We can’t talk about mental health in the workplace without acknowledging the impact that inclusion–or lack thereof–can have on employee wellness. Because nobody is just one thing, reflecting on the intersectionality of your employees is vital to ensuring they can show up as themselves, feel seen and do their best work.   

We asked the Syneos Health DEI Advisory Council about the role of inclusivity in the workplace and how it can affect mental health and wellbeing. Here’s what a few members had to say:   

How is the mental health of employees impacted by inclusivity in the work environment?   

“The more that an employee feels valued, listened to, and that they belong, the less likely–in most cases–they will they feel isolated, judged, and unappreciated. Being included will raise employees’ self-worth and assure them that they are critical to the success of the team and an integral part of the culture.” –Stephen Mikita, JD, Patient Advocate 

“The more I feel marginalized as an employee, the lower my mental health and overall wellness. Not feeling seen, heard, or even safe at work is a direct trigger to survival mode for many marginalized individuals," says Megan Bloomer, PhD, CSR & DEI Executive. "As a queer staff member, if I don't see other queer folks in my organization and in my leadership, I might feel the need to hide pieces of my identity. If I am told I must conform with gendered hair or clothing policies, I am also being told that I am not valuable as I am. Experiences like this signal to me that I am not safe in my environment. When I am not safe, my sole focus is to survive. There is not mental space to focus on how to thrive.”  

What do employers need to know when it comes to creating spaces for all people to show up as themselves?  

“Employers must be intentional about creating a sense of belonging. One’s ability to give of themself in the workspace is far greater than a simple transaction of a wage for work provided. If you desire the best of your employees, you must create the healthiest environment for them to work in.” –Corey K Smith, MD, FACEP 

 "Mental health has long been seen as a topic of privilege. When a person is already marginalized in society, it is less acceptable for them to partake in "self-care" or mental health activities. Additionally, marginalized communities have historically not had the same access to health care coverage - especially mental health - so mental health needs to be held as a priority company-wide. Employees should be encouraged to access the resources they need and managers must lead by example. When I need to cancel a meeting for mental health reasons, I do not make excuses or sugar coat. I am as honest and vulnerable as I can be to show that - even as a leader - I need to prioritize my mental wellbeing over productiveness for the company. And I expect my staff to do the same." –Megan Bloomer, PhD, CSR & DEI Executive 

"Exclusion can be both passive and active. Passive exclusion can occur when their experiences related to their identity are not addressed. The silence is deafening and stressful. Active exclusion is not always obvious but can be related to not understanding the lived experiences of others. Employers need to listen carefully and respectfully to employees, and solicit their views and concerns." –Dr. Judy Salerno, President, New York Academy of Medicine 

As you work to ensure DE&I is built into every aspect of your business–from the job description to the exit interview–remember that employee mental health is vital to both individual and collective success. Creating a culture that represents, welcomes, and supports all members of your company is the first step toward healthy, happy employees.  

About the Author:

Kelly Abrams, Content Strategy Director at Syneos Health Communications, has a deep curiosity for what drives human behavior and is passionate about telling stories that connect the dots between data and the everyday. Prior to her career at Syneos, Kelly helped clients build brand loyalty and communicate with purpose in industries like retail, healthcare, and higher education.