The importance of mental health in the workplace has become an area of increased company focus.

Not only is the stigma of mental health slowly but surely being changed to one of acceptance and support, but companies are starting to realize the relationship between mental health and productivity in the workplace – and the impact of employee mental health on the company’s bottom line.

Consider these statistics:

  • Mental Illness is more common than you think
    According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness, yet only 45% of adults with mental illness seek treatment in a given year.
  • Many mental health stigmas still exist in the workplace
    A 2021 survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that 28% of supervisors surveyed felt uncomfortable addressing mental health problems with their employees and 36% of workers feared disclosing their mental illness might affect their job security.
  • Addressing mental health has a positive financial impact on companies who do it
    The World Health Organization (WHO) states that for every $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. 

Clearly, there is a need for increased mental health awareness and benefits in the workplace.

Beyond need, companies are seeing an increase in demand for better policies and benefits from both employees and job seekers alike.

Of course, realizing there is a need for better mental health is only the first step; companies need to learn how to improve mental health in the workplace.

Let’s take a look at how companies can create an environment that is conducive to detecting and treating mental health issues.

Mandatory Mental Health Training For Leadership

The movement to identify employee mental health issues has to start with management.

It is important that managers and supervisors receive training to recognize the various signs of mental illness and emotional distress. Empowering them with knowledge has a dual effect:

  1. Managers will be familiar with signs of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.
  2. When management sees these signs, they will have training in possible ways they can take action, whether it’s encouraging the employee to step back and perhaps take a break or seek help from a qualified professional.
  3. Familiarity with signs of mental illness prevents a manager from penalizing, chastising, or disciplining behavior that may be caused by untreated mental illness.
  4. Management can learn the importance of, and best ways, to check in with employees. Training helps management know not only the best ways to ask, but also how to listen and show compassion.

Increase Mental Health Awareness In The Workplace

Create a workplace that is tolerant and aware of mental health issues. 

  • Have mental health education resources in common areas such as break rooms and cafeterias.
  • Host speakers and workshops that educate about mental health awareness and teach stress management techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.
  • Offer employee training to help employees recognize the signs and symptoms of different mental health issues, as well as teaching them how to reach out to co-workers who might be struggling.

Encourage Employees – Especially Leadership – To Be Open And Share Their Own Mental Health Challenges 

One of the most effective ways to change the workplace stigma around mental health is for leaders to be honest with employees about their mental health struggles. 

When employees see that a manager feels comfortable talking about their mental health challenges, it opens the door for each employee to feel more comfortable talking to their coworkers and supervisors about any struggles they are experiencing.

Encourage Work-Life Balance

Workplaces that encourage work-life balance reduce the mental stress on employees and the associated mental health issues.

As I discuss in my article about the advantages of working remote, employees place a high value on companies that prioritize and encourage work-life balance. 

Work-life balance can take many forms, for example:

  • Flexible working hours can reduce commute time and alleviate stress for parents who need to be at certain times of the day.
  • Hybrid work options allow workers to work from home on some days

Another way to emphasize the importance of work-life balance is our next point – modeling work-life balance and healthy behaviors.

Leadership Needs To Model Good Work-Life Balance And Healthy Behaviors

When management encourages work-life balance, but work long days and weekends, it sends a conflicting message to employees – and actions speak louder than words.

Leadership needs to take care of themselves and share that they are doing so. Talk about how you shut your phone off at night when spending time at home with family. Be open if you have a therapy appointment, or if you go to yoga or work out each day to reduce stress.

Empower Your HR Department

Fund the resources needed for your HR department to offer solid support for employees that reach out, or are flagged as needing mental health support.

  • Hire a psychiatrist to come in one day a week to conduct screenings and meet with employees who are struggling
  • Send your human resources employees to training courses that equip them with the knowledge they need to develop and maintain mental health support programs for our employees.
  • Invest in online mental health screening memberships that can be offered anonymously to all employees

Offer Health Insurance With Mental Health Coverage

When putting together health insurance options for your employees, offer insurance that has low or no out-of-pocket costs for mental health counseling and medications. Finances are a common barrier to seeking help for mental health issues.

Foster An Environment Of Communication

Good communication in the workplace goes a long way in reducing worker stress. 

When an employee knows what is expected of them, stress is reduced on many levels; both because there is less confusion about expectations and because the employee is much more likely to succeed.

In addition, in an environment where communication is expected and encouraged between employees and supervisors, potentially stressful issues are caught earlier and resolved before stress levels build.

You can read more about reducing stress through effective communication strategies in my blog about 9 Effective Leadership Communication Strategies.

Examples Of Mental Health Initiatives In Action

The CDC notes some impressive examples of companies establishing proactive mental health initiatives:

Prudential Financial has enacted some progressive policies which I thought were very impressive. The company

  • Monitors the effect of supervisors on worker well-being, especially when supervisors change.
  • Conducts ongoing, anonymous surveys to learn about attitudes toward managers, senior executives, and the company as a whole.
  • Normalizes discussion of mental health by having senior leadership share personal stories in video messages.

Source: CDC, Mental Health In the Workplace

Certified Angus Beef has similarly forward-thinking employee initiatives. 

  • Provides free wellness consultations by an on-site clinical psychologist. Employees do not have to take leave to access these services.
  • Holds lunchtime learning sessions to reduce stigma about mental health and the services available to employees.
  • Offers quarterly guided imagery relaxation sessions to teach stress management strategies.

Source: CDC, Mental Health In the Workplace

Imagine the headway that could be gained in the fight against mental illness if policies such as these became the norm?

Support Mental Health Awareness In The Workplace

Whether you are a consultant, in management, or in human resources, each of you has the potential to expand the trend of supporting mental health in the workplace.

The benefits to your client, your company, and/or your employees are many and include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased retention
  • Decreased health care and disability costs

Clearly, mental health programs are worth your time and attention from both a financial and an altruistic perspective.

Need More Time In Your Workday?

Do you have projects that need your attention, but don’t have the time?

Robin Kramer is an Online Business Manager that has been working with small businesses for 23 years. She can help you analyze your overwhelming to-do list to identify what tasks need your executive expertise, and which ones she can manage for you to free your valuable time.

To learn more about Robin’s skills and how she could help your business, contact her for a free consultation today

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