A business can’t thrive if the people aren’t thriving — and an important component of that is the mental health and well-being of employees.
It isn’t easy to know how to address mental health in the workplace, or if you should at all. But in an age of increased consciousness, it’s becoming more apparent that staying quiet about mental health only increases the stigma around it and leads to countless negative effects in the workplace. On the other hand, increasing the conversation around mental health can boost employee engagement, reduce employee hostility, and make employees feel safe, valued, and supported.
So, what can you do to create a work environment where people feel comfortable having an open dialogue about mental health? And how can you offer support and resources to employees who may be struggling? Let’s take a closer look.
While many workplaces are becoming more flexible and supportive regarding employees’ needs, research shows that supporting workplace well-being will be critical to retaining and engaging employees. According to research from the American Psychological Association, 81% of employees stated that employer support of mental health will be an important factor when considering future work opportunities.
In addition to attracting and retaining talent, making mental health a business priority can lower illness leave, absenteeism, and disability costs, while increasing productivity and engagement. By some estimates, two-thirds of Americans experienced symptoms related to anxiety or depression at the start of 2022. For U.S. employers alone, the cost of depression is over $210 billion each year due to absenteeism and reduced productivity.
Recognizing mental health as a business priority is only the first step; implementing employee wellness policies is where the real work begins. If you’re ready to prioritize employee mental wellness in your organization, here are some positive actions you can take:
If you don’t acknowledge the problem, how can you fix it? This starts with leadership. It can be difficult for high-performing individuals to put ego aside and have the insight and self-reflection to admit that something is wrong. That you, as a leader, might be contributing to a harmful dynamic. This acknowledgement is not about blame. It’s about realizing that even the most well-intentioned and supportive managers can be part of the problem if they don’t have the tools to recognize and address issues that can adversely affect mental health.
Dig into your data. Is your turnover higher than normal? Are you seeing a rise in absenteeism and callouts? What do employee complaints look like? Examine these trends over time and break the data down by demographics, type of work (remote, hybrid, or in-office), and department. Exit surveys and stay interviews can also be extremely valuable, so make sure you have a system in place to secure honest and anonymous employee feedback.
Just starting the conversation about mental health is a simple step any leader can take with their employees. One way is to incorporate a conversation about mental health into your onboarding process — whether it be when your new employee is learning about the company benefits package or the purpose and values that your company holds close.
Weekly check-ins are also a great opportunity to ask how things are going. Letting your employee know that you’re a workplace that cares about personal health and well-being goes a long way toward making employees feel comfortable and building high-performing teams.
“The pandemic brought out this desire to have meaning and purpose at work, and to see work as a way to live out that meaning and purpose. What we’re seeing now is this transition from a transactional relationship to a relationship where employees expect work to contribute to their happiness, joy and well-being.”
Debra Samuel, Consultant
Previously, mental health issues were often mistaken for or conflated with performance issues — inefficiency or absenteeism that costs companies billions of dollars annually. Making that connection and understanding the genesis of poor performance is a pivotal prerequisite to motivating companies to invest in measures that will have a positive impact on their employees’ mental health.
Addressing mental health is all about allowing people to bring their whole selves to work — and not feeling like they have to leave everything about their personal life at the door. We’re no longer living in the rigid 9-to-5, tied-to-your-desk type of workday.
Implementing flexible personal time off (PTO) and “work-from-anywhere” policies not only makes your workplace more attractive to prospective talent, it gives employees space to work in a way that’s most productive for them. If an employee is receiving counseling services and can only get appointments midday, or if anxiety is preventing them from coming into the office, they can feel safe letting others know they’ll be taking some personal time or working from home that day.
When it comes to mental health and wellness, don’t task your HR teams to “fix it.” HR issues and mental health and well-being are two different things. HR professionals can, and should, provide resources for employees; but, they are not trained counselors or psychologists.
Few (if any) HR professionals are equipped with the tools and training to substantively address the root causes of employee mental health challenges. Assign a dedicated, experienced individual to focus specifically on mental health and consider working with a mental health expert to help identify your challenges, design your strategy, and potentially oversee your program.
Many organizations have addressed physical wellness and combatted employee burnout with in-house programs, reward packages and incentives, compensation, time off, and other measures. These programs look good on the surface, but frequently miss the mark because they aren’t looking closer at what is happening systemically.
Until you fix the policies, procedures, cultural, and managerial issues that are contributing to stress and mental health difficulties, you’ll just be treating the symptoms, instead of the disease.
A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10x more important than compensation in predicting turnover.
Take a close, comprehensive, and holistic look at your culture and your leadership. Identify areas of strength and opportunity. Prioritize emotional intelligence and empathy training for those in leadership positions and lean into diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Bolster your management toolkit with specialized training and education that can help leadership recognize mental health difficulties and understand what role they can play in working to address them.
It can be challenging for someone who has not experienced or had someone close to them experience a life trauma, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue to truly understand what it’s like. With all the stigma and common misconceptions about mental health, people might be dismissive about mental health issues, or view them as an excuse.
With increased understanding comes increased empathy. It’s important you and your employees are aware just how prevalent mental illness is and how it can negatively affect a workplace if ignored. Emphasize the positive results that can come from openly discussing the issues and supporting your coworkers. It can be as simple as making time in a company meeting to share statistics and facts about mental health with your team.
There’s no sure-fire way to avoid stressful days at work. Stress comes and goes, and it’s all about learning to manage it.
Reducing stress among your team can be incorporated into your day-to-day with a few simple practices, such as: approaching others with an open mind, promoting a culture of mindfulness with your team, encouraging team members to ask for help, and being open to taking on an extra task (within reason) if someone is struggling and doesn’t think they will be able to complete it.
Employees can’t succeed at a company until and unless they’re stable, satisfied, and fulfilled. But you also can’t succeed as a company until and unless your employees are stable, satisfied, and fulfilled.
Workplace trauma doesn’t often get talked about, so the first step is awareness: bringing these issues into the light and acknowledging them. The next is investment: formalizing those conversations, hosting mental health classes at work, and reaching out for outside help. The final step is committing: making meaningful, ongoing investments and implementing comprehensive programs and support for mental health and well-being.
“For an effective well-being and mental health program to come to life, the conversation around mental health has to start and awareness needs to be created around the issues impacting an organization. It’s an important first step in a long journey.”
Crystal Fulwood, Consultant
Lack of execution and follow-through is a common pain point, so make sure you engage in thoughtful strategic planning and utilize sustainable solutions. Don’t flail. Identify the issue and approach it thoughtfully and with the assistance of expert counsel. Secure the guidance and insight of a professional partner with special expertise in employee mental health and wellness.
The right partner will listen to you and your team and will dig deep to find and address issues — capitalizing on strengths and constructively addressing weaknesses. The result can be a game-changer for employee mental health and wellness, bolstering productivity, reducing turnover, and potentially becoming one of the very best investments you can make in the future success of your people and business.
From management training to culture transformation, Blue Beyond has the expertise and insights needed to help companies identify and address issues negatively impacting employee mental health and well-being. We help organizations gain clarity on how their people and processes help build thriving cultures and provide the roadmap needed to implement positive change.