How to Support Employee Mental Health in a Way that Matters

Our mental health is how we as people cope with being human. It includes everything that affects how we think, feel, and behave. It encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health directly impacts our communication, decision-making, and coping skills. 

We can't ignore it.

As a business consultant and licensed clinical social worker, I have helped Fortune 500 companies and local nonprofit organizations improve workplace communication. What I've noticed time and time again is that improved mental health and employee well-being are natural byproducts of healthy workplace communication. 

According to "The Surgeon General's Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being," "We can build workplaces that are engines of well-being, showing workers that they matter, that their work matters, and that they have the workplace resources and support necessary to flourish."

I agree.

When your employees flourish, your business flourishes. Healthy communication is inextricably intertwined with employee well-being. When you improve one, you improve both and create a workplace culture built on trust and belonging. That supports your team's well-being and increases employee engagement, reduces absenteeism, improves productivity, and decreases the frequency and intensity of conflicts. And a stronger team translates into a stronger bottom line. 

What steps can you take as a leader to create an organization that is more supportive of employee mental health? 

Communicate a commitment to supporting employees' mental health.

Your organization's commitment to supporting employee mental health doesn't mean much if you and other leaders don't talk about and actively support emotional health, self-awareness, coping strategies, and healthy workplace communication. Here are four steps to make a commitment that makes a difference:

  1. Make the commitment. You must have a conversation about employee mental health with the leadership team. As a team, you must agree that every person in the company matters, including their mental health and well-being.  
  2. Understand that you and your team leaders are on the frontlines. You set the tone and direction for the organization. Therefore, you must demonstrate your commitment to your mental health, as well as that of your employees. Your team leaders must stay connected to their teams and practice open and compassionate communication, especially when an employee is struggling.
  3. Communicate the commitment. Talk about your commitment to your employees' emotional well-being. Use the word commitment when speaking about the topic during in-person and virtual meetings, town halls, and staff meetings, and in written communication. 
  4. Walk the talk. Help leadership and employees feel more comfortable discussing mental health by providing training to the entire organization. Leaders should receive specialized training so they can support their teams. Encourage employees to speak to their team leaders if they need more support.

Create an environment that supports mental health. 

Creating a healthy work environment starts with your being a self-reflective and caring leader. Notice your own behavior and how you interact with others. Are you respectful and thoughtful when communicating with your team? How do others respond to your presence? Do they seem open or uncomfortable? How do stress and feeling overwhelmed impact how you interact with others?  

Practice self-awareness. Pay attention to how you come across during difficult times and high-stakes interactions. Are you showing up and being perceived the way you want to come across?

Next, create space for people to take care of themselves. Talk about the importance of self-care, healthy communication, self-awareness, and coping strategies with your fellow leaders and your team. 

Create space for people to care for one another as well. When you encourage staff to connect and communicate with each other, you build a sense of community and belonging. That creates a healthy workplace culture, improving collaboration, teamwork, and productivity. 

Learn how to communicate effectively.

Teach your leadership team and employees how to communicate effectively. Effective communication allows people to express themselves more comfortably. It creates psychological safety and enables your leadership team and employees to address issues and problems productively. Here are a few tips you can share with your team:

  • Prepare for important conversations. Before important conversations, consider how you want to come across and what message you want to convey. Plan to be a good listener.
  • Respond, don't react. Take a moment to pause before responding to something that was said, especially if you have a strong emotional reaction to it. 
  • Give the benefit of the doubt. Try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt when they say something that upsets or angers you. Perhaps their intention was not to upset you or cause a problem.
  • Use inclusive language. Consider using words such as let's, we, and us instead of I or me when you want to connect with someone. Inclusive language sends a strong signal to the other person that you want to connect with them.

To get started, you, your leadership team, and your employees can learn to be more effective communicators, increase self-awareness, and improve coping skills. These tools will support employee mental health and well-being, strengthen decision-making skills, reduce conflicts, and improve employee engagement, retention, and productivity. Ultimately, these improvements will be reflected in an increased bottom line.

I encourage you to share this article with your organization's leaders, initiate the suggested conversations, and take action to improve your workplace culture. You can help your team become more resilient and emotionally healthy. In so doing, you will create a stronger, more productive workplace culture that will thrive even during uncertain times.


©Copyright 2022 Debra Roberts, LCSW All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.

A version of this article was initially published on as: 3 Steps Leaders Can Take to Build a More Resilient, Emotionally Healthy Team