Employers might think that their employees’ mental well-being is none of their business. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The stress and isolation caused by the pandemic appear to have heightened our desire for work/life integration and exacerbated the pressure, tension, and anxiety we are all feeling.
According to Understood.org, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety alone result in a cost of one trillion dollars per year in lost productivity (“Mental Health in the Workplace,” World Health Organization). A combined World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health study estimated that between 2011 and 2030, the global financial impact of mental disorders will total $16.3 trillion in lost output (Candeias and Arnaud).
Nami.org notes that each year, one in five adults in the U.S. will experience mental illness, yet only one in three who need help will get it (Workplacementalhealth.org). Employees experiencing mental health issues like depression and anxiety are less productive or missing work altogether, even those working from home. This has a ripple effect throughout the organization. That’s why focusing on workplace mental well-being is important to an organization’s bottom line.
Stress Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month
Helping employees improve their mental health is more important now than ever. April marked the start of Stress Awareness Month, and May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1992, Stress Awareness Month raises awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed since 1949 and was started by Mental Health America. This year’s theme of “Back to Basics” was chosen with the goal of providing “foundation knowledge about mental health […] and information about what people can do if their mental health is a cause for concern.”
While a healthy workplace culture can’t prevent stress and mental health problems, employers can provide more resources to help employees build mental strength. Understood.org states that according to the Society for Human Resources Management, many employers are enhancing emotional and mental health benefits. Types of support can range from managing stress to treating invisible disabilities such as anxiety and depression.
According to Understood.org, the potential benefits of supporting employee mental health include:
- Increased productivity: Research shows that nearly 86 percent of employees treated for depression report improved work performance. And in some studies, treatment of depression has been shown to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism (lost productivity that occurs when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness, injury, or other condition) by 40 to 60 percent.
- Increased retention: In a 2019 survey of more than 1,500 employees nationwide, more than a third of the respondents said they had left a job due at least in part to mental health. Of these, 59 percent said mental health was the primary reason.
- Decreased health care and disability costs: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, rates of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness.
“It’s important for managers to be trained to recognize the signs of emotional distress so they can react in a supportive rather than a punitive way,” says Jerome Schultz, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “Some employees need people around them to say, ‘Hey, I see you might be feeling stressed. Maybe now is a good time to try some breathing exercises or go take a walk.'”
Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” and Inc. contributing writer, offers eight simple ways to create a mentally healthier workplace:
- Promote a work/life balance;
- Discuss mental health in the workplace;
- Offer free screening tools;
- Talk about EAP benefits often;
- Make wellness a priority;
- Provide in-service events;
- Support employees’ efforts to get help; and
- Reduce the stigma.
Ways to Support Employee Mental Health
To help you develop some activities or events for May as well as augment your current benefits, Total Wellness Health.com offers 21 Mental Health Awareness Month Activities for the Workplace. Ideas include:
- Host a stress reduction workshop
- Have a well-being or outdoor event day
- Create a different kind of escape room
- Discuss mental health
- Schedule an on-site yoga day or other activity day; offer workplace massages
- Have a paint party
- Cultivate gratitude in the workplace
- Create a coloring area
- Giveaway wellness items
- Promote random acts of kindness
- Hold a community dance party
“Employees are more vulnerable to the negative impact of stress inside and outside of the workplace if they have not built strong positive relationships at work,” says Schultz. “Help make work interesting, social, and fun, so stressed-out employees aren’t working in isolation. Workplace relationships that are positive provide a source of support – that’s hard for anything else to replace.”
There are many resources available to assist companies with understanding how mental health impacts their employees. We’ve provided a few of our findings here. Note that none of the resources shared in this blog are meant to be a substitute for medical diagnosis and treatment.
- American Heart Association’s report – Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis. “The cost of doing nothing is higher than investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment.”
- Mental Health Calculator to estimate the prevalence and associated costs of untreated depression and substance abuse at your workplace.
- Questionnaires: Work Limitations Questionnaire; Brief Job Stress Questionnaire
- Naturalhr’s 10 Best Free Mental Health Resources to Share With Your Employees
- Mental Health America’s Quick Facts and Statistics About Mental Health
- Mental Health America’s Self-Help Tools
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Workplace Health Promotion tools, resources, and success stories
- Center for Workplace Mental Health – COVID-19 & Beyond employer resources
- Stress Awareness Month resources – The American Institute of Stress and Stress Management Society
- Institute for Spirituality and Health’s online Wednesday Weekday Meditations and other support programs
Recognizing and supporting your employees’ mental health with resources and stress-reducing activities is important to their well-being and productivity and should be a strategic priority for your organization.