Despite growing awareness and support, mental health is still a taboo topic. There is a stigma surrounding mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma and burnout, leading many to avoid discussing such topics in the workplace. However, mental health problems have an impact on business directly through increased absenteeism, accidents and employee turnover, as well as decreased productivity and performance.

The pandemic has placed added stress on employees, magnifying the mental health challenges many employees were already experiencing. From lacking in childcare and financial security to coping with isolation and burnout, employees are struggling. With the boundaries between work and home blurring, and work-life balance becoming nonexistent – leaders play an important role in supporting employees during this challenging time.

Leaders cannot ignore the impact the pandemic is having on their employees, and its implications are likely to persist for some time. Creating an inclusive workplace culture that promotes open and honest conversations regarding employee wellness are needed to destigmatize mental health. But, to truly make an impact in the workplace, leaders need to start speaking up.

Creating More Honest Conversations

A leader’s job is to support their employees – during both good and challenging times. Normalizing mental health conversations requires leaders to show vulnerability and lead by example – which is not always easy. By being honest about your own mental health struggles, leaders can help employees feel more comfortable talking about their own challenges.

Regular one-on-one meetings are a great place to start. Leaders must move beyond simply asking, “How are you?” Questions should be more specific to allow employees to discuss the support and resources they need during this time. Leaders must actively listen with the intent to understand. It’s perfectly fine if employees do not want to share. The important thing is for employees to realize that they can express how they’re feeling without fear of discrimination or judgement.

Organizations can provide additional opportunities for employees to discuss and support their mental health, including employee resource groups, surveys, teambuilding activities, or internal communication channels and forums. Providing these outlets for employees to connect with their peers can create a sense of belonging that can have a positive impact on employee morale, engagement and performance.

Cultivating a culture of belonging requires psychological safety: the ability to make a contribution without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. We need employees to be more aware of the subtle – and often unintentional – ways they can create exclusion in their daily interactions.

How Training Can Help

Training can help to develop effective soft skills, such as empathy, vulnerability, compassion and active listening. Having established soft skills, commonly known as people skills, enables employees and leaders to better connect with others. In fact, this is an area that needs improvement in many organizations.

Training Industry research has revealed a gap in soft skills across all industries and functions. Effective soft skills are necessary in all roles, especially leadership. The pandemic has accelerated the need to close this gap to properly support employees.

Beyond soft skills development, organizations should also consider training that uncovers and mitigates unconscious biases and microaggressions that can create a psychologically unsafe environment, inhibiting employees from feeling comfortable discussing mental health challenges. By investing in training, organizations are helping employees have difficult and important conversations in safe and inclusive workplace environments.