As employers strive to create inclusive workplaces, supporting mental health should be a central focus. When an employee’s emotional, psychological, and/or social well-being is impacted, the employer is almost always impacted. In fact, the Center for Prevention and Health Services estimates that mental health and substance abuse issues indirectly cost employers between $79 and $105 billion a year. This is generally due to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased healthcare costs associated with mental health needs.
How Can Employers Support Mental Health?
With one in five adults living with a mental illness, it is quite likely that your workplace includes individuals managing mental health needs. While mental health is uniquely personal and has no specific technique or treatment formula, there are ways that employers can protect and promote employee mental health:
- Offer Benefits that Cover Mental Health Services – As awareness increases regarding mental health conditions, more companies are implementing benefit plans that include mental health services. Employee wellness programs are becoming increasingly prevalent. These often include a variety of tools, resources, and support that promote each employee’s holistic health. Most larger employers also offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which include services and resources that address mental health and legal issues, but EAPs are often underutilized. It is important for employers to promote these, and even use the services to learn useful workplace strategies for supporting mental health.
When considering benefits, employers should also aim to make care accessible for people with disabilities and others who may not otherwise be able to easily access a mental health practitioner. Some employers have free, on-site health clinics that include mental health services to address this need.
Finally, in addition to formal benefits packages, employers can offer informal incentives such as flexible work schedules that may include working from home or modified schedules that are outside of traditional work times. Providing these opportunities can be helpful in allowing employees to work during peak hours of productivity and ensure improved work/life balance. For employees with disabilities, flexible work schedules can reduce stressful commutes and can help with managing appointments and other disability-related needs.
- Provide Stress-Management Education and Opportunities – Providing workplace opportunities to learn more about mental health and practice various techniques can be helpful in supporting mental health in the workplace. This can include hosting mental health awareness days or providing helpful tips through internal newsletters and emails. Additionally, many employers offer stress management opportunities, such as yoga or meditation classes during the work day. Other ideas are to establish quiet spaces, such as designated rooms or outdoor spaces, or provide headphones to give employees opportunities to take breaks from their work and decompress.
- Foster a Culture of Openness and Acceptance – Significant cultural stigma regarding mental health conditions can often affect employee behavior and overall workplace culture. Employers should aim to build trust with employees by demonstrating acceptance and having open conversations about mental health. This doesn’t mean requiring employees to disclose mental health conditions, but it means fostering positive employer-employee relationships that help employees feel comfortable sharing experiences and discussing concerns. It also means making sure employees are aware that their mental health should be prioritized as much as their physical health, which may require taking time off for appointments or other needs.
- Promote Physical Wellness – Employee mental health can often be linked to physical health. This includes eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, as these can all impact a person’s mindset. Given the length of time people spend at work, along with the sedentary nature of many jobs, it is important for employers to provide opportunities to address physical wellness. This includes hosting fitness classes or weight management groups. Other examples include stocking common areas with healthy snacks and posting wellness tips throughout the office space.
- Lead by Example – More often than not, employees take on the practices of their leadership. Even unspoken behaviors, such as keeping exceedingly long work hours or responding to emails on nights and weekends, can influence employee behavior and ultimately affect mental health. When leadership models good mental health practices, it is likely that employees will follow. This means setting boundaries around when to respond to messages, setting away messages when on vacation, and taking planned breaks throughout the day. Employers should also aim to use employee mental health benefits, including participating in wellness program activities.
When employees are happy and healthy, they are more likely to be productive and remain with their employers longer. Therefore, an employer’s overall investment in employee mental health is a significantly wise business practice.
For more ideas on how to support positive mental health in the workplace, check out our recent post, 7 Tips for Employers to Support Self-Care for Employees with Disabilities. If you’re an employee that wants to learn more about mental health in the workplace, contact the Getting Hired team.
Contributions to this blog were made by Andraéa LaVant of Solutions Marketing Group.