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How to Develop an Effective Mental Health Strategy for Your Employees

Published October 12, 2020 (last updated February 18, 2021) -
entrepreneur has a mentally healthy workplace

While governments across the world are scrambling to keep infection rates down through public health measures that keep us safe but isolated, employers are increasingly forced to address an issue many have long neglected.

Employee mental health is coming more sharply into focus, as employers understand more acutely the stressors many of their workers face — and how those stressors ultimately affect their company as a whole.

In a short span, many employers have seen, and help make accommodations for, employees

  • Struggling with the social isolation accompanying remote work
  • Facing increased childcare responsibilities
  • Grieving the loss of loved ones
  • Wrestling with illness
  • Dealing with financial stresses
  • Coping with broad anxieties about the future

And while many employers have dealt with employees in a piecemeal fashion, the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the necessity for an organisation-wide mental health strategy — one that outlasts the crisis. Employees struggling with multiple stressors are more likely to be less productive, which can hurt overall morale and your bottom line. Moreover, having a strategy to support employee well-being can keep them engaged and loyal to your organisation — and less likely to jump ship when the next opportunity comes along.

Does this seem obvious, but you don’t know where to start? After all, you’re a business owner, not a social worker. Well, while you should definitely work with an experienced HR professional or qualified third-party to design a program, here are a few components of a solid mental health strategy to get you started.

Did you know that there is a National Mental Health Month?

It is celebrated each year in October and it is an important time for the Australian community to come together and raise awareness for mental health.

Start with Your Leadership       

It’s critically important that you discuss with and gain commitments from your leadership team first before you do anything else. One of the quickest ways to torpedo your mental health program is for different managers and departments not to provide the support you’ve promised. Or worse yet — for a manager to ridicule and shame those seeking help. A single employee sharing a story with their co-workers of how one of your managers was not receptive or hostile when they reached out can be enough to destroy the faith and trust of your employees in your program.

Instead, you must not only make mental health a priority for your managers; you must make sure that your managers themselves are not engaging in behaviours that could harm employee mental health.

Heard those rumours that one of your managers yells at their staffers so much that some of them leave work crying? These are sort of issues you should address immediately.

Employsure recommends identifying a small group of managers along with a cross-section of employees from different departments to form a working committee, who can lead this work internally. Not only can you not do all the necessary work yourself, but you need to obtain buy-in from all levels of the organisation.

To be effective, you’ll need employees to feel comfortable that your effort is genuine and thoughtful, and that starts with a process that heavily incorporates their feedback. When you launch your program, non-supervisory employees who participated directly in its design may be among your biggest internal champions of the program and help encourage struggling employees to take advantage of it.

Identify What Your Problems Are and Assess Your Needs

There’s no one-size-fits all mental health strategy for business. Instead, you need to develop one that is grounded in your unique needs. Well, what are your needs?

  1. To identify them, start by reviewing existing employee wellness and other relevant programs to see what you already have in place. Perhaps there is a program you started years ago which no one uses. Or maybe you have some online training modules of which employees are unaware. Before you begin to design an entirely new program, you should see if there are existing programs and resources which could be useful if you refined and expanded them.
  2. Next, you should take a look at pertinent HR data, such as formal employee complaints, disciplinary records, and exit interviews. This information can give you some real insight into employee needs, as well as potential problem areas that may require remediation.
  3. Also, take a look at reviews from former employees left on employee review sites, such as JobAdvisor, to better understand if there are elements of your organisational culture that may support or undermine employee mental health.
  4. Finally, you should obtain direct feedback from your employees about their mental health needs. Consider the use of both anonymous surveys so that employees can feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel and multiple internal focus groups of employees. It’s often best to find an outside facilitator to gather this kind of feedback, as facilitation by managers or HR staff may make employees hesitant to be honest about their needs.

Now that you have identified where you must improve, you have to get a financial understanding of what you can feasibly provide to this project as this will impact the program you design. Talk to you accountant or bookkeeper about how much you can allocate to this program. It is ok if you cannot allocate any money if you business is small, that doesn’t mean you can’t implement the program, it simply means that what you can do may be limited or you have to get creative.

Why Should You Promote Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace?

Design Your Program

Once you’ve identified your organisational needs, you should list them in order of importance and impact. Those which affect the broadest number of employees, have the most acute impact on employee well-being, and have the most measurable effect on organisational metrics should be ranked highest. Review this list with your internal working committee and condense the list to the three to five most pressing and actionable items. Develop a list of goals you want your program to achieve that addresses these goals and set a measurable timeframe to assess success.

When you’ve solidified your goals, work with your working committee and HR department to develop an action plan to achieve each of these goals. Your action plan should include elements that promote positive mental health steps, safeguard employees from harm in the workplace, support those who request help, and outreach to those employees identified as struggling. Include short-term and long-term goals and action steps. Your short-term goals should address all particularly acute problems over a defined period, while your long-term strategy should involve the establishment of ongoing practices and resources that benefit your employees.

Your action plan must also be integrated with your business. As you design it, take a look at every facet of your operations and see if there are opportunities to build links with your mental health program. For example, if the staff of one department reported that a source of stress was job security because they were siloed off from the rest of your organisation, find ways to fold them into broader organisational activities. Also, make sure all incoming employees are thoroughly trained on your business’ mental health programs and staff/managerial expectations regarding employee wellness.

Last, incorporate firm assessment measures to measure the successes (and problem areas of your program). These measures should be performed at regular intervals consistently. Use the data to refine your mental health program over time to ensure it continues to meet the ever-evolving needs of your workforce.

To be sure, building an effective, long-lasting employee mental health plan involves a lot of work. If the above steps seem daunting with all you’ve got on your plate right now, don’t worry. Employsure can help. We’ll help you develop a plan to help your business promote positive mental health and support those in trouble.

Follow Ups

It is important to continue to follow up and review the process you have put in place to ensure that it is working in the way you intended and achieving goals. If it is achieving your goals, assess how you  can continue to hit these targets and if it is not working, maybe it was the wrong step to take for your business and allows you to consider what else may be better suited.

By following up, it will reinforce the business focus on mental health and stop the bad habits from reforming.


To give you an idea of the kinds of mental health programs you can implement are listed below. You can choose to implement any of these, however, these may not suit your business.

  • Anonymous employee support hotline: where employees can call at anytime to discuss work issues and stresses or non-work-related issues
  • Mental health workshops with a third party host: to go over stress coping techniques and awareness
  • Ensuring employees know and are comfortable taking personal leave for mental health days
  • Providing employees with an additional day off as a mental health day that they can take whenever they want
  • Training for managers to understand the signs of mental health struggles or stress and how to have those conversations

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