Mental health in the workplace is something no employer likes to discuss. Afterall, widespread opinion holds that a boss has no business getting involved with employees’ mental health in the first place. Yet, while employees are certainly entitled to privacy about sensitive issues, that doesn’t mean an organization has no responsibility for its employees' psychological welfare.
The reason is clear: An employee's mental state, if poor, and if left unaddressed, will likely manifest in the office and affect this individual's performance. A 2016 report from Willis Towers Watson looked at survey responses from nearly 30,000 employees from 19 different countries. It found that employees who were in poor health, including poor mental health, said they were less engaged.
Specifically, 50 percent of the respondents who described themselves as very healthy described themselves as engaged. But just 24 percent of those with poor health said the same.
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By opening up a discussion about mental health in the workplace, employers can provide the tools employees need, and support their workforce needs without violating their privacy rights -- not to mention, create a happier, healthier and more productive workplace overall.
Here are three ways to address mental health in the workplace:
1. Educate employees about mental health issues.
For the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health -- the most recent year the study was conducted -- 67,901 Americans, ages 12 and older, were interviewed. The results showed that in the previous year, 18.1 percent of adults surveyed said they had suffered from a mental illness. For 4.1 percent of the population, that mental health problem was serious.
Given this prevalence of mental health issues across our nation, chances are that some of your own employees are already dealing with a problem. However, they may not be acknowledging it as a problem, and if they are, may be unsure of how to deal with it. In fact the range of mental health issues that exist is wide, so whether an employee is facing temporary stress or a chronic anxiety disorder, he or she needs to learn the signs and ways to better cope with the problem.
One solution is to bring in a qualified mental health professional to educate employees about the signs and symptoms of common problems. Encourage an open discussion that allows employees to ask questions, so the stigma of mental illness will begin to fade. The team can even do some role-playing exercises to give everybody practice using coping mechanisms or interacting with someone going through a particularly hard time emotionally.
2. Provide resources to better manage mental health problems.
Even if employees suspect they are mentally unwell, they may not know what to do about it or what treatment options are available. And, the resulting feeling that they have nowhere to turn can make the situation worse. A 2015 survey of 3,068 American adults, by the American Psychological Association, found that 46 percent of respondents who said they had no form of emotional support also said they had felt depressed at some point during the previous month.
To help your employees, make sure that everyone knows the benefits your company currently offers, and understands those options. When employees are confused about the treatments covered by their insurance, or another benefit source, it’s unlikely that they’ll ask their employer or HR department about it. So, be proactive by clearly explaining the support that’s available to them.
It’s also a good idea to provide employees information about local support groups that meet to deal with different issues. That way, they will have a resource they can turn to if they experience a particularly stressful time or a painful life event -- like the death of a loved one. And since these community support groups are free to join, cost won't be an issue.
3. Create a stress-free work environment.
An office can be a stressful place. And while some level of stress can push employees to work harder or do better, the work environment should never hurt employees’ health. Unfortunately, a 2016 Staples Business Advantage study of more than 3,100 American and Canadian employees found, 65 percent of employees surveyed said that workplace stress negatively impacted them.
Help improve your own employees’ mental health by consciously trying to make your workplace less stressful. An important part of that is providing employees with more work/life balance. The same Staples Business Advantage survey found that 25 percent of employees surveyed said they always work more than the traditional 40 hour work week. Twenty-eight percent said they felt burned out because they never took breaks during the day.
While it might be nice to see such hard work from employees, it does nothing for their mental health. Encourage employees to take breaks so they can relax for a few minutes and regroup. Also, be very clear what tasks have to be completed by what time and which are more flexible and can wait until tomorrow.
And make the office a fun place to be. One wellness option is inKin, a platform that uses employees’ wearables to track their fitness levels and challenges them to take steps to be healthier. Employees can compete with their co-workers -- or even the boss -- to earn bragging rights and rewards from the company. Not to mention that regular exercise helps relieve stress and improves overall wellness.
In sum, mental health should not be a taboo subject in the office. By creating a conversation about issues employees may face and the options that can help them live a better life, employers will do their part to create a happier workplace.