Amid an intensifying mental health crisis, employers have both the opportunity and, one could say, the obligation to leverage their power by nurturing a supportive and healthy workplace environment. Recent research shows an undeniable correlation between mental health and workplace culture, which holds true across all demographics and identities.

We’re seeing a massive shift in workplace norms, expectations, and structure, driven in large part by changing demographics, and the pandemic. Today’s labor force is more diverse than any other in history and includes five different generations of people working alongside each other. Both employees and employers are facing different demands than they did even five years ago. As a result, the values and roles of each are changing.

As the future of work is being reimagined to create a balance between people, profit, and purpose, organizational leadership can lead the way to serve as a catalyst for positive change in business and society.

Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health challenges encompass a spectrum of experiences, from diagnosed conditions to everyday stressors like burnout and financial worries. Over the past few years, there has been a marked shift in attitudes toward mental health, with reduced stigma leading to increased willingness to talk more openly about it and seek help. Nurturing good mental health has become a societal imperative. Employers have responded by offering individual benefits such as flexible work arrangements, mindfulness programs, and even shorter work weeks. While these initiatives are commendable, they often fall short of addressing the root causes of mental health issues that stem from work.

Workplace Culture Wins When It Comes to Measuring the Biggest Impact on Mental Health

To better understand worker’s needs, in MindShare Partners’ most recent Mental Health at Work study, respondents were asked to rate how helpful the following were to their mental health:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Self-care resources for mental health
  • A safe and supportive culture for mental health
  • A healthy and sustainable culture of work

Hands down, a healthy and sustainable culture emerged as the winner among all respondents, with 78% rating it as moderately, very, or extremely helpful. The runner-up was a safe and supportive culture for mental health, followed by mental health treatment, and self-care resources.

Ripple Effect of Workplace Wellness

In the U.S. we spend at least one-third of our lives at work. Of course, how we experience work impacts the rest of our lives. Whether we’re feeling valued and fulfilled, or downtrodden and stressed, we “take it home” with us to our families, friends, and communities. Add to that, technology and working from home, and the line separating our personal and professional lives becomes increasingly blurry or nonexistent.

Consider this quote from an employee, which illustrates the ripple effect of a positive workplace.

“I was in such a toxic situation at work, and it drastically bled into every aspect of my life. Since joining Creative Alignments, my life literally feels like it has taken a 180-degree turn! I am happy and excited to take on my work each day, to be part of this team, to brag about where I work, and more. Even more importantly though, this has absolutely translated into my personal and family life.  Being able to feel the respect, appreciation, and positivity at Creative Alignments each day is amazing. This allows me to show up better as a friend, family member, and parent.”

Investing in Company Culture Improves the Bottom Line

You can see how an employee’s experience can engender loyalty, increase engagement, reduce turnover, and make recruiting easier – all of which are good for the bottom line. Or culture can have the opposite effect on mental health and the bottom line.

Happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees and, according to a study by the World Health Organization, a positive work environment can lead to a 35% decrease in mental health disorders and a 30% reduction in absenteeism. Furthermore, employees who feel valued by their employers are 60% more likely to report being motivated to do their very best at work.

The Role of Leadership in Building Organizational Culture

But is culture a top-down or bottom-up phenomenon? The answer lies somewhere in between. While leadership sets the tone for organizational culture, it is a collective effort that involves every member of the team. Sustainable workloads, autonomy, recognition, and alignment with purpose are essential components of a positive culture that empowers employees to thrive.

Those all need to be set by leadership, yet each individual hire can contribute to or detract from the overall culture. This is why recruiting and hiring mean so much more than simply filling a seat with someone who’s capable of doing the job.

Ten Tips for Building Company Culture

So, how can company leaders create an environment where employees not only survive but thrive? In our 15 years of recruiting for hundreds of companies, here are some of the key elements that we see contribute to positive and sustainable company cultures:

1. Build trust. Hire great people, equip them well, then trust them to do their jobs. No need for lots of extra rules when implicit trust (not subservience) is foundational to your culture.

2. Lead with empathy. Take time to understand where people are coming from.

3. Vulnerability can be a superpower. Be open and transparent so your employees know you are human too.

4. The best leaders don’t have all the answers. Regularly invite in ideas, solutions, and collaboration from your team and colleagues.

5. Live your company values. When you show up this way, you attract employees who naturally and authentically live similar values.

6. Little things make a big difference, and a personal outreach can change someone’s day. You don’t need to do it perfectly. Everything you choose to do adds up to something much larger.

7. People need to feel heard. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing what’s working, what’s not, and what they need or can contribute.

8. Create an environment where mistakes are okay. This builds opportunities for learning and psychological safety.

9. Show up as your authentic self. Buck the old way of authoritative leadership in favor of inspiring leadership. Leading with, not over.

10.  Commit to creating a diverse team where people feel a sense of belonging and equity. This will drive your creativity, connection, and innovation.

We believe the future of work will prioritize employee well-being as a critical business strategy. As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month 2024, think about how your organization is either negatively draining or positively supporting your employees’ mental health.