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Develop a responsive mental health strategy

Research shows that employees who experience feelings of inclusion in the workplace are associated with a positive workplace culture and increased employee engagement.1 Developing an organizational mental health strategy with diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at its core affects the culture, workers’ feelings of confidence and inclusion, and opportunities available to workers with diverse backgrounds.

Here are seven actions your organization can take to develop an equitable and inclusive mental health strategy:

Employers should consider how to incorporate practices that impact benefits, job functions, and environments with which employees already interact regularly during the work week, including:

  • Offering fair and competitive compensation and publishing transparent guidelines regarding salary bands and promotion criteria;
  • Ensuring mental health benefits are culturally responsive and affordable, identify and address health disparities, and allow workers to craft a health plan to fit their needs;
  • Requiring a diverse provider network as a criterion for hiring health plans;
  • Providing tailored resources and services for various populations, such as webinars, coping tools, or training to discuss and educate about neurodiversity, disabilities, substance use recovery, gender expression, or individuals who have experienced violence or trauma based on their identities;
  • Holding partners and external vendors to high standards by requesting how vendors support diversity, equity, and inclusion in their operations; and
  • Designing accessible and inclusive work environments, such as handicap-accessible facilities, gender-neutral restrooms, facilities for new mothers who are breastfeeding, and assistive technology for workers with sight or hearing loss.

Be sure to consider race, ethnicity, gender expression, abilities, generation, neurodiversity, and work and lifestyle preferences. Reference the organization’s business model. Depending on the industry and region, the business model is often written in a way that appeals to diverse markets. Do you sell products that are sold internationally? Does the demographics of your clientele or customer base reflect that of the organization’s workforce? Think about how the strategies described in the business plan can apply to your own workforce and contribute to your organization’s diversity goals.

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) provides a mental health toolkit to help employers create the initial framework for a mental health strategy built around the “4 A’s”: awareness, accommodations, assistance, and access. Consider how each of the four following areas are addressed within the workplace:

  • Awareness: Build awareness and a supportive workplace culture by conducting mental health training, leading anti-stigma campaigns, and educating employees about benefits and available resources.
  • Accommodations: Make it simple for employees to request and use reasonable accommodations and other workplace supports, such as adjustments or modifications that enable people with mental health conditions to perform the essential functions of a job efficiently and productively. Train managers on how to respond and process a request for disability accommodations.
  • Assistance: Promote services available to assist employees, such as an employee assistance program (EAP), stress management training, or other supports. In addition to increased employee productivity, the benefits of EAPs include reduced medical costs, turnover, and absences.
  • Access: Ensure access to mental health services by assessing the specific mental health benefits covered by your health insurance providers, including treatment for substance use conditions.

Once you have identified your workforce’s composition, build on the initial framework by establishing the goals, action items, and measures for each of the “4 A’s” as you develop your mental health strategy. The issues and action items you outline in your mental health strategy will ultimately depend on the needs and capacity of your organization. Codify the organization’s commitment by signing a pledge, drafting a policy, publishing the goals where workers can easily access, or incorporating it into the mission statement or strategic plan and reviewing it annually.

The employer should not only create an environment where all can feel welcome, but actively denounce and condemn acts, ideologies, and policies that support or condone institutional systems of oppression. For communities who are often marginalized, it is not enough for a workplace to be open and inclusive; it is also important to actively denounce racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ bias, and other systems of oppression and those who support those systems.

Promote best practices, advance diverse talent internal mobility and promotion, hold leadership accountable, create a culture of support and dialogue, participate in advocacy campaigns, and promote emotional intelligence to support workers.

This includes administering a survey to workers or assessing diversity metrics to identify and address systemic barriers that impact workers’ mental health. The organization should also routinely evaluate the compensation policy for fair pay and workers’ perceptions of fair pay; standardize new hire and performance evaluation processes; update professional development policies to clearly define the career path for each role; and implement a “return-from-leave” program to support workers transitioning back to work after taking extended leave.

Learn more about workplace mental health

Find mental health resources for employers and employees and get your workplace certified.