• Share this:
Addressing mental health at work
Illustration by Shiwei Li

7 min read

Addressing mental health at work

In the spirit of Mental Illness Awareness Week, we’re asking leaders to share their top strategies that support employees and their mental health at work.

We all have mental health to take care of. This long-term social distanced isolation, the ripple effect of disconnection, and the intricacies of work-life balance in 2020 have been concerning for mental health to say the least.

As we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week, I asked several leaders about their top tips to address mental health on individual, team lead, and organizational levels.

The uncertainty of change

You’ve heard this a lot now: we’re living in uncertain times. And being in uncontrollable situations induces anxiety.

Case in point: due to circumstances outside of our control, our personal lives and professional lives are blurring more than ever. Bringing work into the home turf, a place where we’re used to relaxing is just another stressful challenge to juggle.

As we’re going through this period of transition and will likely have more change coming our way, we ought to pay more attention to our mental health.

You’ve also heard this: bring your whole self to work. In a remote work world, however, isolation and loneliness can become even more invisible. Without the obligation to head to the office and be physically present, presenteeism also becomes more prevalent than ever.

Although this has been a stressful time for the world, mental health concerns at work aren’t new. Even before the pandemic hit, there’s been increased urgency to reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace. Here’s what we can do to help.

The individual level: ownership and awareness

Whether you disclose your mental health condition with your employer is completely your personal choice. But it’s ultimately our responsibility to manage and be aware of how mental health manifests in our personal lives and affects our productivity at work.

Know your signs

Dealing with mental health requires honesty and self-awareness. Take a look at how to view your work-related stress with a whole-person wellness approach. Start building a habit of identifying your triggers—chances are, you’ll pick up changes in your behavior easily. If you suffer from burnout, you may find yourself taking longer to complete routine tasks, or frequently calling in sick.

Paying attention to signs of anxiety and distress is often the first step before actually mitigating the condition.

Establish boundaries

After recognizing your mental health warning signs, start to understand and honor your limits. For example, take breaks to not aggravate the stress at hand, and commit to small, manageable goals. If you’re willing, be communicative and tell your employer that you simply can’t afford to overwork, and work together to realign expectations or shuffle tasks within your team.

Seek help and take care of yourself

It’s okay to be not okay. We all know that rest, water, and exercise support our health. In addition to covering these basics, make sure to unwind from work stressors and carve out time to connect with family and friends. If it helps, take a mental health day.

The best way to resolve a mental health burden is to seek professional help. Don’t be too harsh on yourself—know that you’re not alone.

Pro tip: Bryce Lokken is a freelance digital marketing strategist who’s seen plenty of workplace mental health approaches at different organizations. He recently hosted a webinar on how anxiety, bipolar, and depression play out and affect us at work.
"Understand that it's far easier to do the work at home than it is to do it 'on the fly'. When you design your life around better overall well-being, you'll find fewer workplace stressors that can trigger poor mental health. Create a safe home, take your medication, leave space in your week for self-care instead of running ragged constantly. Workplace wellness starts at home.” 


The team lead level: supporting teammates

We know that authentic leadership cultivates trust and improves employee engagement. And this is no different in the realm of mental health. So what can leaders be more mindful of?

Normalizing mental health and vulnerability

Few of us have been immune to the discomfort created by the pandemic. This universal experience has been one of the silver linings of connection—we’ve embraced the discussion around mental health stigma and living through struggles collectively. Leaders who’re transparent, human, and relatable are often the ones who end up being trusted confidants.

Checking in: Gear up for difficult conversations

Staying connected is so important, especially when we’re all isolated in different spaces physically.

At Jostle, we rely heavily on 1:1 meetings for our team leads to stay in touch with every teammate individually and look for cues from those who may be struggling. Navigating sudden change like a global pandemic meant that we had to increase our cadence to check-in even more regularly. However, not all leaders always know what to say or do when being entrusted with sensitive information. The most important thing is to hold space, be compassionate, and offer support. [link to C@W 1:1meeting summary]

Offer trust and flexibility

The “next normal” may be just around the corner but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting mental health. Everyone’s needs are different and will continue to evolve through time. That’s why as a leader, you can proactively offer flexibility to let your team thrive, adjust, and integrate their personal needs in their work schedules.

Accommodating flexibility doesn’t mean lowering standards. Instead of measuring input in hours, focus on supporting and elevating your team’s productivity.

Pro tip: Jeff Riseley is the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance and is committed to empowering salespeople to reach peak levels of sales performance through better mental health. He believes salespeople are corporate athletes and helping them improve their mental game is the key to success.
"Start the conversation early - build in mental health, resilience, and EQ training into new hire onboarding. In my case, you need to give salespeople the helmet and pads to keep their mental game strong while working under stress. Anxiety in sales is NOT optional, it's part of everyday life. Therefore it's critical salespeople treat self-care like a daily multivitamin which is practiced daily to effectively manage stress in sales."


The organizational level: mental health infrastructure

The costs of mental health are drastic for any company. Decreased productivity, absenteeism, and low morale can hit employees and their organizations hard. It’s every leader’s job to personally care about mental health and destigmatizing it in the workplace.

Mental health policies and resources

It might be time to take a closer look at formal rules around paid time-off, flex work, and your sick leave policy. Re-invest budgets to offer workshops on mental health, and focus on building connection. Offer Lunch n Learns to go through reviewed initiatives and reiterate the support that your organization offers, such as counseling coverage and therapy benefits.

Company-wide pulse surveys

Do you know how your employees really feel? Recently, we conducted a short Jostler check-in survey, asking for feedback on general well-being, work-life balance, team support, and vacation plans. The response we received about employee mental health was encouraging and helpful in making plans to support employees further while remote work continues for the foreseeable future.

Maintaining a psychologically safe workplace

A psychologically safe and healthy workplace is one that supports taking risks; protecting employees who are willing to be transparent about failures and show up as their authentic selves. Leaders can shape this type of culture by welcoming curiosity, encouraging creativity, and promoting healthy conflict.

Pro tip: Bev Attfield is Jostle’s Principal of Workplace Science. She’s dedicated to exploring and sharing the smartest workplace and leadership practices, so that every person can simply do their best work in the most supportive environment.
“The way you speak and act as an organization impacts how people feel at work. Take a look at your culture of connection: do your rituals, communication channels, habits, and ways of working harm or support employee well-being?"



After talking to these insightful leaders, what’s obvious is that mental health should matter, whether or not we’re in a pandemic.

What’s less obvious is how you should go about gauging how your people are really doing (especially in a non-face-to-face manner). The key is to simply ask—in a way that makes sense for your organization, your team, and the individuals involved. Then, be prepared to act on what you hear.

October 4 marks the start of Mental Illness Awareness Week. It’s an opportunity to share about the ongoing work and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide. We’re all learning to take care of our mental health, so let’s support each other along the way!

What did you think of the article? Do you have any plans to celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week at your organization? Let us know in the comments below!  

Disclaimer: We’re not mental health professionals and this isn’t professional advice. If you feel that you may need medical support, please consult a qualified health care professional.


There really is nothing wrong with taking a mental health day.

Find out why

Faye Wai

  • Share this:

Add your comments