A person’s mental health influences their quality of work as well as quality of life. When employees experience good mental health, there are numerous benefits to both the employee and the employer, so employers should be motivated to strive toward helping employees achieve good mental health.
According to research by software developer Sage, employees admitted to being productive for less than 30 hours a week. And according to a 2017 white paper published by the nonprofit Mental Health America, American businesses annually lose more than $500 billion in productivity due to mental health issues.
“Less than half of people who have mental health issues, connect with care, and when people don’t get care, it impacts performance, productivity, retention, and recruitment,” says Darcy Gruttadaro, Chief Innovation Officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Tips for improving employee mental health
A person’s mental health is first and foremost their responsibility, however, there are numerous benefits when employers promote good health at the workplace, including greater productivity, performance, quality of work, dedication, company loyalty, and retention.
The first step in supporting good mental health in the workplace is to:
1. Create a positive mental health culture
Your company needs to see supporting positive mental health among employees as a good and important initiative. And your company must regularly communicate this message.
Creating a positive mental health culture is a broad and multi-faceted initiative, which includes many activities.
Foster a culture of support by informing people of support options, being flexible when employees need to put life ahead of work, and offering employees assistance even for non-work-related issues. Communicate that seeking help is a sign of strength. Encourage open communication and feedback. Provide training. Eliminate behaviors that negatively affect mental health, such as bullying and harassment. Reward employees for addressing their mental health in healthy ways.
"Make mental health visible,” says Gruttadaro. “Do lunch and learns. Share mental health stories via the intranet or newsletter, so people can see mental health is a priority for the organization. Have leaders mention the importance of mental health and well-being to the company. Address mental health more often than just the month of May—mental health month.
2. Check in with your employees
Talk to your employees. “Mental health issues result in changes to the way a person acts, feels, engages, interacts, and appearance,” says Gruttadaro. “Just as you would ask when you’re concerned about any other health issue, you should ask about their mental health, because it shows you care about them as a person, which is increasingly important. And the discussion shouldn’t be centered on a diagnosis. Objectively share what you’ve seen, and then ask them about it.”
According to the nonprofit Mind Share Partners, 60 percent of respondents to a poll they conducted experienced symptoms of a mental health condition in the past year. And 60 percent of those hadn’t talked to anyone at work about their mental health in the last year.
Checking in with remote workers can be more challenging. In a study completed by Harvard Business Review, Qualtrics, and SAP, nearly “40 percent of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing okay—and those respondents were 38 percent more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the pandemic outbreak.
“Be intentional with your communication,” says Gruttadaro. “Check in more frequently. Ask about how they are doing before asking them about job details. People may feel uncomfortable asking another how they are doing, but the receptivity to this practice is very high. People appreciate it, and it can go a long way toward building a trusting relationship. So, if someone does have an issue that requires extra attention, they may feel more comfortable talking about it.”
3. Offer mental health benefits
Make mental health a part of your employees’ health benefits package. Educate employees about the services available to them. Talk about mental health services to normalize their use of them.
If you pay for all or some counseling services, for example, it will go a long way to communicate your company’s commitment to supporting good mental health.
4. Provide training
There are a lot of training opportunities when it comes to mental health from how to talk about it to how to recognize when someone is distressed to coping skills.
Everyone, but supervisors especially, should be trained on how to recognize warning signs and how to talk to people about mental health.
Teach employees mental health requires care even when they’re not experiencing mental health issues.
5. Provide other employee benefits
There are also numerous options that provide more than just mental health benefits.
For example, when employees feel they have agency in their lives, they’re happier. This could mean giving employees some flexibility to decide how work gets done, when it gets done, or where it gets done. This initiative also improves productivity, performance, quality, and retention.
Providing training, so employees can upskill themselves, makes employees happier, because they gain in value and they see that their company sees them as valuable. It also leads to better work output and a better-trained staff, which is required for leadership succession and company growth.
And give employees opportunities to identify and solve workplace problems. By allowing them to solve it, it now becomes a challenge instead of a negative, dominating force. According to a study published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “those who were invited to participate in a structured process of identifying and addressing problems in their workplace exhibited decreased rates of burnout and increases in job satisfaction”.
"People are being more open about mental health,” says Gruttadaro. “That began before the global pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated it. The pandemic made us realize, we all have mental health because the uncertainty, stress, and disruption caused by the global pandemic impacted nearly all of our mental health. During the pandemic, many people felt anxious or depressed, because they were grieving the loss of doing activities they really enjoyed. It was a wake-up call. Our mental health can change over time, just like physical health. People now talk more openly about stress, burnout, and anxiety. We were already on a trajectory to greater mental health awareness, especially among younger people, but Covid accelerated it.”
I would not ask someone to talk about something they may prefer not to talk about, but I would definitely ask them about it.
The check in is to see how a person is doing overall. It shows that you care but doesn't have to focus on mental health.
Subscribe to The Utility Expo monthly newsletter to receive more industry insights like this.
Identifying and Managing Stress