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The Humanity Group | 3 Effective Strategies to Improve Employee Mental Health
In 2024, workplace mental health will continue to require attention and active prioritization by workplace leaders.
workplace, mental health, well-being, employee, employer
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Mar 06 2024

3 Effective Strategies to Improve Employee Mental Health

What Is Employee Mental Health?

Our individual psychological, emotional, and social well-being determines our ability to contribute and function as a healthy member of society. It’s no surprise then that poor mental health can contribute to a host of negative issues at home and work. While mental health challenges can include a diverse set of issues from grief and stress to burnout — diagnosable issues like depression have risen at alarming rates in the US, with double-digit increases post-COVID-19.  According to the CDC, nearly 20% of working Americans have reported having mental health issues and over 70% have reported having persistent feelings of stress and anxiety. These persistent mental health issues have also contributed to sharp rises in drug and alcohol abuse in the US.

These increases should be of particular concern to businesses. Numerous health agencies have documented a direct correlation between psychiatric disturbances and poor job performance. Most notably, mental illness can impact a worker’s ability to:

  • Handle time-sensitive pressures and multiple tasks
  • Concentrate or remember instructions
  • Maintain consistent energy throughout the day
  • Cooperate with coworkers or leadership staff
  • Positively interpret or handle negative feedback
  • Manage distractions or workplace stimuli

Over 40% of American workers say their jobs negatively contribute to their mental health and working women under 30 seem to bear the brunt of distress. Although mental health issues are increasingly becoming a part of workplace performance and safety, it’s still not a widely discussed topic in all organizations. That’s because, despite the wealth of information available on mental health, employees are not always willing to admit they are experiencing challenges. Many employees feel their concerns won’t be taken seriously or fear punitive action from their bosses.

According to the National Institute of Health, an employee’s willingness to share their mental health struggles with their managers was impacted by a variety of factors including gender and awareness of employee healthcare options. While these issues may seem employee-centric, the high cost of mental health challenges in workers are borne by employers. 

The High Cost of Mental Illness

The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion (US) each year predominantly from reduced productivity.  Employers experiencing high turnover rates, frequent call-outs, or lagging productivity should pay attention. These are key indicators that employees could be dealing with unspoken mental health challenges. 

In addition to the economic risk associated with poor mental health, many employers are forced to come to terms with the rising concerns of workplace violence. Workplace violence is defined as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior” occurring to individuals at their place of work or in any location.”  Security professionals around the world conclude that one of the predominant issues behind the threat of workplace violence is someone experiencing mental health issues.

How Can Employers Support Mental Health in the Workplace?

CBS MoneyWatch reported ”difficult managers and a cutthroat work culture can take a steep toll on employees’ mental and physical health. Job factors such as low wages, discrimination, harassment, overwork, long commutes, and other factors can lead to chronic physical health conditions like heart disease and cancer as well as depression and anxiety, according to [one] study.”

Since over 60% of US Americans are in the workforce, it makes sense that employers can make significant contributions to the health and well-being of their workers. And, given the high rates of mental illness and their associated costs, creating effective policies and a positive corporate culture that addresses these issues, should be of primary importance to executives and human resource officers.

Prioritizing a corporate culture that supports the mental health of employees doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Here are some key steps every employer should take to improve mental health conditions in their workplace:

  1. Create A Safe Environment.  There are many top-down policies executives can implement that directly affect an organization’s culture. Leaders should also understand that mental health doesn’t affect everyone equally. According to the Harvard Business Review, “people from marginalized identity groups faced disproportionate challenges around mental health and work… women, Gen Z, Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ respondents all tended to have worse mental health outcomes than their counterparts.”

    Employers must be more mind of populations in the workplace by embracing zero-tolerance policies around bullying and harassment and insist on an environment that treats all employees with dignity and respect. Policies are most effective when organizational leaders consistently act against behaviors that violate those procedures. It should be every leader’s priority to responsibly shape the culture of their organization so that their employees can show up to do their best work.

  2. Encourage Positive Communication. Every executive should embrace an environment that encourages communication, removes the taboos around discussing mental health impairments, and provides a clear process for reporting concerns. But affirmative communication doesn’t have to stop at mental health.

    Keeping an open-door policy that encourages all employees to speak up regarding any areas of concern in addition to providing frequent updates on organizational changes and fluctuations in business goals can help to alleviate workplace stress and anxiety. It should be the focus of every leader to do what they can to encourage open discussion.

  3. Offer Training on Mental Health Awareness.  Training can be an early intervention tool to help employees be proactive in seeking medical help.  THG offers quick training that employees can self-administer to help them identify the causes of chronic stressors and utilize a variety of coping techniques to help them manage depression, anxiety, and burnout. 

    Part of the training includes a section to assist individuals in facilitating discussions around their mental and emotional health needs. Additionally, workplace violence training can empower leaders with practical strategies for de-escalation.   Given the current state of mental health in the workplace, any investment by employers to make positive changes to improve the mental and emotional well-being of their workers will only help to improve their bottom line.1
  1. The Job Accommodation Network (www.askjan.org).  https://askjan.org/publications/index.cfm;
    2. Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation publications and experts; the following scholarly publications: Workplace Accommodations for People with Mental Illness: A Scoping Review by McDowell and Fossey, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 197–206, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10926-014-9512-y and Work accommodations and natural supports for maintaining employment by Corbière and his colleagues. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 37(2), 90-98
    3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Spending & Use Accounts, 1986-2014. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2016. HHS publication SMA-16-4975.
    4. National Institute of Mental Health. Mental illness website. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtmlexternal icon. Accessed March 29, 2018.
    5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data table for Figure 16. Health care visits in the past 12 months among children aged 2-17 and adults aged 18 and over, by age and provider type: United States, 1997, 2006, and 2015. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2016/fig16.pdf pdf icon[PDF – 898 KB]. Accessed July 3, 2018.
    6. American Psychological Association. Stress in America: Coping with Change, Part 1. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2017.
    7. Merikangas KR, Ames M, Cui L, Ustun TB, Von Korff M, Kessler RC. The impact of comorbidity of mental and physical conditions on role disability in the US adult household population. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(10):1180–1188.
    8. Scott KM, Lim C, Al-Hamzawi A, et al. Association of mental disorders with subsequent chronic physical conditions: work mental health surveys from 17 countries. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(2):150–158.
    9. https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/promotion-prevention/mental-health-in-the-workplace
    10. https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/navigating-the-mental-health-crisis-in-the-post-covid-19-workplace
    11. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/poor-worker-mental-health-costs-economy-48-billion-annually/ ↩︎
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