Wednesday, October 4, 2023

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Strategies for Improving Mental Health in the Workplace

When dealing with an issue as significant as employee health and wellness in the workplace, it is imperative that communicators play an active role in ensuring key messages are clear and inclusive, so they truly reach everyone.

Each May, for more than 70 years, the US observes Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM). Even so, we have a long way to go to overcome the stigma and better understand how mental illnesses affect us, those around us, and our workplaces.

Last year in my article on mental health and the workplace, I shared what stigmas are, how to overcome them in your workplace, and how mental and physical health are intertwined. I included findings from PR and communications studies on stress and workplace well-being.

This year, I will briefly explain the eight dimensions of wellness, strategies for mental health support and new research findings. I’ll begin with this year’s MHAM campaign theme.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) joins the annual observation with this year’s More Than Enough campaign.

According to NAMI’s press release:

“Amid a continuing mental health crisis, #MoreThanEnough will emphasize people’s inherent value and potential for fulfilling lives while promoting resources and events that encourage connection and support.”

#MoreThanEnough aims to address this urgent need and create a sense of belonging. It seeks to remind everyone that they are inherently worthy of life, love and healing — regardless of diagnosis, appearance, socioeconomic status, background or ability.”

This message of hope and inclusion creates a perfect dovetail for both internal and external communicators.

Related: Mental Health Awareness Month 2021: You Are Not Alone

Eight dimensions of wellness

Our lives collectively changed when the coronavirus pandemic broke out in 2020. While the national emergency declaration has ended, pandemic-era stressors persist.

I only recently discovered this model, although Dr. Peggy Swarbrick developed it in the 1990s. It has since been adopted by the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and myriad healthcare and academic institutions worldwide.

I was personally drawn to this model as each of the 8 wellness dimensions is codependent and impacts others. I’ve always understood that ‘mental health’ is a broad term that encompasses much and is easily affected by, well, life.

The 8 dimensions of wellness are Emotional (Mental), Physical, Spiritual, Social, Intellectual, Occupational, Environmental, and Financial.

While some of these may not directly affect work, every dimension of a person’s wellness (or well-being) can affect their life and, therefore, indirectly impact their workplace.

SAMHSA offers a step-by-step guide to wellness with worksheets for things we can do—at our own pace, in our own time, and within our own abilities. A link to the downloadable guide is included in the resources at the bottom of this article.

Key research findings

First, there’s some global and national data so you can see the big picture. Then we’ll look at some recent findings from the public relations and communications industry.

Two new reports and findings from the communications and public relations industry reflect the continuing focus on mental well-being. Remember, mental health is health.

The 2023 Edelman Trust & Health special report reflects a shifting landscape of health that includes economic fears and polarization driven by societal worries and a lack of trust in the media.

The report talks about health being more than physical health. As a matter of fact, the top issue worldwide is inflation. In the US, it’s the polarization that’s making us sick.

The survey found that 88% of US respondents think of mental health when they think about being healthy. Globally, that figure is 91%. Physical health came in a close second at 83% (88% globally). Social health was cited by 79% in the US and 83% globally. Interestingly, only one percent (yes, 1%) said being healthy is just about physical health.

Of concern is that the Edelman report shows a growing, meaningful gap between ‘how well I am taking care of my health’ and ‘how well I should be’ — increasing 14 points since last year to 52%. Of those, 55% said cost plays a large or very large role in keeping them from closing that gap.

In my book, the number one key finding is that ‘my employer,’ as the only trusted institution left, has a responsibility to implement policies to prevent burnout. Employees say that CEOs must talk about the importance of mental health in the workplace and must lead by example when it comes to work-life balance (or boundaries, however you look at it). I would argue that managers have the same modeling responsibility as CEOs.

The Business Case for Focusing on Employee Mental Health was recently released by The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Cision. The study explored the conversation (on Twitter) around employee mental health, including topics like burnout, ‘quiet quitting,’ and a four-day workweek.

IPR’s executive summary of the report states:

“Findings in this study also show that better employee mental health can contribute to increased employee productivity. However, there are several roadblocks in the way of achieving better employee well-being.

Several facets of modern work impact employee mental health in a negative way. The New York Times reported that the corporate push to restore pre-pandemic ways of working in a physical office is being met by employee concerns for their mental and emotional health. Another concern is burnout due to the high pressures of work, validated by the fact that burnout is now recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an official syndrome.”

A few of the report’s findings I found notable:

  • Counter to corporate narratives, many people conveyed that they’re now prioritizing quality of life above all else. Uninterested in climbing the corporate ladder or being promoted, they simply wanted to achieve goals that furthered their quality of life, including financial stability and helping others.
  • There were spikes in discussions about burnout, imposter syndrome and ‘quiet quitting,’ but as a Washington Post article stated, “Quiet quitting isn’t really about quitting—it’s about burnout.”
  • Employees overwhelmingly support the idea of a four-day workweek to help their mental and physical health — without making days longer or reducing wages.
  • The report clearly states, “companies need to listen to their employees’ concerns and better understand their needs through research (e.g., focus groups, surveys, and social analysis).”

Also notable, Market Watch published a story last year on another study that revealed, “63% of businesses who implemented a 4-day workweek found it easier to attract and retain talent, and 78% of employees with a 4-day workweek said they were happier and less stressed out.

5 strategies to improve mental health in the workplace

To reduce burnout and improve the overall health of their employees, here are 5 ways employers can help. This is an area where HR and PR should work together.

  1. Create a supportive work culture: Foster an environment where employees feel valued, respected, and supported — and where mental health issues are destigmatized. Encourage open communication, teamwork, and positive relationships among colleagues.
  2. Offer employee assistance programs (EAPs): Provide confidential counseling services and resources for employees facing personal or work-related challenges. EAPs can help employees manage stress, improve work-life balance, and address mental health concerns.
  3. Implement flexible work arrangements: Offer remote work options, flexible hours, parental leave, caregiver resources, mental health days, or compressed work weeks. This allows employees to better manage their personal and professional responsibilities, reducing burnout and improving well-being.
  4. Provide mental health training: Offer training sessions or workshops focusing on mental health awareness, stress management, resilience building, and related topics. This helps employees develop coping strategies and increase their understanding of mental health issues. It also helps to equip managers with the knowledge and skills to identify concerns and support their employees.
  5. Promote physical health: Encourage physical activity breaks and provide access to wellness programs. Promote healthy eating options and discourage sedentary behaviors.

It’s crucial for employers to regularly evaluate and assess the effectiveness of these initiatives and make strategic adjustments based on employee feedback and evolving research.

Related: PR Never Sleeps: How to Effectively Combat Fatigue (or Burnout) at Work


As the US health sector chair for Edelman put it, “health has become multifaceted, and those who can bring solutions forward have a responsibility to see health beyond purely the physical.”

Mental health is an issue that needs to be considered with deliberation, compassion and thoughtfulness.

Employers and managers must work to understand the causes of stress within their organization. They must make meaningful efforts to remove mental health stigma and provide easily accessible resources for their employees, which of course, is where communicators come in.

Individually, you need to educate yourself and take steps to improve your own health — mental and emotional, physical, social, financial, etc. And if you can help others while on your own wellness journey, you’ll be better for it.


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