Taking care of employees is crucial for attracting and retaining top-tier talent. A progressive company culture, competitive salaries, and traditional benefits will always be a strong foundation for a...
People are a lot more comfortable discussing mental health, these days, and we think that is a good thing. Not just for employees who benefit from improved states of mind, but also for employers who reap the rewards of a more present, engaged workforce.
The truth is, mental health affects us all in some way, whether it’s our own struggle or that of someone we know. In any given year, nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness. That means one out of every five workers you employ could be battling a mood-altering health condition that affects their personal life and, ultimately, their job performance.
Employers have an obligation to provide a safe, healthy work environment—and that is not limited to physical well-being. In this blog post, we’ll gain a better understanding of mental illness, learn how to identify the challenges it can pose in the workplace, and provide strategies for keeping employees healthy, happy, and productive.
Understanding Mental Illness
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mental illness is any health condition that causes changes in emotion, thinking, behavior, or a combination of the three. Mental illness is common and treatable, with most individuals maintaining full functionality in their lives.
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among the most common mental illnesses. Often, mental health issues can be intertwined with other physical health conditions, like heart disease or diabetes.
Mental health issues not only take a toll on employees, but they can be costly to employers as well. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 12 billion working days are lost globally each year to depression and anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion in lost productivity.
Identifying Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace
The challenges mental health present in the workplace are common, yet often overlooked or misinterpreted. Furthermore, employees may be hesitant or unwilling to speak up about their struggles. This can lead to serious consequences for the affected individuals and the organization.
Before you can address these challenges in the workplace, you should be able to identify them. While you may not know exactly what the employee is struggling with, here are some indicators it may be a good time to check in with them or provide additional support:
- Changes in behavior or mood
- Increased absenteeism or tardiness
- Decreased productivity or quality of work
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Withdrawal from social interactions
Strategies for Addressing Mental Health at Work
After identifying mental health challenges on the job, managers and leaders should take compassionate and supportive measures to address them. The following strategies can make things easier.
Start the conversation
If you notice an employee struggling, broach the subject with empathy and without judgement. Let them know you have noticed a change and you are curious about their well-being.
Listen with Intent
When an employee is sharing their struggles, be engaged and listen actively. That means paying attention to what they are saying, asking thoughtful questions, and reiterating what you have heard to show your understanding. Let them know you are there to support them and you are committed to helping.
Poor mental health can make it challenging for employees to perform at their best under certain conditions. Be accommodating with work schedules, deadlines, and assignments where possible to help minimize their stress and anxiety.
Create a Culture of Care
Employees are one of the greatest assets an organization has, so it is important to prioritize their overall well-being. Leaders should actively—and authentically—promote a culture of care in the workplace that emphasizes both physical and mental health, appropriate work-life integration, and healthy habits like good nutrition and proper rest.
Invest in Your Employees’ Mental Health with an Employee Assistance Program
An employee assistance program (EAP) offers confidential support to employees dealing with mental health challenges. This includes assessments, counseling, referrals, and ongoing follow-up services. EAPs also extend short-term counseling support and facilitate access to resources and treatment facilities for employees and their loved ones.
EAPs serve a crucial role in helping businesses tackle elements contributing to a negative work atmosphere, helping them not only mitigate but also prevent such issues. Moreover, EAPs can significantly benefit businesses by:
- Lowering absenteeism
- Reducing workplace accidents
- Decreasing healthcare expenses
- Promoting work-life equilibrium for employees
Employers who prioritize mental health in the workplace not only provide a safe working environment for their employees, but they can also increase retention and productivity. Using these wellness strategies can help you and your leaders offer a comfortable space for approaching mental health topics, offer support and resources, and keep your employees healthy, happy, and engaged.
Roxanne Leal is the Director of Wellness for SWBC Employee Benefits Group. She specializes in developing strategic wellness programs based on high-cost claims, survey data, and aggregate reports.