Each year, around 20% of adults in the U.S. experience mental health issues, yet only half of them get the treatment they need. For employers, that means an average of one in five of their employees is experiencing a mental health problem at any given time.
Even before the pandemic, employee mental health was gaining increased attention from companies across the nation. Employers were beginning to understand the impact of mental health on the bottom line. Providing workers with needed mental care results in increased productivity, worker retention, and lower healthcare costs overall.
Employees value optimistic, supportive messaging from leadership about mental health.
One of the top requests from people with mental illness is the ability to work in an open and accepting environment. Since mental health still holds a lot of stigma, many employees are unwilling to talk about the troubles they are experiencing, even when it affects their work performance.
Employers can play an important role in helping to normalize mental health issues. One way they can do it is to foster open communication about mental health issues, and braiding conversations into the employment life cycle from recruitment to retirement.
If mental health has had an impact on their lives, individuals in leadership positions can share their own experiences. Being open and vulnerable can create a safe environment where workers can be upfront about their struggles and seek help.
By talking about mental health issues, organizations can debunk myths, reduce stigma, and help employees be at their best when they are at work.
Training from the Top Down
Employers set the stage for workplace culture; it is their responsibility to make sure that all employees feel safe and supported. If members of an organization’s leadership are unfamiliar with mental health and its impact, it is vital that training is provided so they understand how these issues affect employees, and can offer proactive – rather than punitive – support and solutions.
As few as three hours of mental health awareness training can change management attitudes and responses toward employees who are struggling.
When managers and supervisors can identify signs of mental health problems, and direct employees to help, it can make a tremendous impact on a company’s bottom line.
Flexibility and Productivity
An old adage says that “necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic forced workers everywhere to think fast, pivot, and create an environment where business could continue.
Flexibility wasn’t limited to location, but also to work time modifications. Illness does not recognize office hours, so workers who were also caretakers needed to find ways to make those two responsibilities navigable.
An unexpected result of this forced flexibility was the fact that employees experienced better work/life balance – without the anticipated drop in productivity.
It also allowed people with other disabilities to participate more fully in the workforce. As an accommodation for people with mental health issues, flexible work location and work times allow them to eliminate environmental issues and work when they are at their most productive.
Insurance = Reassurance
Federal law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with mental health and substance use disorders. With few exceptions, employers are required to offer an equal amount of coverage for mental issues as for physical issues.
Along with mental health insurance coverage, employers can support worker mental health by providing free Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) services, making them accessible to employees and their families, and advocating their use.
Making sure employees know about and can take advantage of EAP services can go a long way toward keeping workers mentally healthy.
Access to Help
86% of workers who receive mental health treatment report better work performance and increased productivity.
The good news is that 86% of workers who receive mental health treatment report better work performance and increased productivity. Treatment resulted in 40-60% less absenteeism and plays a large part in employee retention. For every dollar spent on mental health treatment, companies receive a $4 return on investment.
When companies cultivate an open and accepting culture around mental health, they can reduce workplace stress for workers struggling with mental health.
The Bottom Line
For culture and supports to be effective, employees need to know that they’re available. Mental health resources need to be talked about openly and assistance must be user friendly. Knowing that they can get the mental health help they need creates a supportive work environment. This can lead to improved physical and emotional health, increased employee morale and – ultimately – the bottom line.
When employers provide mental health support, employees become better workers. They feel comfortable asking for help. They feel cared about and valuable to an organization. Employer attention to mental health is a win-win for both the company and its employees.
For more information on mental health support, you can check out these resources:
- 8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health from the Harvard Business Review
- Workplace Mental Health: 5 Ways to Support Employee Wellness from Understood.org
- Support An Employee: Tips for Employers on how to Support People Living with Mental Illness in the Workplace from Mental Health America
- 5 Ways to Improve Employee Mental Health from the American Psychological Association