The topic of mental health in the workplace has been getting increased attention over the past several years. Mental health issues are showing up in workers as depression, anxiety and burnout. Some of these can be attributed to the pandemic, which resulted in forced lockdowns, social isolation, economic instability and remote work. Post-pandemic, many employees are facing increasing workloads, tighter deadlines and an increase in job demands.
Today’s employers are coming around to a greater understanding of mental health on an employee’s overall health, well-being and productivity, requiring many of them to look at the importance of addressing the mental health issues impacting their workers. Gone are the days when mental illness was stigmatized as people become more vocal about their struggles and are opening up to address their issues.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
- 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
Business benefits that can result from addressing employee mental health include increased productivity, engagement and retention. Helping employees with mental health issues can also reduce healthcare costs and improve organizational performance.
So how can employers show support for their employees’ mental health? Listed below are five ways that employers can create a healthier workforce.
- Promote a better work-life balance. In a survey of over 1,000 respondents by Deloitte:
- 77% say they have experienced burnout at their current job
- 91% say that unmanageable stress or frustration impacts the quality of their work
- 83% say burnout can negatively impact personal relationships
Employers can encourage their employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance by offering flexible work arrangements, including remote work, part-time work, flexible schedules and unlimited or generous paid time-off policies so employees can relax and unwind and take those necessary mental health days.
Flexibility raises employee job satisfaction, promotes better overall health, including mental health, reduces stress and increases work-life balance. Employees who are happier and healthier because of a supportive work environment tend to stay in their jobs longer.
- Offer health care benefits that include mental health. Addressing mental health issues and encouraging self-care also benefit your employees’ physical health. Employers can invest in employees’ mental health by offering:
- Meditation classes and/or separate office spaces designed for meditation
- In-office fitness classes or subsidized gym memberships to relieve stress
- An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides counseling, support and resources for employees experiencing mental health challenges
- Affordable access to mental health professionals or support groups
Many employers may not be aware of the mental health resources that are available. If this is the case, consulting a benefits professional who can help to evaluate programs that address mental health challenges might be a wise decision.
- Encouraging managers to communicate more than they think is necessary. Managers who openly and transparently communicate with their teams, and who allow team members to share personal issues they may be having, create a culture of acceptance and inclusion. Ways that a manager can improve their communication and their team’s mental health include:
- Keeping the team informed about any organizational changes or updates coming down the road, including the possibility of lay-offs or reorganizations
- Setting proper expectations about project deliverables with manageable timelines and plenty of notice regarding due dates
- Helping employees prioritize their workloads to keep them from becoming overwhelmed
- Normalizing the use of company-offered mental health assistance and resources
- Having regular check-ins with employees to work on building trust and to recognize when an employee might be struggling with a mental health issue
- Encouraging employee engagement and noticing when a normally engaged employee appears to be detached
Employees who feel safe and able to share personal struggles with an empathetic manager will often go out of their way to excel at their job. And engaged employees tend to experience less stress and anxiety, which can positively impact their mental health.
- Provide a positive work culture. Nothing negatively affects employees’ mental health more than a toxic or negative work culture. When a company’s leaders promote empathy, compassion and trust, employees are less anxious and believe that their company has their best interests at heart. A positive work culture:
- Destigmatizes mental illness, allowing employees to be open and transparent about their mental health challenges.
- Increases engagement, morale, productivity and well-being, while decreasing absenteeism.
- Encourages feelings of safety and the ability for an employee to speak up if there are any issues such as bullying, sexual harassment or racism that can have a profound negative impact on employees.
- Provides employees with a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their work, which can help them feel more fulfilled and satisfied ultimately having a positive impact on their mental health.
- Enables employees to have more autonomy when it comes to their work, so they feel trusted to do their jobs, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
A positive work culture can have a significant impact on employee mental health by reducing stigma, increasing support, providing a greater sense of purpose, promoting positive relationships, and increasing autonomy. And all of this trickles down to better business outcomes.
- Monitor workload overload and encourage unplugging. According to a report by Indeed, since Covid, over half of all workers say they are working longer hours, and almost a third report that they feel like they can never unplug. In the same report, millennials claimed that a lack of free time is one of the biggest causes of burnout, along with a lack of paid time off. Ways to prevent burnout and encourage unplugging include:
- Discouraging the need for overtime by setting realistic work expectations
- Encouraging employees to take PTO, mental health days and personal time without checking email or participating in any work meetings
- Offering summer Fridays as a benefit
- Making sure communication via phone or email only takes place during normal business hours
These types of solutions require modeling by managers and leaders. When a manager sends a late-night email or tries to phone an employee who is on vacation, the employee may feel compelled to answer it right away. Respect for employees’ personal time and pursuits helps to foster happiness and better mental health.
Supporting employees’ mental health not only shows your employees that you have a stake in their health and wellness, but it also helps you retain employees, reducing turnover and the costs associated with it. Additionally, employees who are happy and healthy are more likely to provide better customer service, which enhances customer satisfaction and retention. By supporting mental health, your organization can reduce healthcare-related costs, including absenteeism, the cost of healthcare benefits and workers’ compensation claims. All of these benefits add up to a win-win for employees and your company.