Much has been written lately about changing workplace views on employee mental health. Terms like “The Great Resignation,” “burnout,” and “quiet quitting” have made headlines throughout the past two years, especially in the wake of an unprecedented pandemic and its subsequent worldwide impact, including widespread shutdowns.
Employers are more aware of their employee’s mental health and are taking care to recognize better signs of burnout, exhaustion, and the effects of toxic work environments. But as we enter a new post-pandemic work era, we must ask ourselves: how can employers keep a healthy and effective focus on mental health?
Recognizing the Need for Attention to Mental Health
It’s often said within circles of mental health providers that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem. For decades, employers failed to address the issue of employee mental health, resulting in some dire consequences. From high turnover all the way to complete breakdowns and workplace violence, the adverse effects of ignoring the elephant in the room have proven considerable.
Each year, 1 in 5 adults experiences some form of mental illness. Statistics such as these make mental illness an essential consideration for nearly every workplace, regardless of size.
Focusing on mental health in the workplace can not only contribute to the retention of employees and better workplace culture, but it can have a positive impact on a business’s bottom line. When employees face mental health issues, they will either miss work or their productivity will wane, affecting their job performance and overall quality of life.
To improve productivity and employee job satisfaction, employers should put thoughtful effort and planning into providing mental health resources for their employees.
For instance, a 2019 report showed that employees want more training and easily accessible information on what to do or where to turn when a mental health issue arises. When workplaces strive to have more open, transparent conversations around mental health, the information becomes easier to come by. Stigmas surrounding mental illness still exist that may keep employees suffering silently. Workplaces must diligently address this stigma and put processes into place to make asking for and receiving help easy and judgment-free.
Employers should make mental health training available — perhaps even mandatory — within their organizations. Leaders should be trained to recognize the signs of a mental health issue and what to do to address it. Risk evaluations can quantify the cost of mental health issues on a company’s bottom line. While this may sound like one is dehumanizing the problem, it remains an important part of the workplace mental health conversation. When those in the C-suite recognize that ignoring mental health in the workplace could affect their bottom line, they may be more apt to notice, listen, and take action.
Regular conversations, surveys, and “check-ins” should take place with employees to gauge their feelings regarding their work, the workplace culture and environment, and how they feel overall. Furthermore, mental health coverage should be a core component of employers’ health plans. Too many people go without professional help when a mental health crisis strikes because of affordability. Health Savings Accounts can help bridge the gap with health plans that may not offer robust mental health coverage.
Regularly remind employees of the various resources available via meetings, newsletters, and posted information. The resources and focus on mental health should be a conversation that begins during the interview and hiring process and continues through the lifespan of the employee-employer relationship.
Mental health professionals, such as Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists who are trained in systems thinking and organizational dynamics, have an integral role in this new era of work. Many have already published papers and started conversations about the importance of recognizing and acting on mental illness issues in the workplace. Some have stepped up to act as consultants to businesses interested in instituting plans and processes to address, discuss, and tackle mental health issues within their businesses.
The input of mental health professionals can help businesses make the necessary pivots towards becoming workplaces that offer support and healthy work culture. Many companies that have been open for decades may be either hesitant to change or unaware of what the next steps toward change should be. Mental health professionals are available to assist in walking them through this shift in workplace culture.
Societal perceptions surrounding mental health are changing rapidly. Long-held stigmas are being washed away in favor of understanding, empathy, and support in all areas of people’s lives. Addressing the need for mental health resources in the workplace is a part of this societal shift that improves work for the masses and retention and productivity as a whole.