How to Support Workplace Mental Health During an Era of Uncertainty

Employees engage in brainstorm exercise, sticky notes on whiteboard.

From market instability to heightened awareness of racial injustices to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the stream of daily stressors does not seem to be slowing down. All of these factors can take a toll on our mental well-being, and can begin to affect how we perform in our professional lives. 

Today, more than half of workers say their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic. As the era of uncertainty continues, how can organizations place employee well-being as a top priority? 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Eisenberg Family Depression Center’s Workplace Mental Health Solutions program sought to bring this topic into the spotlight. In collaboration with the Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering, the annual Workplace Mental Health Conference has helped hundreds of decision makers enact their own mental health support strategies. This year’s event returns on August 17, and will feature presentations and interactive sessions on a variety of topics, including retention of young employees, the costs of code-switching, burnout, resilience at work, and much more led by talented speakers with a variety of backgrounds.

Ahead of the conference, a few of featured presenters share their thoughts on the most important factors contributing to workplace mental health:

Syma Khan, MSW, MPH, Lead Social Worker for the Child Psychiatry Hospital Section and a Clinical Social Worker on the Pediatric Consultation and Liaison Psychiatry Service, sees Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as her biggest interest in supporting mental health in the workplace. “DE&I and wellness focus on helping people be their authentic selves and hopefully experience less stress from having to code switch or hide aspects of their identity from colleagues and supervisors,” says Kahn. “I hope that by working together to integrate DE&I and wellness efforts we can build a more resilient, engaged, and healthy staff.”

She believes that allowing employees to be able to be open and truthful about challenges without fear of repercussions or negative consequences is the most important thing to consider when building a plan for workplace mental health, and ensuring the experiences of minority/BIPOC are not overlooked.

Khan endorses the practice of talking circles, which is a Native American practice used to share emotions and experiences. “The activity helped members of our department connect and reflect on how their lives had changed over the 2 years in a supportive and safe space,” says Khan. 

Khan will be hosting a breakout session during the conference called Using Talking Circles to Support Workplace Wellness, Diversity & Inclusion. RSVP to the conference and join the session!

In 2021, 40% of employees who quit their jobs cited burnout as a top reason for leaving. Michael P. Leiter, PhD is an organizational psychologist and consultant who specializes in burnout, work engagement, and workplace civility. His recent initiatives have focused on improving the quality of workplace engagement through enhancing the level of civility and respect among colleagues. One such example is creating workgroup processes that resemble family therapy in order to increase the level of positive social encounters among people.

“These work against the exhaustion and cynicism of burnout. Ongoing, explicit appreciation and an inclusive culture increase feelings of efficacy,” said Leiter. “Employers share responsibility, legally and ethically, for the social culture of their workplaces.”

Dr. Leiter will present the keynote titled “Burnout as a Breakdown in Relationships of People at Work” during this year’s conference. Reserve your seat on August 17!

Cynthia Castro, PhD,  is a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Director of Clinical Research at Modern Health, a digital health platform that provides comprehensive mental health services around the globe

As resignation rates continue to set records in 2022, Castro provided insight into what may be the top reason. “It seems that the challenges we have all endured in the past couple of years have been a catalyst for employees to re-evaluate their work life and make difficult decisions about how they want to spend their waking hours. We've seen clear data that burnout is a driver, and better pay and better benefits has been a strong motivator.”

To help prevent burnout and improve worker satisfaction before it’s too late, Castro advises employers to firstly, get formal training. Next, “set up a regular employee engagement survey and make it a part of your management practice to regularly set aside time to check in with employees to get their feedback directly.” Additionally, she adds “Be intentional and sincere about asking [employees] what they need to do their best work, and most importantly, be prepared to commit to make changes based on their feedback.”

Castro is involved in research that shows digital tools can offer many benefits for employees, increasing access and choice when it comes to mental health support. “From meditations, to cognitive and behavioral exercises, to educational content that covers hundreds of topics - digital tools give employees lots of choices to find things that they find helpful.” With no limit to when and where these resources can be used, digital tools greatly decrease access barriers that are otherwise present with coaches and therapists.

Castro will be hosting a panel discussion on” Avoiding the ‘Great Resignation’ – What Today’s Employees Expect from Their Workplace.” RSVP to the conference and join the session!

Employers, c-suite leaders, HR professionals and anyone interested in learning how to best support employee well-being are invited to join the 3rd annual Workplace Mental Health Conference on August 17 from 1:00-5:30 p.m. The conference is limited in capacity. Pre-event registration is strongly encouraged.