Policy is an important part of establishing expectations of employees in the workplace. They outline specific behaviors that are acceptable or not acceptable and define specific consequences for violations. Policies are written specifically for each workplace. The purpose of this section is to provide examples of policies that can impact employee health and to provide suggestions on how a company can improve the policy to better support employee mental health. It’s best to consult the appropriate departments, including legal, when considering policy updates at your workplace.
- Physical Environment
Physical safety protects mental wellness and promotes job satisfaction. Policies that address physical safety and prevent bodily harm while at work should be central to the workplace.
- Cultural Environment
An open, positive work environment and culture that fosters acceptance and a sense of caring promotes mental wellness. Policies can either exacerbate toxic work conditions or help the workforce flourish and increase productivity. Take time to examine current work policies and survey employee satisfaction to improve the work culture. Do employees feel safe to voice their discontent? Are employees allowed to share critical feedback of management? Transparency and openness with how business is done can make things better.
Time Away From Work
- Sick and Safe Leave
Mental health is part of SSL and should be included in your SSL policy (example: allowing “mental health days”). Designating “mental health issue” as a valid reason for time off is another good way your company can help destigmatize mental illness and demonstrate a commitment to improving mental health and wellness of your employees. Always follow any local, state, or federal laws regarding PTO or SLL.
Employee burnout is a significant concern to employers and can lead to costly employee turnover. Implementing a policy surrounding the ability for employees to purposefully take time off when needed is important to sustaining employee productivity. Whether your company uses Paid Time Off (PTO) for vacation or vacation is a separate policy, it should clearly explain how much time an employee has off designated for vacation, the process of requesting vacation time, when time can or cannot be used for vacation, and other considerations specific to your workplace or industry.
- Leave of Absence
An extended leave from work like bereavement leave or medical leave is a necessary benefit to offer employees. This includes both paid or unpaid leave. Support employee mental health further by clearly communicating about mental illness and mental health issues when defining reasons for leave. This not only provides clarity to an employee on what type of leave is included in their benefits package, but also helps break down negative stigma, reduces fear surrounding emotional or psychological issues, and maintains a supportive work culture. Again, always follow local, state, and federal laws regarding extended leave.
Return to Work
- A Return to Work policy or process should be written and implemented to assist employees with returning to work at the earliest possible date after injury or illness, including after being hospitalized for suicidal ideation or after a suicide attempt. It is essential to include the appropriate departments which may include Human Resources, Employee Relations, Worker’s Compensation, attorneys, and other relevant groups in the drafting of this policy, as it is critical that this policy or process does not contradict or supersede any of the protections or accommodations afforded to employees by legislation such as the American Disability Act (ADA) or Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). A smooth transition for an employee returning to work will help alleviate anxiety, stress, and fear of judgement associated with returning to work after trauma or tragedy. A smooth transition is important to overall productivity for the entire workplace.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Companies that promote and follow through on their commitment to diversity and inclusion benefit when it comes to the bottom line. It’s recommended that your company communicates its commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace where differences are celebrated and all employees are treated with dignity and respect. A workplace where employees are free to be who they are promotes mental wellness by eliminating the fear of discrimination and can help prevent the onset of psychological health issues.
Workplace Safety and Security
- Workplace safety and security policies are essential and good for business. Your company may already have legal requirements at the state and federal levels to incorporate this policy, but even without the legal requirements, it makes good business sense to reduce injuries, prevent theft, and keep your employees safe. These measures boost employee morale and support holistic well-being
Anti-bullying and Respect
- Your Anti-bullying and/or Corporate Respect Policy should communicate the company’s belief that all employees have a right to a safe and healthy working environment where all employees are treated respectfully and feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to the workplace. This policy should also discuss your company’s obligation to promote mutual respect, tolerance, and acceptance.
Meals and Breaks
- Work schedules and laws surrounding periods of rest (breaks) and meals should be clearly defined in your company policy. All types of work can be taxing on both physical and mental health of employees. It’s important to gauge how the workload is affecting your employees. You can accomplish this by conducting employee feedback surveys and honoring their needs if/when feasible. More companies are understanding that flexibility in work schedules and working from home is here to stay. These options may reduce pressures like stressing about long commutes or the cost of getting to work, interpersonal conflicts with other employees, the pressures of getting all work completed during traditional working hours, and taking care of life responsibilities outside of work.
Ethics and Code of Conduct
- Employees should have access to filing complaints or grievances involving coworkers or the company. When there is a clear process to formally submit complaints or grievances, it allows for conflict to be handled in a professional matter. The reporting process should also include a layer of protection from retaliation (from the company or co-worker) to maintain workplace safety standards and to enable continual workplace improvement.