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12 powerful ways to support mental health in the workplace

three employees are experiencing different state of mental health in the workplace which can impact their work

With more than three-quarters of U.S. employees reporting that their mental health is negatively affecting their work, isn’t it time that employers prioritize mental health in the workplace?

That staggering statistic is just one of many sobering findings detailed in Mind Share Partners' 2021 Mental Health at Work Report. The pandemic has exacerbated stress and worry in new ways, forcing employers to finally face the importance of mental wellness.

Below, we’ll go over the current state of mental health in the workplace and what you can do to make it better.

The current state of mental health in the workplace: 10 stats that may surprise you

  • About half of Gen Zs and Millennials say they feel more stressed in 2021 than before the pandemic [1]
  • Half of Gen Zs say that job and career prospects are a top driver of stress for them in 2021 [1]
  • Poor mental health costs UK employers an estimated £33 billion to £42 billion per year in absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover. [2]
  • Proactive interventions such as diagnostic screening tools and training employees to spot poor mental health and intervene have an ROI of up to 6:1. [2]
  • Reactive interventions such as providing access to therapy has an ROI of up to 5:1. [2]
  • Half of employees have quit their job at least partly due to mental health reasons. [3]
  • 77% of employees say their mental health is negatively affecting their work. [3]
  • In 2021, 76% of employees said they'd had at least one mental health condition symptom in the past year-up 29% from 2019. [3]
  • When it comes to mental health, employers and employees are not on the same page. 65% of employers believe that employee mental health is supported well or very well, while only 51% of employees agree. [4]
  • About 70% of employers said they'd start, continue or expand mental health benefits in 2021. [5]

What can I do to support mental health in the workplace? 12 useful ideas

Figuring out how to support mental health in your workplace can be a daunting task. Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to make sure your employees are psychologically and emotionally well. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Provide access to free therapy

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Many EAPs offer free counseling to help employees struggling with grief, stress, depression, anxiety and family problems. This counseling is usually short-term in nature and typically is limited to a specific number of sessions per issue.

As an employer, consider adding free counseling to your EAP, if it’s not already available, or expanding the mental health services provided by the EAP.

Therapy and wellness apps

Many organizations choose to offer employees free access to therapy apps such as BetterHelp and Talkspace or meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace. This can be a simple, scalable solution for any business needing to provide wellness support to its employees.

You’d be amazed at how helpful an app can be. In a study published in BMC Psychiatry, 70% of the 10,000 participants who used Talkspace online therapy saw a significant improvement in their anxiety and depression reduction.

And in another study published in the Journal of Technology of Behavioral Science, employees who used Talkspace saw a 36% increase in productivity after 12 weeks.

2. Offer wellbeing coaching

Remember, mental health isn’t just about when someone’s in crisis. There are many things you can do to ensure everyone on your team is optimizing their mental health, even if they don’t seem to be struggling at the moment.

Wellbeing coaching is a fantastic tool for helping anyone boost their self-esteem, improve their resilience and just generally feel better about themselves-leading to a much more productive and happy employee.

Struggling with where to start? F4S has a personalized online coaching program, Vital Wellbeing, that helps you:

  • Realize your personal strengths
  • Get better at bouncing back from life challenges
  • Establish and maintain your boundaries
  • Boost life satisfaction

You and your team can get started for free today.

3. Train your managers for mental health awareness

Let’s be clear: Your managers are not mental health professionals and should never attempt to diagnose or treat employees. However, as supervisors who have one-on-one time with your employees and have influence over them, it’s helpful for managers to be able to notice what might be a mental health concern and know how to connect that person with the right resources.

For example, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation's Center for Workplace Mental Health hosts a 35-minute training that helps managers:

  • Notice behavioral changes that might point to a mental health concern
  • Talk to the employee
  • Act in a way that links the employee to resources that can help

Training like the above can equip your managers with mental health awareness and empower them to intervene appropriately.

4. Create wellness programs

Physical, financial and social health all contribute to mental health, so don’t underestimate the influence of wellness programs.

For example, as part of its benefits package, Intuit offers the Well-being for Life Program, which entitles employees to up to $1,300 per fiscal year to offset well-being costs.

Asana has Live Well, a program where employees can participate in exercise boot camps, guided breathwork and receive monthly nutrition advice.

Some employers offer programs for stress management and smoking cessation.

5. Start a mental health ERG

It’s common to have ERGs based on racial, ethnic, cultural and gender identity. But the latest helpful trend? Mental health ERGs. Companies from Johnson & Johnson to Netflix are launching these.

When financial services company Affirm started its Mental Wellness ERG, it chose to allow members to be completely anonymous; they can join meetings via phone call so their identity is masked. The Affirm Mental Wellness ERG has provided events such as a Wellness Fair where employees could listen to a wellness expert's presentation and connect with wellness businesses.

6. Measure employee wellbeing

The only way you can know if your mental health efforts are working is to track metrics. What measurement tools can you use to gauge mental health in the workplace? McKinsey & Company suggests the following:

  • Claims or clinical analysis
  • Employee surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Lived experience panels

Nike has developed and used its own Engagement and Wellbeing (EWB) survey for the past five years. It measures engagement levels and experiences of its factory workers and has 21 questions, including five demographic questions.

According to Deloitte, Bell Canada has tracked its progress with employee mental health since 2010 by tracking more than 90 KPIs in its “mental health scorecard.” These KPIs include:

  • Short- and long-term disability claims
  • Usage of mental health benefits
  • Employee engagement  

7. Cultivate an open culture around mental health

The number one reason your employees do not reveal they need mental health support is that they fear judgment, discrimination or losing their job. It should not be that way.

Psychological safety means your team feels they can take risks without being punished. Though we often speak of this concept in terms of the work they do, it also very much applies to how open they can be with you about their health struggles, especially since these can impact their work.

How?

  • Have leadership step up. If you’re a leader on your team, you have a lot of power to influence how the rest of your team feels and the power to set a precedent. One of the biggest hurdles to improving mental health at work is that employees fear they’ll be penalized for talking about it. To help show that that’s not the case, set an example by being open about your own struggles. For example, at a team check-in, you might open up by talking about how you attended a free counseling session available via your organization's EAP because a huge project was causing a lot of anxiety for you. You can also ask if anyone else on your team wants to share their own experience of how they’ve felt handling this stressful project.
  • Check in one-on-one. Outside of regularly scheduled one-on-ones between a manager and their direct reports, it is always good to check in privately with any team member whose mental health seems to be suffering. That's why mental health training is so crucial; it equips you with the tools to spot concerns, start a conversation and connect them with the appropriate resources for help.
  • Remind everyone of the available resources. Sometimes mental health perks get lost in the employee benefit packages, so be sure to remind your team to take advantage of things like free access to mental health apps or free sessions of counseling available via the Employee Assistance Program.

8. Communicate a clear mental health policy

Within your employee handbook, you should include a mental health policy. Documentation of such a policy removes any confusion and allows your team to get the help they need without additional barriers.

In your mental health policy, you might want to include things like a list of mental health resources available to employees, how you will ensure that those seeking help are not retaliated against, how you’ll ensure confidentiality and the point of contact in case an employee has a mental health concern that is impeding their work.

9. Place emphasis one-on-one time between managers and direct reports

Protecting one-on-one time between managers and direct reports is essential to performance. But an added benefit is that it allows employees an opportunity to be open about their mental health struggles and how it’s impacting their work. It takes a lot for someone to be vulnerable about these matters, and by ensuring regular one-on-ones, you give your team the opportunity to build trust with their managers.

10. Provide generous paid time off

Employees are experiencing burnout more than ever, and one way to ameliorate this problem is simple: Give them more paid time off.

More than just providing PTO in your policy, you need to encourage your team to use it. American employees are notorious for letting their vacation days pile up, gathering dust over the years. According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2018, Americans left 768 million vacation days unused.

There’s no use in providing paid time off if you have a work culture that frowns upon vacationing. Encourage your employees to take time off to relax and enjoy themselves. Overworked employees are prone to burn out, hurting their productivity.

11. Establish boundaries for better work-life balance

For many, working from home has been a welcome change, but the “always on” culture of remote work is leading to burnout in new ways. How can you combat this? Establish boundaries. Relieve the pressure by letting employees know that when they are off the clock, they are truly off the clock.

Some employers do this by instituting a 24-hour response time so employees don’t feel the pressure to drop everything and respond right away. Others ban their employees from sending emails after hours (barring an emergency, of course).

However you choose to delineate boundaries at your company, be sure that, as a leader, you set the example by sticking to them yourself.

12. Don’t neglect diversity, equity and inclusion

According to the 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, 54% of employees believe that mental health is a DEI issue. As the report authors write:

“We often frame mental health as the next frontier of the DEI movement. Not only is mental health intrinsically tied to people’s experiences based on their identity, cultural background, and other demographic factors, but mental health can also be considered a DEI subcategory in and of itself.”

Additionally, the study found that employees who felt supported during the racial injustices of 2020 were about two times more likely to feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their colleagues, manager and HR-showing just how crucial DEI is to psychological safety.

Mental health in the workplace is finally having its moment

With so many employers finally prioritizing mental health in the workplace in 2021, we have a lot of reason to be hopeful. Mental health, just like physical health, has real consequences if neglected.

By ensuring that your employees are psychologically and emotionally well, you’ll cultivate a workforce that trusts you, stays loyal to your organization and performs at its very best.

And as you saw above, there is so much that you can do. From Employee Resource Groups to wellbeing coaching to simply talking openly about your struggles, you can support mental health in the workplace and spark real change for the future.

Prioritize mental health in the workplace with personalized online coaching. Get started with our Vital Wellbeing program today!

Sources

[1] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-deloitte-2021-mental-health-millennials-white-paper.pdf

[2] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitte-uk-mental-health-employers-monitor-deloitte-oct-2017.pdf

[3] https://www.mindsharepartners.org/mentalhealthatworkreport-2021-dl

[4] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/national-surveys-reveal-disconnect-between-employees-and-employers-around-mental-health-need

[5] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/national-surveys-reveal-disconnect-between-employees-and-employers-around-mental-health-need

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