How Leaders Can Create a Company Culture that Prioritizes Mental Health Mental Health Month: Four strategies to foster positive workplace culture toward mental health

By Michelle Van Slyke

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

These past several years have taught us a lot about ourselves. The workplace has changed drastically, and we've discovered our capabilities as much as our boundaries. In doing so, there have been many changes – one of those being the discussion of mental health in the workplace.

There is no doubt that mental health affects work in a variety of ways, whether it is related to job performance, job satisfaction, or even employee retention. As leaders, we are responsible for fostering a company culture that puts the mental well-being of our team at the forefront.

In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, here are four ways leaders can prioritize mental health in the workplace:

Encourage breaks: Five minutes can change the next five hours of your day

It is no secret that work can cause anxiety, stress and burnout. As the workplace evolves each day, so does employees' mental health. While work can be a fulfilling and energizing place, it is important to set aside time for breaks so that we put ourselves first. At The UPS Store, we know how important this is for entrepreneurs and small business owners, and it is critical to keep this in mind amid the everyday challenges of owning a business.

Five minutes can truly change five hours of your day. By taking a few moments to practice mindfulness, meditate, go on a short walk, or even just step outside and take in some fresh air, you can become more equipped to handle stressful situations. Additionally, you can be more energized and relaxed when tackling the rest of your day.

Although taking breaks sounds good, the reality of taking them is not as easy as it sounds. That is why leaders must encourage breaks to ensure the well-being of employees. Whether it is sending out an email to remind employees to step outside or hosting a lunch event where no technology is allowed, there are several ways to get your employees to take breaks and prioritize their well-being over work demands.

Related: You Have to Lead Yourself Before You Can Lead Others — How to Master the Art of Self-Leadership

Empower colleagues to set boundaries and say no

Setting boundaries is a great tool to help prioritize mental health over the constant demands of work. Sometimes an employee may feel overwhelmed with too many tasks, and that is where setting boundaries can be helpful. By setting boundaries, employees can avoid situations that may lead to high stress or, even worse, burnout. One way to do this is by simply saying, "No." By saying "no" to certain things, employees can find themselves in a better position to say "yes" to the things that matter.

Empowering employees to have a life outside of work is paramount to success. As our world increasingly addresses how to approach work-life balance best, we are finding that being fulfilled outside of work directly impacts life at work. When employees have time for themselves to do the things they love, work becomes less of a burden and more of a desire.

Have an open dialogue

Fostering a culture that prioritizes mental health means opening the door to conversations around it. Creating an open dialogue around mental health will allow employees to feel more comfortable speaking about the struggles they may be facing and allow leaders to understand better what's going on in their life. Through candid discussions, leaders can more effectively place the mental well-being of their teams at the forefront of the business.

Ways to create an open dialogue around mental health could include hosting seminars, encouraging employees to use their vacation time, or setting aside time to check on employees in a private setting individually. No matter the format, it is important to authentically communicate with employees so they feel genuinely cared for and bring their true selves to work.

Related: 5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health

Create a culture of gratitude

Gratitude is scientifically proven to impact our well-being. Listen to any happiness-based podcast or read any self-help book on the subject, and you will find that many researchers point back to gratitude as a source of positivity. This isn't by mistake: Gratitude can posture us towards the things that are good in life rather than bad. And the same applies to work culture.

Showing gratitude for others is one of the most effective ways of enhancing performance and fostering positivity. Not only is it a source of motivation, but it also impacts the overall happiness factor for your business. If employees are constantly surrounded by gratitude at work, that sense of appreciation can become infectious. The key to creating a culture of gratitude is that it must come honestly from one person to another — and when it does, the effect is formidable.

By putting mental health at the forefront of company culture, it can spark more creativity, build relationships and encourage an overall higher quality of performance. Of course, there are endless ways to incorporate mental health strategies into your business, so long as they authentically speak to your workforce.

Michelle Van Slyke

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales, The UPS Store

Michelle Van Slyke is the senior vice president of marketing and sales for The UPS Store, Inc., which provides print and small business solutions to entrepreneurs and small-business owners at 5,000 franchise locations across the U.S.

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