Navigating Mental Health in the Workplace: Tips for Business Leaders

How to Foster a Supportive Work Environment

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In the midst of a global pandemic, where online learning and working from home are the new normal, one topic is top of mind for everyone: mental health. Social isolation and economic turmoil from the coronavirus pandemic have led to an increase in mental health issues across the United States and around the world. In fact, according to new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of adults in the U.S. report that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress from the coronavirus1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder in Q2 of 2020 (25.5%) was three times higher than that of Q2 of 2019 (8.1%), and the prevalence of symptoms of depressive disorder (24.3%) was four times higher than that of 2019 (6.5%)2. 

With so many people faced with mental health issues, it’s more important now than ever for business leaders to find new ways to lead and inspire their teams under pressure, and to learn the soft skills needed to navigate times of stress and uncertainty. Such soft skills might include emotional intelligence, human interaction, connection and communication.  

So how can business leaders foster a supportive work environment? Here are some tips:

Educate yourself.

There is no one-size-fits-all for mental health, so having a basic understanding of the wide variety of mental health issues can help managers identify potential warning signs. As a result, managers and business leaders can be better prepared to respond when an employee shares mental health-related concerns at work. Business leaders can consider taking short training courses or academic qualifications, such as Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, which teach soft skills like self-awareness, emotional intelligence, verbal/nonverbal communication and adaptability – all vitally important skills when addressing mental health concerns at work and beyond. These programs also offer insight from other industry leaders on how to navigate different scenarios in the workplace, a benefit which is largely exclusive to EMBA programs given their highly professional student demographic – average age of 38 with approximately 14 years of work experience and nine years of management experience, according to the Executive MBA Council’s (EMBAC) recent study.

Identify job-related stressors.

Stress can often lead to other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which is why it’s important for business leaders to identify potential or current stressors employees are facing within the workplace. Some of the main causes of stress in the workplace include overly demanding roles, excessive workloads, lack of support from managers, and changes to company management or team structure. Business leaders who can recognize these stressors early on are better prepared to mitigate issues before they turn into severe mental health problems.

Be flexible.

Just like any illness, mental health issues can pop up unexpectedly and for a variety of reasons. Business leaders need to be understanding and empathetic during these times, offering increased flexibility to allow employees the time needed to clear their heads before returning to work. Collaborate with your employees to identify the best solutions for their mental health. Consider offering adjusted work hours or extended work-from-home periods in a post-pandemic environment, this will make it known to your employees that you understand and are willing to work with them to find a solution that is beneficial for all.

Mental health concerns will continue to be a top-of-mind issue for businesses in 2021 and beyond. As the number of people experiencing these issues continues to rise, the need for professionals equipped with the necessary skills to effectively manage employees facing mental health issues will be at an all-time high. Through education, identification and flexibility, business professionals can create a work environment that is supportive for all employees – ultimately improving morale and increasing productivity in the workplace.


  1. Nirmita Panchal, Rabah Kamal, and Apr 2020. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” KFF, 21 Aug. 2020,
  2. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic – United States, June 24–30, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2020,

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