Employees are taking more accountability for their own mental wellness these days. In turn, expecting they expect more mental health support from their employers.
Mental health used to be discussed in regards to treatment – something that required a one-time solution. Today, it’s understood as something you don’t necessarily visit a hospital for, but rather a need that requires ongoing and consistent nurturing. People are more comfortable talking about their emotional and psychological health and place more responsibility on themselves to pursue holistic care. This mindset has inspired people to search for various avenues of support for their mental well-being – from talking to a professional to leveraging digital tools and seeking communities of support.
There is also a strong correlation between employee mental health and employer productivity. Employers stand to save more than $15,000 a year on each worker who might otherwise go through debilitating distress.
When we consider returns on investment for employers’ mental health programs, we evaluate both absenteeism and presenteeism. Absenteeism is a hard dollar cost that is fairly easily calculated. When employees’ mental health suffers, they get burned out and need time off, and companies incur higher healthcare costs. Presenteeism, on the other hand, is about outcomes: Employees are engaged in their work, not distracted by a personal issue, have higher levels of productivity and contribute to more positive and happier work environments. Presenteeism rewards may be more difficult to calculate as a metric, but the dividends are no doubt substantial.
According to a 2021 Harvard Business Review study, 91% of respondents believed that a company’s culture should support mental health, up from 86% in 2019. And 68% of Millennials (50% in 2019) and 81% of Gen Zers (75% in 2019) have left roles for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 50% of respondents overall (34% in 2019).
For organizations searching for ways to implement or enhance their mental health program offerings, here are a few best practices to consider for optimal success.
Create the culture
How are you treating your people? That’s the first question I ask new clients who are evaluating their benefits programs. It doesn’t matter how great your benefits are if your employees are working so many overtime shifts that their sleep, family life and work-life balance are disrupted.
Work culture can support or sabotage the overall mental health mission. The first step in analyzing employees’ well-being is taking an honest look at the circumstances your work environment creates: Is the current setup promoting happiness or causing avoidable stress?
Understand what’s important to employees
Employees cherish work-life balance more than ever. Employees are now leaving jobs due to a lack of adequate benefits or poor work culture over salary desires. That’s why it’s imperative for employers to think about what they are doing to create more work-life balance and to understand what’s important to their employees.
After considering the overall work culture, organizations should then review if their current benefit offerings accurately reflect how they support employees and if there are opportunities for improvement.
High deductibles do not incentivize employees to use their health benefits. That option might save employers money in the short term, but it will cost them much more in the long run. Adequate paid time off, flexible work arrangements when needed, and maternity and paternity benefits all bolster organizations’ larger goals for mental health prioritization and positive work culture, making employees feel valued and seen.
Build unique plans that represent employees
Just like physical health, mental health isn’t one-size-fits-all. Promoting access to mental health resources and diversifying benefit offerings should be uniquely tailored to an organization’s workforce. Aside from ensuring there are a variety of affordable channels for people to access, mental health programs should take into account the preferences of the people they serve.
For example, a company mostly consisting of young people might see higher levels of engagement through app-based mental health services. While a company that does not address maternal struggles like postpartum depression misses a critical opportunity for useful support to their female population. Tailoring resources to the audience in question can help companies support their teams effectively and optimize ROI.
The power or peril of leadership
Just as workplace culture requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach to succeed, so does workplace mental health. The ways in which leadership communicates about mental health and shows empathy, or lack thereof, are key to destigmatizing mental health, setting the tone for workplace culture and promoting access to benefit offerings.
Many employees feel their organization’s leadership does not have their mental health or well-being in their best interest. In a recent study, only 47% of respondents believed that their company leaders were advocates for mental health at work.
It’s not enough to just create an employee assistance program that collects dust in a binder buried deep in an office shelf. Organizational leadership must be equipped with the knowledge, resources and proper rhetoric to point employees to offerings, tools and helpful information – in addition to promoting benefits and the importance of pursuing a healthy work-life balance.
The recent paradigm shift considering mental health in the workplace and the current economic landscape have changed company cultures and employee expectations. The future of workplace mental health requires employers’ ongoing thoughtful prioritization and dedication to accessibility.