Building a safety net culture: Proactive strategies for supporting employees’ mental health

Tyler Zalucki, Client Executive

May 24, 2023

Everyone has a story we know nothing about. The workplace often exists as a place in which you can table your roles: parent, sibling, caregiver, provider, mentor, and the list goes on. However, your challenges and journey of mental well-being is, and will always be, personal. 21% of American adults are experiencing a mental illness. That’s the equivalent of more than 50 million people. 1 These individuals are likely not strangers, but rather are our colleagues, our employees, and our managers. These statistics present an opportunity for Human Resource teams to create a culture of support and psychological safety. A workforce that enables those who struggle to seek and receive the care they need.

Psychologist sitting and touch hand young depressed asian man for encouragement near window with low light environment.

For many, mental illness is compounded by trauma or current personal challenges that may be difficult to discuss at work. Trauma can make it hard for someone to be vulnerable and trust others, especially in sharing the intimate details of their life. More importantly, mental illness or other trauma may not be visible or known by Human Resources. Many employees may be concerned that such sensitive information could endanger them from a professional standpoint. The internal monologue, “Will they think differently of me?” or “Will I lose my job if I raise my hand for help?” is a fear that can be overcome with a supportive culture and the actions of your leadership team.

Above view of counseling during group therapy at mental health center.

The first step is proactively engaging individuals that may be experiencing burnout, trauma, or any other behavioral health challenges which starts at the team level. As mentioned, Human Resources would not be first on the list for a conversation around someone’s inability to focus or produce the work product to which your company is accustomed. Managers or mentors within your organization, however, may have much more interpersonal experience with colleagues. Training your managers to proactively identify and engage teammates is the foundation for what I call a safety net culture.

The safety net culture is one where your team works cohesively to support the betterment of one another. A core tenet of this culture is psychological safety, a principle that allows employees to trust they will not be punished for voicing ideas, questions, concerns, or sharing their mistakes. This can extend to behavioral health challenges as well. Managers are the front line and the ones who would see changes in behavior, and they will need executive support and ongoing coaching to have these conversations. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends a framework of being Trauma-Informed which involves using SAMSHA’s Trauma-Informed Care Principles by “viewing trauma through ecological and cultural lens and recognizing that context plays a significant role in how individuals perceive and process traumatic events, whether acute or chronic.”2 To aid in your well-being efforts, here are a few conversation starters for managers that take a trauma-informed approach. I recommend having these conversations in a practice environment first, to ensure your managers are comfortable, and confident in the messages and their approach.

  • You are not your usual self. Would you like to talk?
    • Acknowledge that you can tell it is distressing; make them feel heard.
  • I’ve noticed lately that (you are not joining us for lunch or have not been talking as much lately in meetings). How are things going for you?
  • Make the conversation optional – remove the pressure to disclose anything they (or you) are not comfortable sharing (CALM).3
  • What do you need to feel valued?
  • What would you like to see differently, if anything?
  • How can we work together to address this?
  • I can see this is distressing you. I may not have all the answers, but we do have resources available that I am happy to provide you with.
    • This could be a great time to offer information about your employee assistance program or health insurance coverage for behavioral health therapy.
Smiling woman, talking to psychologist, feeling positive.

Practicing and initiating training is a great foundation for a culture of well-being. In our next installment, I’ll discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with accessing care.

Have specific questions for your organization? Tyler is available on LinkedIn and always open to lend an ear.


  1. “The State of Mental Health In America,” Mental Health America, accessed May 17, 2023,
  2. “Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), accessed May 17, 2023,
  3. “Manager’s Checklist: Opening Up Conversations About Mental Well-Being in the Workplace,” Calm Business, accessed May 17, 2023,