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Supporting employee mental health in the workplace

September 19, 2023

Dialogue and awareness of mental health as an important topic for discussion has increased in the past few years, within the general public and in the workplace. In fact, more than one in five people in the U.S. live with a mental illness,1 and many more without a diagnosis still suffer from poor mental health.

Many employers, in a wide range of industries, recognize this and are implementing strategies and programs to support employee mental health. Organizations that champion employee wellness can benefit by having a more engaged, productive workforce.

How mental health impacts employees and organizations

Mental health issues can affect an employee’s job performance, including their ability to focus, engage with their colleagues and more. Chronic stress is one of the biggest factors impacting employees’ mental wellbeing.

Nearly 80% of Americans say their job causes them stress, with 25% saying it’s their top stressor.2 In fact, poor employee mental health costs the U.S. economy nearly $226 billion annually in lost revenue.3

With so much time spent at work — an average of 8.4 hours per day4 — and the potential for poor mental health to negatively impact work, it’s clear how important it is for employers to pay attention to this issue and even take it one step further by ensuring the workplace remains free of stigma around mental health.

A mentally healthy employee is more productive, better at coping with stress and can contribute meaningfully to their company and greater community. This doesn’t end with the office’s four walls. Ensuring workers have strong mental health is arguably even more critical for remote employees, who may deal more acutely with loneliness and other issues due to their lack of direct contact with colleagues and supervisors.

5 strategies to support employee mental health

Understanding that mental wellness is important is a first step, but having a plan to address and support employee mental health requires thought and work. The following five ideas can help support mental wellbeing:

1. Be flexible. The more control an employee feels over their work conditions, the more satisfied they will feel in their work-life balance.5 In fact, 34% of employees believe that flexible hours would benefit their mental health.6 This flexibility can include accommodations such as:

  • Telecommuting
  • Part-time hours
  • Sick leave for mental health
  • More frequent breaks
  • The availability of private spaces in the office

Even remote employees, who already benefit from work-at-home accommodations, might appreciate flexibility in other ways, such as being allowed to turn off their cameras periodically and being encouraged not to respond to emails outside of work hours. Overall, flexibility benefits both employees and employers by creating a healthier, more engaged and productive work environment.

2. Provide access to health care and wellness programs with mental health resources. Another very tangible way employers can support their workers is by offering programs and resources that directly support employee mental wellness. A recent survey found that 37% of people would appreciate mental health resources from their employer.7

Many employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs), which help employees resolve personal issues as well as other programs that encourage healthy eating and stress management. It’s also worth considering providing caregiving benefits and expanding tele-mental health offerings.

3. Train and provide support for management teams. Research shows that managers play a critical role in employee mental health.8 Those at the top and middle of organizations should be educated and encouraged to promote psychological well-being with their actions, including having training specific to enforcing and supporting polices around employee wellbeing.

While stigma still exists around mental health, the more managers and C-suite staff are empowered to identify and address these issues among their employees, the more open workers may feel in asking for help and addressing their wellbeing in relationship to their job.

This is especially critical for remote workers, who often feel more isolated and can more easily hide their stress behind a screen. Managers will have to be creative in reaching those employees who they don’t see in person on a regular basis. Some solutions may include: setting up “virtual water cooler” events, holding more frequent progress check-ins, encouraging more frequent breaks, creating exercise or other off-site activities among staff and engaging in perks more frequently.

4. Cultivate an inclusive environment and culture. Nearly 80% of employees9 have noted that mental health may be stigmatized in the workplace, but there are ways to reduce that stigma through the creation of a healthy, inclusive culture.

That could mean leaders acting as role models by speaking about their own challenges with mental health, investing in educational training and offering tools and programs like those outlined above, and fostering a workplace community that is centered on respect and connection — where bullying is deterred, and burnout and fatigue are addressed.

Creating a stigma-free environment involves communicating the importance of mental health, standing by those words with actions, policies and procedures, and regularly checking in both formally and informally with employees on their well-being.

5. Measure success and accept accountability. As the saying goes, only what gets measured gets managed. An organization should determine goals, whether that is to increase employee satisfaction and engagement, increase productivity, improve retention or something else.

Measurement of outcomes needs to be established once goals and programs have been implemented. This can be accomplished through employee surveys, focus groups, panels and other assessments. Above all, it’s crucial to listen to employees. It’s important to pivot if their needs aren’t being addressed.

Have a positive impact

Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is essential for creating a safe, supportive and productive environment. By implementing flexible policies, providing access to resources and fostering an inclusive culture, employers can positively impact their employees’ wellbeing and overall organizational success. Investing in mental health initiatives is a key step toward building a resilient and thriving workforce.