Practical Strategies to Create a Mentally Healthy Work Culture 

Mentally healthy at workplace

By Petra Velzeboer

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is about reaching potential, being able to cope with the normal stresses of life and making a contribution to our communities. With this definition in mind it’s useful remembering that mental health is about everyone not just those who may be struggling and a mentally healthy culture is everybody’s business.  

But how do we get started and whose responsibility is it to create this culture? As leaders, it’s imperative that we open up the conversation and collaborate with our people so that culture is everybody’s responsibility, but permission is given from the top.  

This includes:  

1. Building Trust and Psychological Safety  

This is about feeling safe to take interpersonal risks, to discuss concerns without fear of repercussions and admit mistakes with the aim of collaborating on innovative solutions.  Trust is built in small steps, not just in the grand gestures. It’s about our behaviours, communication style and our ability to be vulnerable about our own mistakes as Leaders, modelling this approach is the most powerful way to build trust.   

2. Autonomy and Flexibility  

Our people thrive when they are trusted as adults – to use their skills, communicate effectively and aren’t micromanaged. Discussing how we work, not just what we do, enables us to understand how people work in a variety of ways that enable them to reach potential. Rarely is sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours a day going to deliver consistent high-performance, instead we need breaks for resourcing our thinking and creative connection to boost wellbeing.  

3. Listen and Empower personal solutions  

Often we think we’re listening but when we really pause to reflect, we’re hurried and just waiting for our chance to speak so we can move things along. This is the opposite of what is useful for building mentally healthy cultures. Putting down our devices and distractions and giving our full attention to someone is powerful even just for a short time. When we realise that when it comes to people our job is not to fix them or advise them, it’s about listening and asking questions that empower their own solutions, we can let go of our nervousness to talk about real things and instead connect.  Dr Brene Brown talks about how people need to be ‘seen, heard and valued’ in order to boost wellbeing, so start there and be prepared to admit what you don’t know.  

4. Invest in yourself  

The most powerful way to boost a mentally healthy culture is by leading by example. What do you do to invest in yourself, how do you show up and are you open about connecting the dots between wellbeing and performance? For example, if I’ve got a particularly intense project or deadline I will talk openly about what I’m doing to ensure success including getting an early night, speaking to a therapist or eating great food. Sometimes I’ll talk openly about when I’ve gotten it wrong and how I’m not my best self.  When we live these concepts we can then more easily talk to others asking them what they do to invest in themselves.  

A mentally healthy culture needs individual and collective responsibility. That means individuals need to take responsibility for how they invest in themselves, use the benefits on offer or communicate with their manager when something is going on that may affect their ability to focus. However, it’s also crucial that there is organisational responsibility that goes beyond a tick-box and is intrinsic to the core objectives of the business.   

This includes discussing this topic at the executive level, putting resource into creating an effective wellbeing and mental health strategy that links to the core objectives of the business and understands that poor mental health affects the bottom line through absence, poor productivity and losing great talent.  

The world of work is changing, with Gen Z soon to make up 27% of the workforce in 2025 (Deloitte), what our people are looking for in the workplace is only going to keep changing. A focus on purpose, values and efficiency must take precedent in a world of rapid technological change – that means questioning our meeting culture and the ways we’ve always done things is imperative to making sure our business remains relevant for the future.

About the Author 

 PetraPetra Velzeboer is a psychotherapist, executive coach, author and CEO of PVL

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