Supporting Mental Health in Your Workplace

Posted by John Cofini on Thu, May 25, 2023 @ 11:00 AM

supporting mental health, workplace

More people are reporting mental health symptoms; loneliness and isolation have reached epidemic rates. Many workers now expect their employers to be proactive about supporting mental health. In fact, employers can also benefit from fostering a mentally healthy workforce.

Mental Health Issues Are Everywhere

Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are widespread. The National Institute of Mental Health says more than one in five U.S. adults lives with some form of mental illness. However, the actual number of people struggling with mental health issues may be much higher. In a Harvard Business Review survey, 76% of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition over the past year. This is a noticeable increase from 59% in 2019. The pandemic and various social and economic factors have created new stressors. As a result, many people are struggling.

Loneliness has also become a serious problem. According to HHS, the Surgeon General has issued an advisory about an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Both increase the risk of anxiety and depression as well as physical health consequences, such as heart disease and stroke.

The Impact on Work Is Palpable

Since mental health issues are extremely common, employers should assume some of their workers are struggling. If these workers don’t receive the support they need, they may leave. Harvard Business Review says 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left positions for mental health reasons. In a survey by the American Psychological Association, 81% of workers said how employers support mental health will be an important consideration when they look for work in the future.

Mental health issues can also impact daily work performance. The CDC says poor mental health and stress can negatively affect job performance, productivity, employee engagement, coworker communications, physical capability, and daily functioning. Mental illness is also associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.

How Can Employers Support Mental Health?

In the Harvard Business Review survey, 91% of respondents said they believe a company’s culture should support mental health.

Supporting mental health may make financial sense. The World Health Organization says approximately 12 billion working days are lost every year due to depression and anxiety. This costs employers approximately $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.

What can employers do? Mental health is a complex issue – there is not a single solution that will fix all of a company’s problems. However, employers can take a number of steps to support mental health.

  • Review your health insurance benefits. Most employer-sponsored health plans are subject to mental health parity requirements. According to the American Psychological Association, health plans must cover services for mental health and substance abuse comparably to services for medical and surgical issues. You can use a DOL checklist to see if your plan is in compliance with mental health parity requirements.
  • Consider adding additional mental health benefits and perks. Mental health parity is a good starting point, but – given how many workers are struggling with mental health and how detrimental mental health issues can be in the workplace – it may make sense to go above and beyond with additional benefits for mental health support. Benefits could include Employee Assistance Programs, additional telehealth counseling benefits, and subscriptions to apps that help with meditation, mindfulness, good sleep, and other mental health issues.
  • Help your workers achieve a work–life balance. Unnecessarily rigid schedules can make it harder for workers to find balance. The American Psychological Association asked workers what kind of mental health support they wanted from their employer: 41% said they wanted flexible work hours, 34% wanted a workplace culture that respects time off, 33% wanted the capability to work remotely, and 31% wanted a four-day workweek.
  • Create a positive work environment. Your employees spend a lot of time at work. Building a workplace where people support, encourage, and appreciate each other can go a long way toward supporting mental health.
  • Help your workers fight loneliness. People who work from home may be especially vulnerable, but even people who work in an office or other business location may struggle if they don’t have opportunities to socialize. Create opportunities for your workers to connect with each other. In addition, consider community involvement and volunteer opportunities.
  • Listen to your employees. If you want to figure out the best way to help employees with their mental health, ask them. Conduct anonymous surveys and use suggestion boxes to elicit their opinions. You can also create employee focus groups to dive into mental health issues in more detail.

Does Your Employee Benefits Package Support Mental Health?

If your employee benefits package isn’t supporting mental health, your retention, recruitment, and engagement efforts could suffer. BNC can help you put together an employee benefits package. Learn more.

Tags: workplace mental health, mental health