6 Ways To Improve Employee Engagement & Mental Health in the Workplace

Employee mental health issues are rising, and COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges in workers’ professional and personal lives. American workers have seen a 45% spike in COVID-related mental health issues. These mental health issues affect an employee's ability to work, lowering job productivity by as much as 35%.

While March 2020 is long behind us, the long-term impact of the pandemic on employee engagement is unfolding before us. For example, the Great Resignation and current labor crisis prove that employee engagement has changed considerably. 

Employee engagement is a challenge for HR professionals as the shock of the pandemic continues to impact the way we work. As a result, companies must address team members’ difficulties to grow employee engagement. 


Understanding Employee Engagement & Well-Being

To effectively improve employee engagement, HR professionals must distinguish between what it is and what it isn’t. 

Employee engagement occurs when all team members genuinely want to see the company succeed. They are emotionally invested in their company. Engaged employees demonstrate a commitment to achieving the company’s goals and are connected to the company’s mission.

Engaged employees take pride in their company and work, leading to higher productivity, more satisfied customers, and higher sales. A study by Gallup found that highly engaged businesses experienced a 41% drop in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity. They also found that these businesses have lower turnover rates, higher customer ratings, and more profit. 

Employee engagement is not just about employee happiness. These are easily confused, especially since happiness is essential for mental health and overall well-being. But focusing on employee happiness as the end-goal may find that employee engagement doesn’t improve. 

Instead, focus on mental health strategies that directly boost individual and group engagement.


How Does Supporting Mental Health Boost Engagement? 

Burnout, stress, depression, and anxiety are mental health issues that cause employees to disengage or work at half-capacity. 

Feeling valued at work can make all the difference. The American Psychological Association found that 93% of employees who felt valued by their employers were motivated to do their best work. However, the survey also found that 33% of employees didn’t feel valued due to a lack of flexibility, professional growth opportunities, and dwindling benefits. 

It’s vital to survey company culture to maintain a psychologically healthy work environment where employees feel safe and supported. A psychologically safe workplace is when employees feel that they won't be punished or humiliated for expressing ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. In short, psychological safety makes employees feel accepted and respected. 

Collecting anonymous feedback from employees about their level of psychological safety in your workplace can offer valuable insights. Employees’ feedback will help your team identify areas of improvement and workplace elements that make your employees feel psychologically safe. 


How To Drive Engagement By Improving Employee Mental Health

So mental health matters to employee engagement, but how can your organization tackle both? Here are six ways HR professionals can support wellness and keep their team engaged with organizational goals.


#1. Encourage Healthy Work-Life Balance

Leadership should model a healthy work-life balance. Balance is crucial for remote workers who are already finding that the lines between work and home life have blurred. Employees should feel empowered and encouraged to set boundaries for “unplugging” at the end of their workday. 

Whether your employees work 9-5 or have flexible work hours, they shouldn’t feel pressured to be “always-on” or available 24/7. You can help employees create better boundaries by offering mental health days and sick days.

Be flexible when employees need to take care of their health or families. Communicate clear expectations about unplugging after work hours, taking breaks throughout the day, and taking paid time off work to recharge.


#2. Destigmatize Mental Health at Work

The Harvard Business Review found that employees were least comfortable disclosing them to HR and management despite rising mental health issues. And the CDC reports that only half of employees who experience depression disclose it at all.

The way to destigmatize mental health in the workplace is by openly talking about it. Management should lead by example and foster healthy conversations around their own experience with mental and emotional health. It can be as simple as sharing their efforts to improve their mental health, like morning walks or taking a break from social media.

These discussions signal to employees that leadership cares about wellness and empowers employees to take care of themselves. It acknowledges human vulnerability, which promotes a sense of communal safety.  

HR can use existing communication tools to address mental and emotional wellbeing. For example, they can create a well-being newsletter with digestible tips about managing stress, practicing mindfulness, and creating a work-life balance. Or devote a dedicated slack channel to well-being strategies and support. 


#3. Implement Ways to Demonstrate That Employees Are Valued

40% of US workers say they would put more energy into their work if they received recognition more often. Positive reinforcement is an easy, immediately available, and powerful way to promote employee engagement. 

Celebrate a job well done at team meetings. Managers should publicly acknowledge when employees solve complex problems, meet deadlines, and reach personal milestones. Leaders can encourage a culture where peers recognize each others' meaningful contributions to the team. Colleague-to-colleague recognition facilitates a sense of belongingness that contributes to a healthy culture. 

Reward employees for growth and self-improvement by spotlighting them in company newsletters, offering bonuses, half-days, or giveaways. Offer reimbursement for education and professional advancement to show their growth is part of a bigger picture. Demonstrating an investment in bettering employees’ lives enhances their engagement in and commitment to their organization. 


#4. Build Trust at Work 

75% of employees have concerns about building trust at work, a number that increased 13% from reports in 2020. Trust is a critical component of employee engagement, let alone their productivity and retention. Additionally, a lack of trust leads to workplace conflict, impacting employees’ mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are many ways HR can build a company culture of trust. 

Establishing trust depends on holding leaders accountable for their promises and commitments. Your HR team can foster trust by training managers on the consequences of micromanaging, encouraging autonomy, and trusting employees to do their job independently. 

But trust is also about creating authentic relationships in the workplace that aren’t related to work itself. A Gallup study found that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged. Creating a work environment that encourages employees to connect with their coworkers effectively improves employee engagement. 


#5. Build a Culture of Inclusivity.

Creating a work environment that recognizes the experiences of all team members is essential to improving employee engagement. Implement diversity training for leaders to identify unconscious biases and prejudices they may hold unknowingly. 

Marginalized employees and employees of color can face a lack of representation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors that lead to poor mental health. Therefore, diversity at work should include mental health and well-being efforts to improve inclusion and engagement.

Improving engagement with an inclusive work environment can be achieved through HR efforts. Involve diverse talent in the creation of well-being programs and initiatives. Appoint a team devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion education and regularly survey the staff to identify issues. 


#6. Train Employees to Manage Their Mental Health

Engaging in work is impossible if employees are distracted by mental health concerns. Even if employees don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition, stress and anxiety can significantly increase engagement levels. Teaching employees how to manage their everyday well-being ensures that they have the resources to stay engaged. 

The more employees understand mental health, the better their chances of managing it before it hurts their engagement. Implement an employee mental health program that gives team members the skills to cope and manage their well-being. 

Wellness programs are not one-size-fits-all. Each team has different needs and concerns. So it’s vital to implement a program that actively engages employees.

The Pathways at Work program offers fully customizable workplace mental health training that teaches employees how to manage their well-being proactively. With live and on-demand workshops, our proactive approach to employee mental health helps create a highly-engaged workforce. 

Reach out today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our Behavioral Wellness Experts.



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