Featured on Forbes. Author: Alan Kohll
Mental health can have a serious impact on a business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80% of adults with depression reported at least some difficulty with work, home, or social activities because of their depression symptoms.
Unfortunately, disorders like anxiety and depression often go undetected for months or years. Unlike physical illnesses, mental health issues are more challenging to pinpoint.
Even though mental health can often be a taboo topic, especially in the workplace, it appears that employees want their employer to champion mental health and wellbeing. According to a survey of office workers in July 2018 from Peldon Rose:
- 72% of employees want employers to champion mental health and wellbeing.
- Nearly three-quarters of workers say they want their employers to champion mental health and wellbeing in the workplace – this is rated as more important than equality (48%), sustainability (38%) and diversity (31%).
- This is the case for all generations, who prioritize mental health and wellbeing above all other causes - Gen Z (76%), Millennials (73%), Gen X (75%), Baby Boomer (56%).
After reviewing these findings, I wanted to learn more about how companies could help. So, I recently discussed this topic with Tomas Chamorro Premuzic, ManpowerGroup Chief Talent Scientist.
“One of the best ways to create a culture that supports mental health is to ensure people experience their jobs in a meaningful and purposeful way. This can be achieved by giving employees autonomy and resources. If your team experiences support and independence, and that you trust them to do what they ought to do, they will generally be happier at work, which will reduce the risk of mental health problems,” said Tomas.
“It’s also important that managers do not check out from their employees. People need guidance and direction from a leader so the worst thing you can do is disappear or be unapproachable; in fact, the worst and most stressful type of leaders are absent – leaving their employees without direction or feedback, and showing little concern and consideration for their staff. This harms morale and wellbeing,” according to Tomas.
How Employers Can Get Involved
While tackling mental health can be challenging, employers and HR professionals are in a powerful position to help change attitudes and offer a support system. Here are some tangible ways you can help your employees:
Give employees access to education and resources from national organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Companies can also develop their own initiatives and programs. For example, DuPont started an educational program to encourage employees to reach out to co-workers who appear to be in emotional distress. The company’s ICU campaign (which stands for Identifying, Connecting and Understanding, as well as “I See You”) includes a five-minute video that teaches employees how to ask appropriate questions when someone appears to be struggling.
Offer Training to Managers
Provide opportunities for managers to attend relevant training to support staff living with mental health problems and the wellbeing of all staff. There is a tendency in management to seek a one-size-fit-all solution, but the reality is that there are systematic differences in the way people act, think and feel. Managers need to understand that every employee is different. “Being a good manager is to a great degree being able to decode what makes each of your employees unique and how to manage this uniqueness. It is true that some people are very resilient and will need little support when things are not going well, while others will need your support and caring even during the good times,” said Tomas.
Encourage Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is an essential aspect of a healthy work environment and employers should offer flexible work options. Maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace. Mental health charity Mind explains that flexible hours can provide a better work-life balance, greater control, a chance to avoid traffic, and the opportunity to attend medical appointments – all of which are important for those coping with mental illness. Research shows that 33% of those with longer commutes (over 60 minutes each way) were more likely to suffer from depression. They are 40% more likely to have financial worries and 12% more likely to report issues due to work-related stress.
Develop Mental Health Policies
Without proper mental health policies in place, your company is missing out on a huge opportunity. For example, do you have policies to help prevent discrimination (including bullying and harassment) or prevent stigma around depression in the workplace? If you already have some policies in place, review your current policies and see if they can better support employees. Need a little more inspiration? Check out how Influence & Co. wrote an entirely new mental health policy and openly discussed it with their team.
Treat People Fair
According to Tomas, fairness is treating people like they want and deserve, rather than the same. For example, forcing everyone in your team to work in noisy or loud environments will suit the extraverts but tax the introverts; asking people to spend a great deal of time on creative brainstorming tasks will make your imaginative employees thrive while stressing out your conscientious implementors. Assuming that your employees share your values and preferences will create a climate of low diversity and inclusion, where people who feel different feel excluded and marginalized - all of which puts them at risks of health problems.
Provide Screening Resources
Employers can look out for their employees’ mental health by encouraging participation in free and anonymous online screenings. National Depression Screening Day is an excellent opportunity for employers to begin to address mental health issues in the workplace. Employers can encourage employees to visit HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org and complete the depression screening questionnaire.
Monitor Employee Engagement
Pay attention to engagement surveys (engagement is the opposite of burnout). Most large companies survey employees’ attitudes to see how they experience their work and jobs, but few are aware of just how important engagement is as a preventive factor of poor health issues. “Indeed, engagement is the best single metric of organizational wellbeing managers can extract. When people are engaged, they are enthusiastic, positive, and proud to be a member of the organization. All of these factors forecast positive wellbeing. In contrast, when people are disengaged they are at higher risk of burnout, stress, and alienation, all of which worsen people’s health,” explains Tomas.
Now, more than ever, it’s critical to educate employees about mental health resources to avoid burnout, mental breakdowns, and reduce suicide risk. Companies who invest in the mental health of their people and foster open dialogue about mental health issues will also be creating a positive workplace and a place where people want to work. It’s a win-win.