Why Employee Well-Being Should be Linked to Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

According to a report by the National Business Group on Health, over 200 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health issues. But despite this, roughly 60% of employees never speak to coworkers or management about their mental health status because the issue remains a taboo subject.

Mental Health – The Next Frontier of Diversity and Inclusion

A study by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics found that less than half of respondents felt that mental health was a priority at their company. Fewer still viewed their leaders as advocates for those suffering from mental health conditions.

This must change. Not only will supporting employee’s mental health improve overall engagement but also employee recruitment and retention.

Business leaders must understand that real change on this issue will require an adjustment of company culture. Mental health can no longer be viewed as simply an HR issue, it must now be recognized for what it is: as a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issue that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. It’s no longer enough to offer employees a robust benefits package, management must adjust the inner culture to empower employees to use their benefits without fear of retribution.

According to the referenced study, the most commonly desired workplace resources for mental health are:

  • Training
  • An accepting culture
  • A specific person or department to seek support

Companies that take the necessary steps toward implementing a culture of acceptance and support will create an inclusive workplace where employees are psychologically well-adjusted and secure.

Steps Toward Positive Change

How can leaders go about creating inclusive cultures that support the mental health of employees?

Step 1. Think Top-Down

Changing company culture must be a top-down process that turns leaders into advocates. Encouraging senior management to share personal experiences and show that vulnerability is a strength can reduce stigma and set the right tone.

Second, HR managers must redefine their concepts of employee health and well-being to include initiatives that support the entire person. In doing so, the entire workforce engagement, productivity and resilience will significantly increase.

When upper management champions employee well-being, staff can believe the company is 100% behind new mental health initiatives and not simply signaling for effect. This top-down support will encourage employees to take advantage of mental health resources and employee assistance programs.

Step. 2 Invest in Training and Education

Navigating mental health is challenging and will require structured training for all employees, but particularly managers. This isn’t to suggest that management must become therapists, but simply have a baseline of knowledge and tools to use when interacting with employees who may need some help.

Education programs should focus on how managers can reduce the stigma of mental illness and how they may impact an employees’ ability to work. Trainings should also facilitate a recognition that employees may be struggling and offer appropriate ways to respond. In short, managers must learn that employees are individuals and that no one-size-fits-all solution will work.

Step 3. Provide Ongoing Support

At the very minimum, companies must offer a solid mental health benefits package and communicate its availability loudly and clearly. Most employees, according to the Mind Share Partners’ study, are unaware of the mental health resources at their organizations or are afraid to use them.

Also, while it may not be feasible for smaller companies to do so, larger organizations should consider having a mental health expert on staff for onsite counseling to help alleviate workplace stress and anxiety.

You may also want to take a cue from larger organizations like Johnson & Johnson and Verizon Media and implement employee resource groups as part of your DEI strategies.


The bottom line is, well-being is a diversity and inclusion concern. To bring about positive and lasting organizational change, leaders must become employee advocates and help all team members feel comfortable about opening up, sharing, and getting the help they need.


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