Employees everywhere are redefining what work means to them and redrawing their expectations of employers.

Mental-health supports and flexible working options are now imperative if an organization is to remain competitive. To these ends, workplaces need a mental-health strategy. But a workplace mental-health strategy isn’t ping pong tables and a snack bar. It requires real and strategic consideration of policies, programs, benefits, training, flexible work arrangements and accommodations, all of which underpin a psychological health and safety work culture.

Read: Expert panel: Preparing a psychologically safe return-to-workplace plan

Policies and procedures form the backbone of organizational culture and provide a framework for employees to know how to behave and how not to. They define how an organization values its employees and how colleagues interact with each other. Organizations should have a policy outlining what psychological health and safety means to them, including the organization’s values and the culture it wishes to create.

Employers should review and refine all current policies through the lens of psychological health and safety, examining the mental-health impacts of each policy and being prepared to adapt them. They can start by reviewing policies like bereavement, discrimination, inclusion, harassment, paid time off and remote working. For example, if an employer provides time off for religious holidays, it should examine whether those days can be flexible so employees can celebrate the days of their choice. The secret is to prioritize inclusivity and integrate employee well-being into every policy and procedure.

Investing in proactive employee mental-health programs can bring valuable returns and even see a positive return on investment. The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Not Myself Today program is an example of a program that helps organizations build greater awareness about mental health, reduce stigma and build supportive work cultures. Employers might also consider implementing a peer support program, connecting employees who are struggling with colleagues who’ve experienced similar challenges.

Read: 45% of Canadians say pandemic continues to impact mental health: survey

Many organizations have increased or enhanced their psychological benefits and employee assistance programs throughout the coronavirus pandemic. However, there may be a perceived stigma surrounding the use of these programs. Maybe these offerings were discussed during onboarding and never mentioned again.

Employers can turn an EAP into the great resource it’s meant to be by re-evaluating the needs of employees, asking what programs they’d find the most useful and reminding them of what’s currently available. Leaders and managers should also be experts in what’s available and ensure schedules and workloads provide employees with time to access these resources.

After two years of pandemic life, employees are struggling with their mental health and many managers and leaders are ill-equipped to have these conversations. Employers should begin with training for leaders and managers, not just to support their employees, but also to support themselves.

Read: LifeLabs adding resources to support employee mental health

Leaders need training to understand the factors that impact employees day to day, in order to identify unsafe or unhealthy workplace practices and make changes to prevent mental-health problems from emerging. And when an employee needs help with their mental health, managers and leaders need to know how to triage and support them to get the care they need. They need to know what to say and what not to say.

Finally, productivity isn’t defined by where and when employees work but rather how and why. There has been a huge transformation in how people like to work and what work means to them. For many employees, remote work has dramatically improved their quality of life, allowing better work-life balance, more time for relationships and increased productivity.

On the other hand, some workers have missed in-person interactions and are clambering to get back to it. The wants and needs of employees will vary and employers need to remain flexible. Employers that give their employees autonomy in their work environment are prioritizing their employees’ mental health.

Read: 67% of employees agree leaders effectively support their mental health: survey