The Integral Link Between Employee Engagement and Mental Health - woman holding stylus and smiling at laptop

The Integral Link Between Employee Engagement and Mental Health

Haeli Harris
November 5, 2021
October 9, 2022

This article is inspired by the Nivati webcast by the same name. You can watch the entire presentation here.

Engagement is suffering because employers are focusing on the wrong thing.

4-day work weeks, PTO, and employee recognition only go so far.

Of course, these things can help engagement—but they do not get to the source of the problem.

Employee engagement is directly coordinated with employee mental health.

With more and more people struggling with stress, burnout, and anxiety since early 2020, employers need to adapt to the changing emotional needs of their people.  

Employers have an opportunity to be a part of the solution. When companies care for the whole employee, their wellness will improve, and so will employee engagement. It is the company’s job to help the team adjust to new workplace challenges.

Adjusting to New Workplace Needs

80% of employees are unengaged at work. Why?

Remote work is isolating, and in-office work can be mind-numbing.

Remote work can lead to:

  • Isolation
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Presenteeism
  • Overworking
  • A greater focus on family life
  • A desire for more flexibility

Priorities are shifting, and employees struggle with the changes. How has your company supported your people through it all?

It goes deeper than providing laptops and allowing people to work whenever they want. If you’re in an office, it is more than just providing snacks. Employers can support employees with their mental health and wellbeing.

Without mental fitness, employees won’t be able to do their job well—even if they have every other engagement tool in the world available to them.

Mental health is like our physical health. If you are in pain all the time, how hard is it to get your work done? How motivated are you to connect with others and your work?  

Culture is Key

Mental fitness is a journey; it doesn’t happen quickly.

That’s why it is essential to provide resources employees will use in the long haul to help them with their mental health—things like meditation, yoga, life coaching, and therapy.

But the wellness benefits and tools are just a part of it. Your company’s culture needs to adapt as well.

Your company can become a community where people feel supported and cared for.

The company culture ultimately reduces stigma and empowers employees to use those wellness benefits without fear of retribution. If you have the wellness benefits but not the culture shift, employee engagement will not increase.

HR leaders have an excellent opportunity to influence leaders at the top to prioritize mental health. When leaders are open about their mental health experiences, employees take notice. They will feel safer and less “weird” for thinking or feeling how they do. When employees are no longer fearful of showing that side of themselves, they will start to connect more deeply to others and the organization as a whole.

You, an HR leader, can be the center of the mental health community. You can own it, lead it, and nurture it. You can train managers on supporting mental health and bring in the tool's employees need to take care of themselves.

By prioritizing mental health at the top, educating employees (and yourselves) about mental health, and providing wellness benefits, culture and community will grow organically.

Here is the formula:  Culture + Community + Support = Less Stress and Higher Employee Engagement

Making It All Come Together

Here are some things you can do as a team to deepen your community ties, improve your company culture, and boost wellbeing (while increasing employee engagement in the process!).

1. Work-sponsored Events

Group yoga, team meditation, a steps competition, a cooking contest, a book club, you name it!

Bring together a small group at your company to organize and lead these initiatives. At Nivati, we call it our Culture Club.

The idea is to normalize self-care and open the door to those mental health conversations. These activities are also a great way to improve morale—helping to increase employee engagement as well.

2. Company Wellness Programs

You have some options when it comes to wellness benefits. The best wellness programs allow employees to care for their mental health anytime proactively. Quick access to mental health care is crucial.

There are countless wellness benefits and tools out there. Some of our favorites are:

  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Therapy
  • Yoga
  • Nutrition
  • Massage
  • Financial coaching
  • Life coaching

These tools are proven ways to support employee wellbeing. They help people reduce their stress and proactively prevent stress down the road.

Once you have a program in place, work to increase EAP utilization by promoting it internally. You can even tie in the wellness program with a company event. For instance, have a contest to see who can watch the most proactive care videos in a month. Then, talk about how these tools helped manage stress and mental health.

3. Forums and Mental Health Conversations

In-person and Zoom forums are a space where employees can openly share their struggles without fear of penalty.

This one can be a challenge to jump right into if your company is just starting to address mental health at work.

Your forum can start with your CEO or other company leader talking about their mental health journey and what has helped them cope. You could also bring in a therapist to speak to your team and facilitate the conversation.

We have found that employees will generally feel more comfortable if their managers have a separate forum.

You can also have a Slack channel or group chat where employees can share what has been helping them with their mental health. Designate a moderator that will pop in and ask questions like “How are you managing your stress this week?” or “Share what you’re doing for self-care today.” This person can also direct people to mental health resources if someone is struggling, like your company’s wellness program or a hotline.

You can also encourage managers to discuss mental health in their one-on-one meetings.

The idea is to get people talking about mental health. That is the first step to healing.

4. Designated Mental Health Ambassadors

Select a couple of people to be your main mental health cheerleaders. These ambassadors can be a resource and friend for people that may be struggling.

These people can lead your mental health forums and assist in company event efforts as well. Encourage them to share their stories!  Ideally, your CEO is the ultimate mental health ambassador at your organization. When company leaders fight the mental health stigma, the rest of the company will follow.

For more expert insights on how to support mental health at work, increase employee engagement, and improve company culture, check out The Integral Link: Employee Engagement and Mental Health webcast here.

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Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.