Mental health struggles in the workplace are extremely common. In the past, this issue has been underrecognized—the CDC reports that, pre-pandemic, only 40% of employees with severe depression received appropriate support or treatment. Only now, after a tumultuous year of COVID quarantine and political strife, are we fully starting to realize the importance of a mentally healthy team of workers.
When employee mental health is neglected, morale and productivity suffer. In fact, cutting corners regarding mental health care will actually increase your company’s total health care costs. Research shows that employees suffering from depression have the highest health care expenses of any group, including smokers.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to build a workplace culture that prioritizes employees’ mental health.
Be Open About Mental Health
As is often the case, communication is key. If you take the initiative to communicate with your team about mental health, they will feel more comfortable talking about it as well. On the other hand, employees who feel that management does a poor job of communicating about mental health are 23% more likely to experience poor mental health in the workplace.
Removing the mental health stigma in your workplace by normalizing the topic is the first step to improving overall mental wellbeing among your employees. This could be accomplished through hosting mental health workshops or regularly conducting team check-ins, for example. You can’t address employees’ mental health struggles if they don’t feel comfortable talking about them in the first place.
Managers, or anyone in a leadership position at your company, should strive to be open and honest about their own mental health challenges, failures, and successes. They should also model healthy self-care behavior in order to signal to employees that practicing self-care in the workplace is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Be the first to start the conversation, and others who have been struggling in secret will feel compelled to follow your lead.
Listen to Employees
Once you get the conversation started, pay attention to what employees have to say. We are all still trying to figure out how to function in the post-pandemic workplace, and many employees will have valuable feedback about what is and isn’t working for their mental health. Provide them space to talk about it, and take the time to really listen.
Conducting regular mental health surveys can also help you track employee mental health and the overall stress level in your workplace. Some people just feel more comfortable sharing about their mental health in an anonymous survey than in a face-to-face conversation, since it is a very personal issue.
Provide Access to Mental Health Care Resources
Without first normalizing the mental health conversation in your workplace, many employees who need support may feel too embarrassed to take advantage of provided resources. However, once you’ve shown employees that their mental health is a priority for the company, you can follow through with that commitment by offering options for support and treatment.
Here are a few concrete ways you can increase mental health care accessibility in your workplace:
- Include clinical mental health care as part of the health insurance you offer to employees. The World Health Organization estimates that every dollar a company invests in mental health care results in a four dollar return due to increased employee productivity.
- Make educational mental health materials, such as brochures or videos, available to employees (or proactively distribute them).
- Provide managers with mental health training to help them recognize, understand, and appropriately support their team’s mental health challenges.
Mental health in the workplace is a huge issue to tackle, and one that affects all of us in some way. Let’s start working together to leave stigma behind and transform the modern workplace into a healthy and productive environment for everyone.