How to Talk about Mental Health at Work

Prioritize mental and physical health at work

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s discuss how to how to talk about mental health at work. As a manager and leader, you must curate a culture where staff can openly discuss mental health, seek resources, and be open about their personal challenges without fear of retribution.

There’s no doubt about it—we are experiencing mental health challenges at work.

Two in five adults report anxiety and depression. The American Institute of Stress published a report that 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful and that 26% said they were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work.” Furthermore, 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress.

A 2022 NIH study found, “Employees reporting high levels of burnout are more likely to experience physical and psychological health problems, including sleep disturbances, headaches, and infections, as well as higher levels of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and life dissatisfaction.” Workplace stress is definitely affecting workers’ physical health with 62% ending the day with work-related neck pain and 34% reporting difficulty sleeping. As a burnout coach, I see this all of the time.

No one should have to sacrifice their physical and mental health for a job.

We have to stop saying, “Oh, it’s just work.” Our jobs play a huge factor in our health and wellbeing. Toxic workplaces, bullies, overwork, racism, sexism, threats of violence, sexual harassment, and more…these all happen at work. As managers and leaders, it is our duty to create safe, healthy spaces for our staff.

So, how to talk about mental health at work…

Here are a few concrete tactics to start the conversation:

  • As a leader, discuss this regularly with your executive team, “I’d like to add a standing agenda item where we discuss mental health at our organization and what initiatives and resources we are providing to staff to create a culture of health.” Then, get specific, “How are we combating anxiety at our org? Do we all know the signs of anxiety?”
  • Take self-paced courses on how to integrate health into your team culture.
  • Work with a coach to build knowledge and confidence of how to create a culture of health.
  • Build a reflection practice to better understand how your physical and mental health is affected by work.
  • Sign up for a workshop to build your skills and meet other managers who care about health at work.
  • Bring in trainers to work with your executive team and your department to build a common language about health and co-create a positive culture together.
  • Know the signs of burnout and deploy tactics to prevent burnout on your team.
  • Work with your HR team to build a robust set of mental and physical health resources that includes therapies that combat workplace injuries such as chiropractic and acupuncture.
  • Promote mental health days for your staff and encourage them to take them. Model this as well!
  • Talk openly with your executive team and your department about your own mental or physical health struggles and model healthy behaviors. For example, if you’re wearing a wrist brace because you’re overworked—take time off to rest and make it known to your team that’s what your doing so they feel confident to ask for that space too.

Even the World Health Organization recommends, “manager training for mental health, which helps managers recognize and respond to supervisees’ experiencing emotional distress; builds interpersonal skills like open communication and active listening; and fosters better understanding of how job stressors affect mental health and can be managed.”

I’m proud to offer two workshops this summer that teaches managers how to prioritize mental and physical health at work. Sign up today!

About

Shannon Bowen, Founder + CEO of Monsoon Leadership is a career advancement coach, job search expert, salary whisperer, nonprofit executive, and a lifelong straight-talker. She's dedicated to helping nonprofit professionals land their dream job and dream salary!

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