she made it clear she was there to listen and support. It also made it easy for me to open up about anxiety-based conditions I knew impacted specific work interactions.
  • When she can, my manager allows us to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress. This reinforces the suggestion above about promoting stress management and mental health.

Suppose you’re struggling with your mental health. In that case, these suggestions should be used in addition to seeking professional help (therapy, psychotherapy), taking medication as prescribed, and making lifestyle changes that promote well-being (regular sleep schedules, healthy eating, and in-person socialization). Instead of seeing this as a “who needs to do what” mandate, the takeaway is to understand this is a collaboration between employees and employers to minimize tension and improve work performance, retention, and productivity.

In a Mobility Context

It’s no surprise that, as mobility professionals, the very people we support are navigating one of the most stressful life experiences, so naturally, protecting their mental well-being is critical, regardless of whether they are dealing with a preexisting condition or illness. Here are a few top tips for helping to cultivate healthier transitions for your mobile talent:

Getting to Know You: Invest time to understand the wellness supports an employee relies on at home – whether a gym, yoga classes, therapy, or group counseling — so they can be proactively connected to comparable services/resources in the destination country.

Encourage the Use of Benefits: Encourage employees to fully take advantage of pre-departure services, such as cultural or language training; this will go a long way towards softening culture shock and helping fast-track the transition to a new community.

Support the Whole Family: Relocating employees carry the mental and emotional stress of ensuring their family members successfully transition to the new location. We can lessen this cognitive load by connecting each family member to the support they need. This may be sports teams for young or teenage children, spousal support services, or specialized medical care facilities for accompanying elders.

Social Supports: The social health of a relocating employee shouldn’t be underestimated. Their ability to form satisfying interpersonal relationships in their destination will directly impact their mental health. Employers should consider a social communication strategy to connect mobile talent to peers in the new location: establish a digital community and mentor network, provide “Welcome as a Service,” or subsidize membership in an expat club.

 

Want to learn more about cultivating mentally healthy workspaces? Our Advisory Team can help with that!

In our Advisory Practice, we arrange Corporate Insight Sessions, either live or virtual, in which professionals can network, discuss topics, ask questions, network, and socialize. While the content at these roundtables may be what brings them to the session, they get just as much from the connections with each other. Likewise, through our Advisory Studio, we arrange workshops that forge connections between the global mobility team and their stakeholders that will ignite change, and it often begins with a shared perspective on the talent needed to support the organization.

 

References:

Gallo, Amy. Feb 2021. Harvard Business Review: When Your Employee Discloses a Mental Health Condition. https://hbr.org/2021/02/when-your-employee-discloses-a-mental-health-condition

Health Direct. 2023. Health Direct: Mental Illness. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mental-illness#backToTop

World Health Organization. June 2022. World Health Organization: Mental disorders. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders

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Written by Melissa Gunshon

Joining Weichert in 2022, Mel is a Business Travel Coordinator and a passionate advocate for DEI. She lives in Texas with her partner, their son, a cat, and a few cows.

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