By John Hall, Entrepreneur
In the U.S., one in five adults suffers from mental illness each year. Despite this, only one out of three people in need of assistance will receive it. Due to this, many people will either miss work or will be unable to accomplish as much at work as they would have liked. In the latter case, presenteeism occurs when people go to work when they are suffering from physical or mental ailments. For this reason, the importance of mental health in the workplace cannot be overstated.
Globally, depression and anxiety are estimated to cost $1 trillion a year in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, WHO also found that treating mental health concerns has a return of $4 in improved productivity and health.
As reported by the Society for Human Resources Management, many employers are enhancing their mental and emotional health benefits. Anxiety and depression are invisible disabilities that can be treated in a variety of ways.
In addition to supporting an employee’s mental health, there are a number of potential benefits:
- An increase in productivity. According to research, 86% of employees who receive treatment for depression report an improvement in their work performance. There has been evidence that treating depression reduces absenteeism and presenteeism by 40 to 60% in some studies.
- Increased employee morale. When an employer shows concern for their employees, they feel appreciated. You show them that you care by focusing on their health, thereby enhancing their sense of value and appreciation. This increases their morale, resulting in greater productivity.
- A higher retention rate. Half of millennials(defined as 23-38 years old) and 75% of Gen-Zers (18-22 years old) have left jobs, both voluntarily and involuntarily, partly because of mental health issues.
- Health care and disability costs are reduced. Cardiovascular and metabolic disease rates are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Attracting top talent. Today, employees want more than just salaries. They want wellness programs, too. People tend to be attracted to employers who offer wellness programs and health care. Your company can greatly benefit from adopting these programs in order to acquire top talent.
The American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable released a report titled “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis” that emphasizes the connection between physical health and mental health. The report recommends that employers offer comprehensive programs to prevent mental illnesses and treat them. “The cost of doing nothing is higher than investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment,” the report concluded.
No matter the situation, it is important to make sure your workplace is a mentally healthy one for everyone, in good times and stressful times. And here are 10 ways you can support your team’s emotional wellness.
1. Understand the issues.
“As with most projects, success starts with understanding the issues,” says Domini Clark, Founder & CEO of Blackmere Consulting. “Employee surveys can help you gather the insights you need.” Surveys are also a good way to show your employees that you care about their mental health.
But what makes for a good survey? In Clark’s opinion, a good survey should help you better understand employees’ issues, so you can recognize and respond appropriately.
“There are a variety of questions you might use on your survey, so you’ll need to do a little homework,” she adds. “To give you an idea, however, questions may include:”
- Did you experience significant stress, anxiety, frustration, or other negative emotions at work during the past month? A sliding scale of zero to five, six to 10, and 11 to 20-plus can be used to rate participants.
- Is there an aspect of your work that makes you feel stressed or anxious? A few examples include too many meetings, too few meetings, working extra hours at home, childcare concerns, or healthcare concerns.
- It is easy for me to talk to colleagues about mental health issues and solutions. Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree.
“There is an art and science to developing effective surveys, so don’t be afraid to seek help from professionals,” adds Clark. “In addition to helping ensure your methods are valid, they can advise you on ensuring anonymity and confidentiality.”
2. Provide employees with stress reduction — not just stress management.
As soon as you have identified the main stressors, make sure your workplace addresses employee mental health. When people pretend to be okay, they are about 32% less likely to enjoy their jobs.
Consider flexible working hours or telecommuting if it can help people manage work and life. When resources are limited, you can hire more people, outsource, or increase budgets. Sometimes, a teammate just needs to open up without getting judged.
3. Give each other a pass.
In the words of an executive at a company I work for, “We have to give ourselves, and each other, a pass,” states Laurie Minott a former partner at Great Place to Work.
Was that the “pass” they were referring to? “It’s another way of saying we need to practice forgiveness in a variety of ways,” she explains.
- Does all of your work need to be completed right now? Would it be better to wait until the beginning of next year, when staff and clients will be in a better state of mind?
- Whenever possible, give your colleagues and employees the benefit of the doubt.
- Understand that everyone you interact with is struggling in this difficult time, for reasons we may never fully comprehend.
- Whenever someone behaves differently towards you, assume that they are acting from a place of good intention.
- Be patient and compassionate with yourself and others.
4. Encourage your employees to have a good work-life balance.
There are some employees who have difficulty balancing their work and personal lives. Some people may spend too much time focusing on work and forget to live a life outside of it. A great work-life balance is something that you can help your employees achieve as an employer. When you do, they’ll be healthier, more productive, and will be more likely to stick around.
How can you achieve this? Well, here are some of the most effective ways you can support employee work-life balance:
- Offer flexible working arrangements, such as remote work or flextime. Other suggestions would be a compressed workweek or job sharing.
- Give your employees the option of using their PTO for illness, personal time, or vacations.
- When you have parents on your staff, childcare solutions can be a great benefit. As parents, we often have to find childcare for our young children in many situations, like if the babysitter gets sick.
- Set a limit on how many days or hours can be carried over each year.
- While your employees are on PTO, please respect their time by not emailing or calling them.
- Schedule bonding activities regularly for your employees and their families.
- In case your company experiences both busy and slow seasons, balance your employees’ hours.
- You should always respect their most valuable asset, their time. If you have a meeting at 11 a.m., then be there on time.
5. Managers should receive mental health training.
“Managers and supervisors who work directly with employees are key to implementing and sustaining policies and procedures and creating a generally supportive environment,” states the American Psychological Association. “Teaching supervisors how to support employees and recognize the signs of stress and mental health issues helps reduce turnover and absenteeism.”
Of course, this can be overwhelming at first. So, the APA suggests focusing on the following approaches:
- Invest in training you and your managers in psychological and relationship skills.
- Establish a welcoming, stress-free work environment that builds trust between management and employees.
It’s up to supervisors and managers to let employees know about all the benefits and programs they have access to.
6. Include mental health coverage in your health insurance.
Ensure that your company provides mental health benefits and services to its employees, such as:
- Find out what the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act is all about. Mental health disorders (including substance abuse disorders) cannot be covered more restrictively than other types of medical insurance.
- Avoid the use of phantom health insurance. Look for psychologists and psychiatrists in your network.
- To reduce out-of-pocket costs, offer a health savings account (HSA).
- Provide access to mindfulness and meditation apps, such as Calm or Headspace.
7. Be vulnerable.
“One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges,” Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol write for HBR. A certain level of discomfort has been experienced by almost everyone. “But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences,” they add.
“Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own.”
For example, a video that Roche Genentech produced prior to the pandemic showed senior leaders talking about mental health. This was part of a #Let’sTalk campaign on the company intranet. In order to promote mental health awareness at the company, “mental health champions” were empowered to make videos about their experiences that were used in various mental health campaigns.
“Those of us working from home have had no choice but to be transparent about our lives, whether our kids have crashed our video meetings or our coworkers have gotten glimpses of our homes,” state the authors. “When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear human, relatable, and brave.” Research indicates that authentic leadership cultivates trust and fosters employee engagement.
8. Develop a financial wellness program.
There are many types of stress, but financial stress is one of the most prevalent. Over the past couple of years, managing money has been particularly challenging due to relentless financial constraints: a global pandemic, a possible recession, and the highest inflation rate in 40 years. Money troubles may make it seem that nothing else is going right.
Expenses, debt, and money are some of the factors that cause financial stress. In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in February 2022, 65 percent of respondents said money is a significant source of stress in their lives. Among young adults and Black and Hispanic adults, the percentage is higher.
Employee productivity and mental health are directly impacted by financial stress. The consequences of disregarding employees’ financial well-being can be devastating for businesses. As such, the implementation of employee financial wellness programs has become a proactive approach by many companies.
In general, financial wellness programs provide employees with information, training, and support regarding their personal finances. Additionally, a solid Financial Wellness Program should include live counseling, coaching, and/or workshops on the following aspects of financial wellness
- Budgeting for personal and household expenses
- Developing consumer credit
- Debt reduction for consumers
- Student loan repayment management
- Emergency and short-term savings
- Consumer attitudes and spending behaviors
- Financial goal setting
- Financial crisis management, like dealing with collections or extended unemployment.
9. Recognize employees for their well-being achievements.
“Routine recognition is a critically important psychological need in the workplace and is a proven driver of an array of business outcomes,” writes Dan Witters, Research Director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index. “Making it part of an organization’s well-being culture will incentivize employees to pursue choices that support high well-being and reinforce that their company cares about such pursuits.”
10. Integrate mental wellness into your culture.
Using the tips listed above, you’ll be well on your way to promoting a mental-health-friendly culture in your workplace. In addition to these steps, there are a few others that you can take.
- Keep in touch with employees on a regular basis. I’m not talking about performance reviews or project updates. I’m talking about asking your direct reports how things are going. According to a Qualtrics study conducted in 2021, 38% of employees have never been asked that question by their supervisors. Additionally, this group of people was 38% more likely to say that their mental health had declined since the pandemic began.
- Communicate frequently, but don’t meet too often. Clarify policies regarding work arrangements and inform employees about organizational changes. There are a lot of challenges facing employee engagement today, and you don’t want to blindside them. Be intentional about how you share news and maintain transparency. It is important to keep in mind that too many meetings will burn people out. Depending on the platform used, communication can take place via email, newsletters, or other platforms.
- Encourage the creation of informal support groups. Most likely, several employees are experiencing similar problems. Sharing experiences between individuals is a good idea. Using Slack or Teams, you can create chat rooms to discuss childcare issues, stress management, and other common topics.
- Make fun breaks a priority. Let your employees laugh and smile for 15 minutes a day to release the feel-good hormone endorphins. These could be games or icebreakers, and they can be virtual. Helping people “get out of their heads” for a few minutes is essential.
Your priority as an employer should be to promote your employees’ well-being. In addition to being beneficial to your employees, it is also beneficial to your organization. Remember to consider not just their physical health but also their financial and mental well-being too.