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By Sachin Doshi, MHA Director of Development

Mental Health America (MHA) has existed by one name or another since 1909. We’ll be 110 years old next February. Take a moment to think about that. That’s longer than most of us will ever live. Only a few hundred people today were alive when Clifford Beers started what would become a legacy that endured?—?and grew?—?far beyond him.

If we’ve learned one thing along the way about what it takes to survive this long, it’s the important of prioritizing our employees. I enjoy working at MHA not only because I believe in our mission, but also because my colleagues feel like my family, my boss feels like my mentor, my CEO feels like my closest friend?—?and my workplace feels like a home.

In 2016, MHA presented these lessons at the Nonprofit HR Talent and Culture Summit. As workplace wellness increasingly takes center stage around the world, here are some considerations to keep in mind if you want to encourage an employee-first philosophy in your own workplace:

The 3 P’s: Policies ? People ? Programs

The right policies will attract the right people. What are your organization’s goals? What is its mission? These are important things to consider when implementing workplace policies. Workplace policies can be used to attract and retain employees that possess the skill sets and personality traits considered key to your organization’s success. For example, if your organization recognizes the value in fostering employer-employee trust, autonomy, and creativity, then offering a telecommuting or open-door policy will attract employees who are eager to share new ideas and prioritize self-efficacy.

Great culture drives great ideas.

How do these policy changes show in our programs? Well, you tell us. Over 3 million of you have completed mental health screens since we launched www.MHAScreening.org in 2014. Mental Health Month reaches tens of millions of people every year. Our national reports have increasingly become the benchmark for media outlets and advocacy initiatives across the country.

Make no mistake—these victories were possible because of MHA’s willingness to adopt policies, and a work culture, that prioritized employee support and recognition. MHA staff were able to take creative risks and pursue truly innovative initiatives because they felt secure and confident enough to do so.

Employee-first policies do not need to be a significant financial burden, nor should they simply be a superficial list of fringe benefits.

It’s free (or almost free) to allow your employees to work from home, operate on alternative work schedules, take lunch whenever they want, and so much more. These are easy wins to increase employee morale and engagement.

But if you want to move beyond policies into a greater organizational philosophy, make sure you’re challenging long-held beliefs. Does your staff judge employees who come in at 11? Do you make it easy for those who work from home or remotely to participate meaningfully in staff meetings? Are you encouraging people to actually take their full lunch, or is there an unspoken expectation that they take as little time as needed? Are there outdated barriers (such as strict dress codes or overcomplicated reimbursement policies) that no longer serve a purpose beyond restricting your staff?

Consider how leadership plays a role in enforcing these assumptions about your culture. Often, these kinds of changes can live or die depending on whether leadership enthusiastically supports them or passively condones them.

These are just starting points for approaching your own workplace culture. At the end of the day, every workplace is different. Not every organization should have yoga balls instead of office chairs. What’s important is considering how your office’s explicit policies and implicit assumptions contribute to the shared experience of what it feels like to be in your work environment. That is the definition of culture, and if your culture isn’t working for you – trust us, it’s working against you.

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