Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace - Strategies for Small Business Owner Success

May 30, 2024

Fostering a culture of mental well-being in the workplace is crucial. This is especially true within small businesses, where personal connections often determine success. An open, nurturing environment allows you to attract and retain the best employees while fostering the highest possible productivity over the long term.

This article will outline why supporting your employees' mental health in your small business is so important. You'll learn the benefits you can gain by investing in this critical area and what steps you can take to keep your team focused and happy.

Why is mental health an important concern in the workplace?

Recent years have seen increased attention on mental health, especially as it relates to work. One survey found that 94% of business leaders described offering mental health benefits as "very important" in 2024. This represented a sharp rise compared to the previous year, when only 36% gave the same answer.

This shift has sparked a broad conversation about workplace mental health issues. Increased efforts in this area have led to more open discussions about diagnosable conditions, such as depression. At the same time, the process has highlighted the importance of more general topics, like stress, burnout, and career satisfaction.

This topic has been moving more into the spotlight for some time. However, as with so many work-related matters, the pandemic accelerated the trend. Anxiety fostered by COVID-19 and the changes it prompted in the workplace led to a closer look at mental health more broadly.

Of course, mental health is an important personal issue, regardless of the business situation. You and your team members should look after each other. Everyone will benefit from a caring environment as it can mitigate the serious anguish that comes with shaky mental health.

That said, there's also an important business case to be made. A toxic work environment — one that feeds poor mental health — undercuts production and team building. Here are some of the downsides that can arise when you ignore mental health within your organization:

  • Reduced effectiveness

  • Serious mental conditions, like depression

  • Substance abuse

  • Burnout

  • Deterioration of physical health

  • Increased days off

What factors impact mental health in the workplace?

Unfortunately, even as mental health becomes less stigmatized, many companies fall short in their commitment to its maintenance. Just to look at one data set, more than half of employees (52%) said they felt burned out in the past year due to workplace pressures. At the same time, nearly two-thirds (62%) said they felt uncomfortable talking about the topic.

More than half of employees (52%) said they felt burned out in the past year due to workplace pressures. At the same time, nearly two-thirds (62%) said they felt uncomfortable talking about the topic.

Of course, members of your team could face mental health challenges even in the perfect work environment. Factors like genetics, upbringing, and home lives can make employees susceptible to rough patches. As a result, you shouldn’t mistake every struggle with mental illness within your organization as a sign of a toxic environment.

Still, there are steps you can take to minimize the toll that workplace stress can take on mental health. A variety of factors within your control can set the stage for a more positive experience. Here are some to keep in mind:

  • Physical environment of your office

  • Management styles of supervisors

  • Interactions among coworkers

  • Presence of discrimination or bullying

  • Work schedules

  • Deadlines and expectations

  • Compensation/benefits

What are some ways a small business owner can support their employees' mental health?

Earlier we looked at the toll bad mental health can have on employees. It's important to keep the flip side in mind. More than just avoiding problems, a focus on mental health can lead to benefits for your business.

Here are some of the upsides you can see by investing in supporting strong mental health in your team:

  • Easier recruiting

  • Increased productivity

  • Reduced turnover

  • Better workplace satisfaction

  • Improved teamwork

Here's how you can get started with creating a safe environment for mental health issues:

Develop clear policies

Take an organized approach to fostering mental health. That starts by understanding the topic and learning the current best practices. From there, you can develop detailed policies and a concrete plan of implementation.

Open a conversation

Remove the stigma that often surrounds mental health. Let your team know that you are prioritizing this issue and communicate the policies you are putting in place. This will help open up a dialog about the issue.

Offer mental health support

To encourage strong mental health, you need to go beyond conversation. It's also important to enact policies that provide material support.

Often, this can be accomplished through your benefits package, making sure the insurance you offer includes mental health support. Also look into programs that offer counseling services. Providing your employees with the right tools will help them overcome mental health challenges when they arise.

Train your managers

Provide adequate training regarding mental health. Teach the leaders within your organization how to discuss these matters with their direct reports. At the same time, track that managers are implementing your policies effectively.

Set manageable KPIs

A key part of promoting strong mental health is not contributing to the problem. Too much stress can feed overall anxiety. Of course, you need to maintain a productive team. Just take a long view of the situation. By setting reasonable KPIs, you ensure that your staff can contribute at a high level over the long haul, rather than burning out after an aggressive sprint.

Encourage a healthy work-life balance

Employees are more than just production units. They have lives and responsibilities outside of the office. Recognize this and the impact it has on work performance and overall mental health. Facilitate a healthy work-life balance for your employees, helping them avoid a build-up of anxiety.

Support flexible schedules

Working hours represent a critical concern for work-life balance. By giving your team members some say in their schedules, and by providing flexibility for individuals to attend to their out-of-work responsibilities, you make this possible. Obviously, you need to set appropriate deadlines and expectations. But on the day-to-day scale, give as much room as possible for your employees to create the most manageable schedule they can.

Nurture bonds between coworkers

So far, we've mostly looked at connections between employees and either their managers or the organization as a whole. However, there's another potential support system within your small business. Ideally, your team members can look to each other in difficult times, giving them another way to bolster their mental health.

Take steps to encourage connections between your employees. Host events (including virtual ones, if you have remote workers) and engage in team-building activities. At the same time, minimize potential negative interactions by having clear policies against bullying and harassment.

Incorporate mental health awareness into your corporate culture

Your efforts on behalf of mental health should dovetail with your broader corporate culture. This will make sure that there are no discrepancies in what you communicate to employees. Think of this in terms of matters like vacation policy, family leave, team activities, HR-sponsored events, and management communications.

Mental health and your small business

As an employer, you have a significant influence on the mental health of your employees. By implementing strategies like flexible work arrangements, promoting work-life balance, providing access to counseling services, and fostering open communication, small businesses can create environments where employees feel valued and supported. This helps your team members live their best lives — and it gives a boost to your startup.

By implementing strategies like flexible work arrangements, promoting work-life balance, providing access to counseling services, and fostering open communication, small businesses can create environments where employees feel valued and supported.

Investing in mental health initiatives enhances employee morale and productivity, making sure your operations run smoothly. At the same time, this focus also cultivates a positive organizational culture that contributes to long-term success. Everyone on your team can stay energized, happy, and focused — setting the foundation for driving your small business forward.