Is Mental Health Stigma Decreasing in the Workplace?
Mental health stigma in the workplace is often overlooked. We are fortunate to live in an increasingly wellness-driven world where it's easier to identify institutions that fall short in the fight for mental health acceptance and wellness. How are companies falling short, and how are some raising the bar? And how, as a workforce, can we continue to push progress?
Mental Health at Work Post-Pandemic
It's no secret that mental health stigma in the workplace exists. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many employers are beginning to acknowledge and, even better, prioritize employee mental health. "A New Era for Mental Health at Work," published in the Harvard Business Review, sums it up nicely:
"In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative. Fast forward to 2021, and the stakes have been raised even higher thanks to a greater awareness of the workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health, as well as heightened urgency around its intersections with DEI."1
Let's unpack this quote. Although the COVID-19 pandemic increased mental health struggles among employees, it also presented an opportunity to normalize the topic. Suddenly, employers started implementing "mental health days" and prioritizing mental health awareness. My company even has an employee resource group dedicated to mental health--and you guessed it, I'm a member.
With all the progress companies are making towards a more inclusive and conscious work environment, mental health stigma continues to be a barrier in the workplace. A November 2022 Kaiser Permanente survey indicated an astonishing
"65 percent of missed workdays can be attributed to mental health conditions."2
Although some companies, like my own, are making tremendous progress, we are only as strong as our weakest link. There is still more work to be done. How can employers and employees do their part to mitigate mental health stigma?
How Managers Can Decrease Mental Health Stigma at Work
Managers can set the tone for what is expected and acceptable within their teams. "With great power comes great responsibility."
Managers must step up and lead with tolerance. According to the Harvard Business Review, here's how:3
- Model healthy behavior through prioritizing self-care and setting work-life boundaries to set a precedent for subordinates to follow. Normalization counteracts stigma.
- Build a culture of connecting through regular check-ins. For example, I check in with my manager every month and my direct supervisor daily.
- Look into modifying existing policies and practices. As illustrated by the statistic regarding missed workdays due to mental health conditions, companies may need to adapt to changing times by taking a deeper look into flexible work hours, paid and unpaid leave, and time off.
How Employees Can Decrease Mental Health Stigma at Work
As direct reports, we, too, can combat mental health stigma in the workplace. As I mentioned, I joined my company's regional mental health resource group and now participate in mental wellness events and discussions. If this is not available, think about starting one at your company.
Participate in or start a book club. I highly recommend Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. The book examines mental wellness and monk practices that can do wonders for overall wellness and groundedness.
A little can go a long way if everyone pitches in a bit of time, compassion, and acceptance. The opportunities are endless, and the best part is we can start implementing these changes today.
Decreasing mental health stigma in the workplace is far from a quick fix, but progress is being made. In the words of the late great Nipsey Hussle, until every employer and employee embodies mental health consciousness, "the marathon continues."
- Greenwood, K., & Anas, J. (2021, November 15). It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/10/its-a-new-era-for-mental-health-at-work
Mordecai, D. M.D (2022, November 30). Mental Health at Work - Exploring Wellness Issues | Kaiser Permanente. Business Health Care | Choose Better | Kaiser Permanente. https://business.kaiserpermanente.org/insights/mental-health-workplace
Krol, N., & Greenwood, K. (2021, August 31). 8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/08/8-ways-managers-can-support-employees-mental-health
Jack, J. (2022, December 8). Is Mental Health Stigma Decreasing in the Workplace?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, November 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2022/12/is-mental-health-stigma-decreasing-in-the-workplace