The Provision of Mental Health Resources in the Workplace
Today’s fast-paced world means people are expected to be always connected, always busy and always improving. Just as we have seen technology explode over the last decade, so too has specialized skills training, and the pressure to do more with the same amount of time. This new industrial revolution has resulted in the constant need to keep up with the speed of progress.
For a business owner or executive, the “always-on” mentality and hyper connectedness expands access to new opportunities and potential growth. But for employees—and those very same executives too—it can seem like there’s no time for rest or reflection. In this new environment, many people are facing mental health crises for the first time.
1 in 5 adults in the United States suffers from a mental illness. Despite its prevalence, mental illness and mental health are still stigmatized topics, especially in the workplace. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with mental health conditions, yet 68% of workers worry that reaching out to their employers about a mental health issue will affect their job security.
THE EFFECTS OF MENTAL ILLNESS ON BUSINESS
Mental illness is not merely an HR issue or an employee’s problem. It is a silent business problem that can create great costs for employers. Consider this: Employees’ mental health struggles have a direct effect on their job performance. About 80% of adults report difficulties with work, school or social activities because of depression symptoms. And 50% of millennials have left a job for mental health reasons. Rates of mental illness are higher among younger generations. As they enter the workforce it will become increasingly important to address mental health and wellness head-on to mitigate their effects on employee performance.
If employees are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, they may become distracted, tired, unmotivated, and uninspired at work. They may consistently arrive late and leave early, take more time finishing projects and submit subpar work. Employees in the poorest mental health report double the number of missed workdays, and an estimated 35-45% of absenteeism is due to mental health problems.
In high-stress, fast-paced jobs, employees are even more likely to become anxious or depressed, especially when working long hours that don’t allow time for mental health treatment and self-care. Even if an employer offers EAP benefits—a more traditional offering—to address the mental health of their employees, if they aren’t given time or space to self-reflect on their mental health it’s like blowing into the wind. Education paired with resources is the key. Employees may be unsure if they’re suffering from a mental health issue at all if they’re not given the right tools to identify their symptoms. When conversations around mental health are stigmatized in these environments, employees may be more likely to leave their jobs.
“Leading employers are recognizing that offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is not sufficient as a mental health management and support strategy. A wide range of solutions, including on-site and virtual resources are now available, such as Mental Health First Aid training, the Right Direction toolkit for depression, and websites and apps that provide mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other self-management services.”
– Neil Goldfarb, President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Business Coalition on Health (GPBCH)
HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IS BEING ADDRESSED
Employers often consider the value of employee retention and decreased turnover rates when evaluating mental health resources. It’s one of the most frequently cited “benefits” on the websites of mental health vendors. As this conversation expands beyond employee retention it should be noted that even if employers are attuned to trends and statistics of mental health issues among employees, they might be unsure of how to talk about it or support their team. As a result, many employers simply aren’t talking to employees about mental health and wellbeing.
In order to step forward as a leader in supporting mental health services, it’s also important to consider what support looks like within your organization. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for all businesses; it needs to fit seamlessly within the culture of your company. For some, a support group may align best with their values. For others, a Slack channel devoted to chat about work stress and worries may fit the bill. Educational resources can range from videos and reading materials to guest speakers and group forums. And flexible care options can be readily available in many forms: video, text, via telehealth or in-person.
Furthermore, wading into employees’ personal lives and potential mental health concerns or conditions can be a scary prospect for employers. For starters, it can involve an uncomfortable conversation. Even in organizations with close-knit cultures, speaking about it can be difficult because of the stigmatized nature surrounding the topic. In most cases revealing a mental health status carries the stigma of weakness or disability. Additionally, there is an underlying fear of stepping into a liability issue. Often, management will worry that if they dismiss an employee after learning they have a mental health condition or concern, they may be opening up the possibility of a wrongful termination lawsuit.
However, mental health is overall health, and should be considered the same way as any physical ailment or disability. Illustrated by the recent classification of burnout by the World Health Organization (WHO), the health portion of mental health can no longer be ignored. It is part and parcel to employee wellbeing at work, just like offering insurance and other health benefits. Yes, the conversation requires finesse, but it’s in employers’ best interest to find a way to adopt a culture of inclusive guidance, autonomy, education and community in order to move past the barriers to entry for support.
Ignoring employees’ challenges with depression, anxiety, and other disorders can result in a loss of great talent, of business, and lack of morale. Becoming a champion of mental health and wellbeing can make a world of difference—for individuals and the organization. The good news is that most successful mental health resource organizations, who are succeeding in this rapidly expanding market, will provide resources that help employers have these difficult conversations.
BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN EMPLOYERS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES
Providing more and better access to resources like counseling services through tele-health providers, mental health education materials, meditation and mindfulness resources, and stress management training is not only a service to employees but also an investment in the company. There are so many resources available, it may be overwhelming to start to look for one that fits your organization.
Our advice: Think about creating a culture that encourages employees to experience their work in a meaningful and purposeful way. Consider how you could be reframing your employees’ experience at work to provide more consideration and support that works with their passion and drive. Tap into your workforce to measure how they feel about work, the company culture, and mental health.
You may not get all the answers the first time you ask but keep asking. It’s only through those data points that you can start building a mental health solution that fits your employees.
We’re in the early stages of addressing mental health in the workplace and figuring out the best approach to provisioning mental health services will not happen overnight. The generational shift happening in the workforce should be the main driver for most employers to implement more mental health resources as Millennials now make up the majority of the population. Some employers will answer the demand for mental health resources from Millennials and Gen Z, and others will take much longer to recognize the need.
The positive is that the macro business community is shining a light on the issue. Now it’s just up to all of us to embrace the possibilities.
THE ONLY WAY IS UP
There is an opportunity to improve mental health accessibility and operationalize wellness in the workplace. Today, employers and employees alike are missing the necessary resources and routes of communication to optimize their performance and results. However, there are solutions that can help them get there. Increasingly, there is an awareness that provisioning mental health resources needs to be prioritized. This is a dynamic conversation, and we expect change to happen quickly, which means employers and providers need to maintain focus on this important issue.