Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace

By Allison Colman | Posted on May 11, 2023

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It is no secret that our nation is facing a rapidly growing mental health crisis. More and more, we see and hear new stories, data, reports and declarations that reinforce the urgent need to elevate mental health as a global priority. This growing issue transcends action from traditional healthcare institutions and calls for a wide variety of sectors, environments, spaces and institutions where people live, learn, play, age and work to respond. In this spirit, and in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, NRPA has made a commitment to prioritizing employee mental health, and we are inviting park and recreation professionals across the nation to join us!

NRPA has long strived to cultivate a workplace that prioritizes well-being. To deepen this commitment, NRPA signed on to the Mental Health Excellence in the Workplace initiative. The initiative, led by a group of leading nonprofit organizations, calls for a workplace culture shift to address mental health stigma and support employee well-being. Organizational leaders are encouraged to take actions that provide basic care for psychological well-being, help employees manage daily stress and challenges, and give employees the resources and tools they need to thrive in the workplace.

Through this initiative, NRPA is focusing on assessing, establishing and expanding our practices, policies, environments, norms and cultures that prioritize employee mental health and well-being, and we encourage park and recreation leaders and professionals to also make the commitment!

The workplace is where many people — including hundreds of thousands of full, seasonal and part-time park and recreation professionals — spend a significant amount of time each week. A healthy workplace is essential to promoting employee well-being, improving job satisfaction and workforce recruitment, and enhancing motivation and performance. In parks and recreation, a healthy work environment helps professionals show up for their communities and deliver on their organization’s mission to advance equity, community and environmental resilience, and health and well-being.

Actions Leaders Can Take

According to the American Psychological Association, “Although there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to creating a healthy workplace, the practices that help create a healthy and productive work environment fall into some general categories: employee involvement, growth and development opportunities, health and safety initiatives, work-life balance and flexibility, employee recognition, and effective two-way communication in an organization.” The Mental Health Excellence in the Workplace initiative outlines a variety of actions that leaders and institutions can take to support employee well-being in these categories. Some of these examples include:

What NRPA Is Doing

At NRPA, we have focused on many of these actions, including:

  • We provide and promote access to several Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Services, providing access to virtual counseling, on-demand coaching, childcare and caregiving resources, nutrition guidance, legal and financial advice, and access to other mental and behavioral health and wellness programs. 
  • As a remote-first organization, we have increased options for where, when and how employees work, including maximizing flexibility during the workday and starting new initiatives like peer working and social hours to support social connections. We encourage staff to take advantage of walking meetings and schedule 25- and 50-minute meetings to allow for breaks in the workday. We also provide a week of volunteer time off for staff to engage in their local community and support three meeting-free reflection weeks annually to maximize flexibility, engage in healthy self-care practices, and enjoy uninterrupted focus time.  
  • We encourage employees and managers to promote health and well-being through NRPA’s ‘Treat Yourself’ program, which provides a small incentive for a health and wellness or self-care purchase annually.
  • NRPA regularly seeks feedback from staff via an annual workplace culture survey, annual staff interviews, weekly check-ins, monthly all-staff surveys, regular updates from our People & Culture department, and via a “suggestion box” for staff to submit ideas, thoughts and inquiries to strengthen our workplace culture.
  • In alignment with our current Strategic Plan, NRPA centers equity in all we do and actively works to advance DEI knowledge, competencies and practices internally. In 2019, NRPA launched a comprehensive organizational equity assessment, which informed our first Equity Action Plan, which was released in 2021. The action plan focuses on advancing equitable practices, changing standard operating procedures and policies (hiring, procurement, partnership opportunities, grantmaking, etc.), elevating staff DEI learning and commitment, and building a people-first culture that exemplifies our core values of trust, continuous learning, diversity and inclusion.

At NRPA, we know that taking actions that center and support employee well-being is a necessary step in supporting our current workforce, building the forward-looking workplace culture that future employees will be seeking, and de-stigmatizing mental health. The same is true for park and recreation agencies across the country! This month, we encourage park and recreation leaders to reflect on how your agency is currently supporting employee well-being and explore opportunities to establish new practices, policies, programs and norms to further embed mental health as an institutional priority.

Join the effort and make the commitment today!

Allison Colman (she/her) is NRPA’s Director of Health.