Addressing Mental Health In The Workplace
May was Mental Health Awareness month and with it came stories from people living with mental health issues. Even celebrities like Taraji P. Henson broke their silence about the topic. These stories are bringing to light what most of us already know — we need to better understand and address mental health, especially in the workplace.
Currently, one-in-four people struggle with mental health issues, according to the World Health Organization. The number of reported cases of mental health problems is increasing, but many people don’t have health insurance options that enable them to have their treatment covered.
Although public recognition and legislative action are good steps toward addressing this growing health crisis, there is more that needs to be done. Companies, in particular, are in a position to have a tremendous positive influence on how their employees view and manage mental health needs.
Addressing New Stressors In A Changing Workplace
The rapid pace of technological advancements has changed the workplace in such a way that business practices would be virtually unrecognizable to many workers from even 20 years ago.
Although the overall purpose of tech advancement is in simplifying processes and offering convenience, it also adds to the burdens placed on workers. Work is generally one of the largest sources of stress for most people and has a significant impact on the health of your employees.
The convenience of modern innovations like smartphones creates an urgency for workers to always make themselves available. Social media, in particular, drives expectations that companies respond to comments within a day or less. The result is tighter deadlines and increased demands that constantly spill over into home life.
However, employers can act as a counterbalance to these expectations by modeling good behavior. This includes resisting the urge to email team members outside of their scheduled work hours or assigning workloads that inevitably require longer time spent at work. It can be easy to make exceptions for ‘emergencies,’ but quite often the exception becomes the expectation, and emergency efforts become standard procedure.
Taking vacation time and staying home when sick are other important signals leaders can send to employees, making it clear that people can take care of themselves without needing to worry about how it looks to leadership. Even simple steps like encouraging walking or meditating during the day can assure people that they have the tools to help alleviate the mental health burden of the modern workplace.
Providing better mental health care helps with recruiting and retention
If given a choice, millennials would be willing to take a lower salary if it meant working at a company with great health and wellbeing programs. People want companies that care for them. Although this trend is often associated with the rise of the millennial workforce, it really pertains to workers of all ages who also appreciate companies that offer greater support for their wellbeing.
The bar for employee benefits used to be employer-provided health insurance paid time off and provisions for retirement savings, like a 401(k). As companies started focusing more on creating healthy corporate cultures, the next set of expectations included onsite gyms, free lunches, flexible scheduling, and no-cost onsite medical clinics.
The current bar now includes building emotional support programs. By meeting this emerging expectation, companies will not only provide vital wellness and mental health benefits but also help destigmatize mental health needs and concerns. More to the point, companies that want to compete for top talent in the future need to start looking at mental health programs now.
Improving mental health leads to better results
Improving mental health standards at work will only be effective if companies also create safe and open environments for employees to address concerns and provide feedback. This step is vital for enabling them to acknowledge when they need help.
That help can take many forms, but it must begin with a basic acknowledgment that mental health needs do not equate to weakness or a lack of ability. Once employees feel safe in speaking up, then even simple strategies like helping people take a brief, recharging break or leaving the office for a day off can have a significant impact.
Providing for employees’ mental health is simply the right thing to do, but there are also many business benefits that accompany employee wellbeing. This freedom allows people to bring their best selves to work.
A recent report estimated that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Building programs will remove many of the barriers that stand in the way of employees doing their best work.
Any program that saves money, increases productivity, improves engagement, attracts top talent and lengthens tenure would be a top priority for virtually any company. However, mental health needs are often overlooked because of misinformation, biases, and stigmas.
People who struggle with their mental health are not weak or deficient, they are our coworkers, friends and family members. It is long past time for companies to eliminate the stigmas about mental health that exist in our culture and build programs that will help people focus on wellbeing.