With one in five U.S. adults experiencing mental health disorders in a given year, it’s important for organizations to understand how mental health impacts employees and the steps that can be taken to create a work environment that is supportive of mental health.1 Mental health and mental illnesses aren’t often talked about or addressed in the workplace, in part, because they are more difficult to see or can simply be explained away. Additionally, employees are often reluctant to discuss mental health and illnesses, especially when it could impact their employment, and supervisors may feel underqualified or uncomfortable discussing sensitive subjects. Therefore, mental health in the workplace is often overlooked and can be difficult to address.
However, when the mental health of employees is ignored, there are direct effects on organizations including:
- Decrease in job performance and productivity.
- Decrease in engagement with work.
- Decrease in communication with coworkers.
- Decrease in physical capability and daily functioning.
- Decrease in job satisfaction.
- Increase in turnover and turnover intentions.
These effects make it all the more important for organizations to support employees who are struggling and work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. As nearly three in five employees feel that their employer does not provide a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness, the need for action is clear.2 Due to the difficulty surrounding measuring and addressing mental health in the workplace, organizations may feel unsure about what they can do to help and where to start. The good news is that getting the organization as a whole involved in mental health awareness is easier than you think! This blog will discuss actions both organizations and employees can take to create an organizational culture where mental health is supported.
Actions Organizations Can Take
Not investing in employees’ mental health can be a huge cost to organizations. While money alone should not be the motivator, the global economy loses $1 trillion per year in productivity due to various mental health conditions.3 By proactively addressing mental health issues in the workplace and strategically investing in mental health care for employees, employers can increase productivity and employee retention. These investments could come in the form of things like trainings, a high-quality Employee Assistance Program (EAP), increased insurance offerings, and mental health apps.
Educate Employees and Supervisors:
Raising general awareness about mental health and its organizational impacts will allow an increase in support among employees as well as a decrease in the stigma around mental health. Presenting mental health as an acceptable and important topic of conversation will go a long way in reducing the reluctance employees have around talking about their struggles. Additionally, educating supervisors on how to have conversations around mental is imperative. In Mental Health America’s recent survey, 59% of respondents disagreed that their supervisor provides emotional support to help them manage their stress and 52% of respondents disagreed that they could talk to their supervisor to change stressful things about their work.2 Giving managers tools to have supportive dialogue around mental health and potential stressors with their employees will help those impacted feel more comfortable asking for help and resources without feeling like their jobs are on the line.
Provide Mental Health Resources:
Organizations who do not provide resources and education around mental health are not fostering a safe environment for employees with mental illness. Making mental health self-assessment tools easily accessible for all employees and highlighting assistance options available through insurance are two ways to start promoting resources to employees. Some great examples of free mental health resources include:
- Mental Health America has an array of mental health tests, available here, that give a quick snapshot of your mental health.
- IDONTMIND Journal, available here, regularly posts easily applicable advice around living with mental illness.
Unless employees view their organizational culture to be one that is accepting and supportive of mental health issues, they are going to be reluctant to talk about them. A workplace culture that promotes supervisor support and provides a safe space to have honest discussions will work towards destigmatizing mental health and will encourage employees to get the help they need to be high performers. Things organizations can do to mold their culture include:
- Educate supervisors to feel comfortable discussing mental health and providing guidance.
- Encourage supervisors to reach out to employees regularly to check in.
- Encourage employees to talk to their supervisors about potential stressors and any help they may need to be successful.
- Ask employees for their feedback on supervisory support and overall organizational support.
- Incorporate employee feedback into workplace policies and practices.
- Provide recognition to employees for their work.
- Provide mental health care resources.
- Actively promote mental health care resources during employee orientation.
Actions Employees Can Take
Mental health awareness and support is not just in the hands of the employer, employees need to do their part in making their needs known. There are several things that employees can do to promote a supportive organizational culture and destigmatize mental health.
Employees can make a difference by encouraging their employers to offer mental health awareness education and resources that meet their needs and interests. Employees can also share personal experiences with others to help reduce stigma, when appropriate. Employees who are involved in charity and mental health advocacy outside of the organization can share their knowledge and resources with their coworkers as well.
Get Involved and Be Supportive:
While it is a great step for organizations to offer trainings around mental health awareness, employees need to participate and learn in order to reap the benefits. Employees can also work to be more open-minded about the experiences and feelings of their coworkers and adopt behaviors that promote stress management and mental health.
Every organization will have different needs and as long as employers and employees work together, they can come up with a unique solution that works for them. The provided resources and actions are a great starting point for organizations and employees to have honest conversations about mental health and build a supportive organizational culture. Stay tuned for part two where we interview Theresa Nguyen, the Chief Program Officer and Vice President of Research and Innovation at Mental Health America, about the work she does supporting mental health awareness.
Catherine Neale is a Human Capital Consultant on FMP’s Strategic Human Capital Management team and is an Industrial Organizational Psychologist. Catherine is from upstate New York and enjoys running, rock climbing, and baking.
- HR and Mental Health (https://blog.shrm.org/blog/hr-and-mental-health)
- 2021 Mind the Workplace Report (https://mhanational.org/research-reports/2021-mind-workplace-report)
- Let’s Talk: Mental Health in the Workplace (https://www.theheadhunters.ca/blog/lets-talk-mental-health-workplace/)