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. As a result, many people will either miss work or will get less done on the job. The latter is known as presenteeism, when people go to work while struggling with physical or mental health issues. This is why focusing on workplace mental health is so important for your bottom line.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. But WHO also found that for every $1 spent on treating common mental health concerns, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.
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.
The potential benefits of supporting employee mental health include:
The connection between physical health and mental health prompted the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable to release a report called “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis.” It urges employers to provide comprehensive programs for the prevention and treatment of mental illness. “The cost of doing nothing is higher than investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment,” the report found.
A nationwide employee survey found that what people want the most in the workplace are trainings and more easily accessible information about where to go or who to ask for mental health support. A more open culture about mental health at work is also important to employees, according to the survey.
With those findings in mind, here are five ways your company can support employee mental health:
1. Understand how mental health impacts your employees.
“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, PhD, 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.’”
Here are some proactive steps you can take to understand and assess your employees’ mental health:
2. Include mental health coverage as part of your health care plan.
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3. Establish an employee assistance program (EAP).
Many companies use an employee assistance program (EAP) to support workplace mental health. Some employees may be reluctant to use this resource due to fear of stigma, shame, and lack of understanding about how these confidential programs work. But there are things your company can do to increase EAP usage.
For instance, New York’s YMCA of Greater Rochester changed their communication strategy about their EAP. Instead of just posting notices in break rooms, they now send out a monthly mental health newsletter.
“The newsletter reminds employees these benefits are available to you. It’s paid for you. It’s there for you. Use it as much as you want,” says Fernán Cepero, YMCA of Greater Rochester’s senior human resources business partner. “Employees know ‘I can call to work out a plan. I can get assistance I need now rather than waiting for a crisis. I can get help before I even have to use my insurance.’”
To encourage employees to use an EAP, your company can:
4. Use communication to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health resources.
5. Promote well-being.
And finally, create opportunities for employees to build connections with each other, such as through social events, affinity groups, and electronic message boards.
“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.”