May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As HR professionals, we often focus on mental illness/conditions rather than acknowledging that mental health, like physical health, is common to all of us. Many factors contribute to our mental health, including work, family, relationships, societal pressures, general health, and family history. Our mental health plays a vital role in how we perceive the world and our environment. For many, work plays a significant role in our mental health equation, which can impact other parts of our lives.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes mental health as being more than just the absence of mental health conditions, defining it as a “state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, to realize their abilities, to learn well and work well, and to contribute to their communities.” Over the last several years, surveys have noted an increase in employees navigating mental health conditions. According to a report by Lyra, an employer-sponsored benefit company, the percentage of employees reporting ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress has doubled since 2021, while the share of employees reporting severe or chronic depression or anxiety thus far in 2023 was 10%. A WHO report estimated that 15% of working-age adults have a mental disorder at any point in time. Lost productivity due to anxiety and depression is estimated to cost the global economy $1 trillion annually.
Employers play a significant role in supporting their employees’ mental health. It is now common for employers to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) services to assist their employees. But what can employers do to ramp up their mental health support efforts for all employees? The same Lyra report mentions several predictions employers consider as they develop plans:
- Employees will expect flexible work schedules and have autonomy over where, when, and how their work is accomplished.
- Complex mental health conditions will lose some of their stigmas.
- With the rise of mental health conditions among children and teens, employers need to offer support for the entire family.
- Employers will need to prepare managers to help employees thrive. Training managers to recognize mental health stressors and providing resources and solutions will be key to creating a supportive work environment.
What steps can employers take to start the process?
- Listen to your employees and create an environment that supports and encourages safe, open dialogue related to mental health.
- Review employees’ access to care. Does your benefits plan cover mental health? If so, how limited is the network? Consider offering mental health coverage as a separate benefit.
- Support family mental health through workplace flexibility where you can. Work from home, flexible scheduling, and compressed workweeks may all contribute to your employees’ ability to cope with mental health conditions in their families.
- Provide your managers with the training and resources needed to be confident in supporting their employees. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA), and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) are just a few organizations that offer resources for employers.
Positive outcomes for employers who have implemented mental health measures have shown increased productivity and production, better maintenance of safe working conditions, and less absenteeism, turnover, and presenteeism (diminished productivity while at work). What are your next steps?