The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 40 million people in this country have a mental health disorder, many of which often go untreated. The impact of mental health disorders is considerable in the workplace. They can affect employee performance, absenteeism, on-the-job accidents, and even staff turnovers.
There has been a sharp increase in workplace stress and employee burnout recently, which is compounded by the ongoing pandemic. Workplace wellness programs can identify those at risk and offer treatment solutions.
Stigma Around Mental Health
Research indicates there are three kinds of stigma attached to mental illness:
- Public — The general misunderstanding and discriminatory attitudes towards those with mental illness.
- Self — People tend to internalize the shame they feel about their mental health issues.
- Institutional — Employers who limit opportunities to address mental health in the workplace.
A 2019 national poll by the American Psychiatric Association found that mental health stigmas are a major issue in the workplace. Half of the people surveyed said they were uncomfortable talking about their mental health at work. Another third worried about the potentially serious consequences if they did ask for help. Would they lose their job or limit their chance of advancement?
Strategies to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health for Employees
Finding solutions to mental health issues in the workplace benefits the wellbeing of the employees and impacts the company, as well. Depression interferes with cognitive performance about 35 percent of the time, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
A good strategy for employers starts with opening up the lines of communication. When one key person in the organization reaches out and invites others to discuss their mental health, employees will see it as a priority for their own wellbeing. This helps build a sense of psychological safety that strengthens organizational culture.
Employers also want to ensure employees have the resources they need to recognize the signs of stress, anxiety, job burnout, and major depression. They might set up screenings and recognition programs to encourage participation. They might also offer tools like Grokker to help employees manage stress and feel their mind/body best in their everyday life.
Stress management and mental health awareness can be part of the company's training program. It might be included in an annual wellness reminder to all employees and onboarding training packages.
Fighting the Decline in Employee Mental Health
To fight the decline in employee mental health, you must first understand what might be causing it. There are a number of risk factors to consider, such as:
- Poorly defined health and safety policies
- Poor communication with the workforce
- Low employee control in decision-making and work area
- Low employee support, including lack of health and wellbeing programs
- Unclear tasks
- Poor organization
A negative work environment that includes bullying or harassment is a common job stressor, as well. Often this kind of negativity is a direct consequence of these listed risk factors.
Of course, COVID-19 and the pandemic are adding to the stress employees may feel at work. Remote offices make it more difficult to maintain a proper work/life balance, for instance. Employees attempting to work remotely must also deal with additional external sources of stress like distractions, childcare, and worry about their families safely. A 2020 study found some common COVID-related stressors included:
- Worry about personal and family safety from the virus
- Financial loss and job insecurity
- Information overload from the internet and social media
- Confinement and social exclusion
The vaccine rollout does offer hope, but it comes with additional stress as employees worry about getting vaccinated and its impact on their health.
Benefits of Therapy for Employee Mental Health
Employers can provide mental health support to employees by giving them opportunities for therapy. Offering the option provides obvious benefits, such as:
- Improved job performance — Eight-six percent of employees who underwent treatment for depression saw an improvement in their job performance.
- Decrease in health care and disability costs — Cardiovascular and other chronic diseases are twice as high in adults with untreated mental illness.
- Better engagement in the job and with other employees
- Improved overall company communication and culture
Companies can also offer incentives for employees to go through screenings and to undergo therapy when necessary.
Other Ways to Improve Employee Mental Health
Employers will encourage a better work environment when they put focus on employee wellbeing. Providing employees with other benefits will improve mental health organically, as well, like discounts for local services such as yoga classes or art programs. They can sponsor healthy cooking classes or have health-based contests for weight loss to encourage a healthier lifestyle for their employees. They can also offer on-demand digital resources that give employees access to wellbeing resources whenever they need them.
When employers create a system that supports mental therapy in the workplace, everyone benefits. Discover actionable steps you can take to improve the workplace for remote employees in the world of COVID with Taking Care of Remote Employees: The Key To Business Success Beyond the Pandemic.