Workplace conversations and goals are often centered on productivity and team building. These are beneficial to building the right company culture, but it’s essential to address the mental health needs of the modern employee. Many businesses are doing more than ever to support employee mental health, and they’re finding that doing so is mutually beneficial for the organization or company and those who work within them.

This blog will help both employees and employers learn more about the benefits of prioritizing mental health at work. Plus, it will offer tips for talking about mental health issues or concerns at work, taking time off to care for your mental health, identifying what mental health discrimination looks like, and more. 

What Affects Mental Health at Work?

Mental health in the workplace can be affected by multiple factors, including an individual’s existing mental health conditions. Some of the primary workplace factors that can influence mental and emotional health include: 

  • The type of work being conducted
  • The workplace’s environment, including temperature, open space, and cleanliness 
  • Employee interactions
  • Managerial styles 
  • Deadlines and workplace expectations 

Each work environment is unique—a busy kitchen in a popular restaurant might have an entirely different pace and level of stress than a quiet book store. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate a professional environment on a subjective basis, critically examining the unique factors at play.

While there will always be specific aspects of a job or work environment that can affect our stress levels, sometimes, we carry external stressors into the workplace. There are countless external factors from an employee’s personal life that might affect their mental health in the workplace, including: 

  • Financial hardship, which can pose a significant burden on employees, despite having a paid position. 
  • Undiagnosed or poorly managed anxiety, depression, or behavioral disorders, which can make it difficult to focus or communicate clearly with one’s manager or coworkers.
  • A dysfunctional home environment, which might include relationship difficulties or behavioral issues in children.
  • Racial or gender discrimination outside of work, which has been shown to lead to poor mental health or mental health conditions, if the individual is unable to find refuge. 

What Are the Most Common Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace?

Some of the most common challenges that are encountered at work include: 

  • Passive-aggressive behavior or other negative interactions between coworkers or workers and their supervisors: Ineffective communication can create a work environment where everyone feels as though they are walking on eggshells.
  • A vague, or even toxic company culture: Encouraging false positivity (think of the adage “smile through the pain”) prevents employees from voicing concerns, constructive criticism, or even serious issues like workplace harassment. 
  • Unrealistic or poorly defined workplace expectations: This creates a lose-lose scenario for a company’s long and short-term goals. Without setting expectations that are within reach, employees may start to experience burnout, and turnover rates may start to increase. 

While these are common setbacks to be faced at work, every professional environment will pose unique mental health challenges, if preventative steps aren’t taken to protect employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing.

What Should I Do When My Mental Health Affects Work?

Taking time away from work can be highly beneficial, especially if it’s impeding your ability to perform your tasks. If you’re struggling, you can reach out to your HR department; they may be able to direct you to the proper resources to help. Other steps might include: 

  • Scheduling time outside of work to meet with a mental health professional in counseling, therapy, or psychiatry sessions.
  • Evaluating whether your job clashes with your personal expectations and professional abilities. 
  • Adjusting your workflow to allow for breaks—this might entail taking a walk, meditating for a few minutes, or getting out of the house, if you’re working from home. 
  • Determining whether the nature of your work is innately stressful: First responders, medical staff, and those in the service industry may be especially susceptible to mental health concerns. 

How Do You Tell Your Boss You’re Struggling Mentally?

While it’s normal to feel uncomfortable addressing personal concerns with your supervisor or manager, it’s important to be as candid as possible if your mental health is affecting your job performance. But instead of catching your boss off guard, you can: 

  • Schedule a time to meet with them one-on-one: This will slow down the pace of your conversation and grant you more privacy, allowing you to feel more comfortable and less nervous about opening up to them. 
  • Keep as many details as you wish to yourself: Honesty is the best policy, but that doesn’t mean you need to go into specifics. Simply telling your boss or manager that you are struggling with mental health issues right now is fine. You don’t need to tell them what mental health condition you’ve been diagnosed with or might have. Tell them as much as you feel comfortable sharing. 
  • Focus on keeping the conversation solution-oriented: Your supervisor may be empathetic, but they’ll likely be listening for a solution, too, and attempt to help you within the boundaries of your workplace relationship. If you approach them with a plan (such as a request for time off and workplace accommodations), they’ll know more easily how to help. 

Can You Take Time Off Work for Mental Health?

Yes, taking time off work for mental health is completely acceptable and also common. Remember, you don’t need to specify that your request for time away from work is mental health-related, unless you want to. If your company doesn’t have a specific policy set aside for taking personal days, or if your mental health needs to be addressed immediately, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that could offer you the relief and time away that you need. 

FMLA allows employees to legally take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend to urgent family matters or medical conditions, without suffering consequences or undue punishment by their employer. Though somewhat complex, reading through the guidelines and recommendations offered by the Department of Labor could offer you clarity and a path forward. 

What Are Some Mental Health at Work Statistics?

Mental health in the workplace has long been an issue of concern, and data indicates that it’s common for employees to experience mental strain at work. For example

  • 90% of employees feel like their job stress negatively affects their mental health
  • 60% believe they aren’t receiving adequate support from their managers, supervisors, or corporate leadership
  • 65% feel as though their work environment prevents them from being able to focus on their tasks  

It’s also estimated that in the US, 200 million collective workdays are missed each year due to employees’ mental health conditions, costing nearly $17 billion in productivity. However, WHO reports that for every $1 spent on mental health treatment, there is a $4 return in employee productivity and improved overall health. Thus, investing in employees’ mental health through support resources, structured work time, and inclusive work environments could offer substantial financial returns to a business or organization. 

What Is Mental Health Discrimination at Work?

Singling an employee out for their mental health is a form of workplace discrimination and is illegal according to federal law. Mental health discrimination occurs when an employee is passed over during the hiring process, fired, refused a promotion or raise, or otherwise thwarted simply because of a disclosed mental health condition. This law protects those with mental health conditions from being treated differently than anyone else.

In most situations, an employee shouldn’t need to disclose their mental health condition to their manager, supervisor, or anyone else, except… 

  • Before your employment period begins. Many job applications contain screening questions that allow employers to understand what accommodations you may require as a potential employee. 
  • When asking for a reasonable accommodation to accomplish your tasks. 
  • If your job performance suffers due to objective evidence that you’re unable to meet workplace expectations or that you may pose a safety risk. 

How Can Employers Offer Mental Health Support to Employees?

There are several ways that a business or organization can take steps to offer mental health support to those who work for them. Some recommendations include: 

  • Training supervisors and managers to provide supplementary emotional support when needed, especially by learning how to respond if an employee reaches out with personal concerns. 
  • Creating policies and work environments that encourage employees to communicate with their supervisors about specific job stressors that might affect their mental health.
  • Implementing mental health check-ins with employees regularly, set apart from ordinary performance reviews.
  • Providing and creating a company culture that offers employees proper recognition for their consistent efforts.
  • Offering health care benefits specific to mental health. Organizations can partner with Thriveworks to provide employees with accessible and affordable counseling and psychiatry services (read more about Thriveworks for Business).

The benefits of offering mental health support don’t just affect employees, but also positively contribute to a company or business’s success. Offering mental health support can: 

  1. Increase employee retention: It’s been established that employees who feel valued and whose mental health doesn’t suffer at work are more likely to commit to a company long-term. 
  2. Improve work performance and productivity: One study found that 86% of employees who received support and treatment for the symptoms of their depression were able to improve both their work performance and work attendance. 

Why Is Mental Health at Work Important?

Setting boundaries and expectations for prioritizing your mental health at work is essential, not only for work performance but for long-term employee retention and satisfaction, too. If employees are stuck in a toxic work environment: 

  • They won’t be able to accomplish their tasks efficiently.
  • Communication between coworkers, different departments, and heads of management will suffer. 
  • Company culture will be meaningless, leading to dissonance, resentment, and a feeling of being overworked.

Prioritizing mental health and eliminating stigma are an employer’s responsibilities. Successful management strategies and business practices will emphasize the mental health needs of their employees. Both ethically and economically, it’s in an employer’s best interest to keep their employee’s mental health a top priority.