Guide Towards Building A Mental Health-Friendly Workplace

4 key steps towards fostering a workplace culture that embraces mental health

11 Jun 2021 Articles Grievance handling Work-life harmony Trending Best practices

Research has shown that every $1 invested in workplace adjustments to support mental health yields an average of $5.60 in returns, lowers average medical expenses by 13.3%, and increases the average yearly income per person by 6.5%. In fact, 8 in 10 mental health-friendly workplaces have observed better performance at work and lower turnover rates, brought about by higher employee morale1.

What are the steps organisations can take towards fostering a workplace culture that embraces mental health? 

Step 1: Get leadership buy-in and encourage role modelling

Leaders play a key role in influencing employee behaviours and thinking. Having support from leaders will help enforce the importance of good mental health, set expectations of the organisation, and keep all stakeholders accountable. It is therefore vital to get buy-in at the very top. 

HR practitioners need to successfully present the business case to leaders, allowing them to understand that mental well-being is a critical success factor in advancing the organisation’s business goals, and not just a good-to-have, through relevant research and data. Encourage them to be open about their own experiences and personally role model healthy behaviours, so as to cultivate a culture that engenders support, open dialogue and respect. In doing so, they set a series of explicit and implicit permissions for each individual to take steps to promote greater mental well-being for themselves.

Step 2: Review mental wellness programmes and policies

Emphasise the importance of holistic health by providing programmes and activities that employees can easily access. This can include incorporating mental health-related programmes into the employee health benefits package for employees to make claims for mental health-related expenses or introducing wellness programmes such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), for professional mental health assistance, such as face-to-face counselling and consultations. Consider empowering “mental wellness champions” within the organisation — a network of employees trained to help build awareness on mental health and support mental well-being.

Work towards empowering employees to take charge of their mental health journeys. For example, organising online company-wide workshops for employees can learn techniques on managing their workplace stress levels, even if they are working remotely; or tapping technology to establish greater connection and communication between employees to facilitate peer support.

Lastly, to foster a psychologically safe and trusting work environment so that employees feel safe and protected when opening up about their mental health conditions, incorporate strict confidentiality safeguards and behavioural guidelines.

Step 3: Train and develop supervisors

Having built personal relationships and connections with their teams through day-to-day interactions, supervisors are best placed to recognise the red flags of poor mental health.

Invest in training that equips supervisors with the skills to spot and identify signs of mental distress, when to intervene, how to talk about mental health sensitively, and how to inspire good habits to manage mental health within their teams.

Initiating one-on-one chats with employees about their mental health is a good first step. These meetings should be done privately to provide employees a safe and non-judgmental space to share. Supervisors should actively listen, letting employees do most of the talking to build their confidence. Be open and flexible towards working with the employee to develop solutions, such as offering flexible work arrangements to enable employees to better manage their work and life responsibilities, or review and reprioritise their workloads where necessary. If the opportunity arises, supervisors may also share their own mental health experiences to show employees that they are not alone.

The general ‘always on’ work mentality in Singapore can also be detrimental to mental well-being. Encouraging self-care and mental wellness does not imply discouraging hard work. By changing the paradigm and enabling the team to disconnect from work when required can engender high levels of engagement and job satisfaction. Supervisors should model healthy behaviours by clearly defining, communicating, agreeing, and adhering to employee boundaries and preferences regarding work hours, availability timings, and response times.

Step 4: Review progress and refine programmes and processes regularly

Just as an organisation’s needs are constantly changing, an individual’s mental health journey is not fixed.

To ensure relevancy, employers need to review programmes and processes regularly, and adapt accordingly. For example, conduct employee surveys (such as iWorkHealth) or focus groups regularly to stay updated with the general state of mental well-being of employees and identify potential work stressors. Organisations can also establish internal channels to collect anonymous feedback on practices that erode mental well-being.

Mental health is a personal journey, but it does not need to be a lonely one. Studies have shown that in the long term, investments towards mental well-being represents an investment that will pay off — not only in healthier and more motivated employees willing to go the extra mile, but also for the company's financial health.

[1] Mental Health Toolkit for Employers. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from