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Whether it’s a result of pandemic-related stress, on-the-job pressure, or personal challenges we all face every day, more employees are struggling with mental health conditions than ever before. A new survey found that employers across industries are grappling with increased absenteeism and seeing a spike in requests for accommodations related to mental health since the pandemic started.
While we can’t blame the rise of mental health issues and challenges at work on the pandemic alone, there’s no doubt that the disruptions and trauma we’ve experienced in the last few years are contributing factors. And, for better or worse, all of this has created an opportunity for employers to openly discuss and destigmatize mental health in the workplace.
Bringing Mental Health Out into the Open
Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness — and most are employed. So, it should come as no surprise that in any month, about 18% of people in the workforce are experiencing a mental health challenge. And when employees struggle with mental health issues, it also significantly affects their productivity and their employers’ bottom line. In fact, recent reports found untreated mental illnesses cost the U.S. 105 billion dollars each year.
The good news is that we are seeing a shift in awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions in the workplace. Nearly 60% of employers are starting to have conversations about mental health and proactively addressing issues like burnout, fatigue, and workplace stress. However, there is still a negative stigma around mental health conditions at work and a lack of trust in employers to provide confidential resources and help for employees. As leaders in our industries, it’s up to us to reduce the stigmas surrounding mental health — not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because it’s good for business.
Every organization — whether it’s in the private or public sector — has a unique culture and operating structure. And because of this, there is no standard or cookie-cutter approach to addressing mental health in the workforce. Every organization — whether it’s in the private or public sector — has a unique culture and operating structure. And because of this, there is no standard approach to addressing mental health in the workforce.
For example, in fields that require security clearance, workers might be concerned about career restrictions, or damage to their reputation among peers, that could arise from using mental health resources. Mental health programs in these fields would need to emphasize privacy, whereas in others the emphasis might be on convenience or range of benefits. In any case, the highest priority is to combat stigma against seeking help, which is dangerous and not sustainable for those on the job every day.
Destigmatizing Mental Health Conditions
It’s crucial to create an open atmosphere of trust, loyalty, and complete confidentiality. When employees feel comfortable discussing mental health without fear of retaliation, their performance at work will improve, and you can create a culture of acceptance that trickles from the top all the way down.
Creating a Culture of Acceptance
After years of sweeping mental health challenges under the rug at work, today’s leaders are taking a different approach. They are stepping up to offer support to employees during times of struggle. But mental health initiatives are still hitting roadblocks when it comes to reaching those who need resources the most. That’s because only 25% of managers in the U.S. have been trained on how to handle mental health struggles in the workplace — and this must change. It’s up to management to get the word out and speak appropriately about mental health challenges and conditions at work. Most importantly, middle managers should receive training on the issue. They are the opinion leaders at a company, and if they have biases, those will get filtered down to employees.
Recently, I attended a leadership retreat where there was a panel on suicide awareness and prevention. The host organization's top leaders shared their own experiences with mental health issues and explained the impact those had made on them. This was a powerful session because it painted leaders in a more human light and revealed how they overcame — or in many cases, learned to live with — challenging circumstances. Having leaders and other employees share their struggles with mental health is a proactive way to set the tone for a more open, empathetic organization and hopefully help others realize they are not alone.
Some other ways to create a culture of mental health acceptance include:
- Scheduling regular check-ins with employees to discuss how they are doing.
- Encouraging mental health days — and taking them yourself.
- Being aware of mental health resources available to employees.
- Communicating appropriately about mental health — words matter!
Enhancing Workplace Culture for Good
Some benefits programs offer free mental health and wellness resources to employees who participate in group health plans. While these programs are well-intentioned, many of them are not robust or comprehensive enough to make an impact. That’s why many employers seek out professionals to help them go beyond traditional support and offer more effective well-being solutions designed to increase engagement through multiple channels of access and levels of support.
By partnering with a company like Espyr — one that specializes in solutions to support employee and organizational wellbeing — you can provide a more progressive, proactive, and customized approach for your employees. Espyr's wide variety of forward-thinking strategies and resources can help relieve the burdens on individuals and companies that come from unaddressed mental health challenges, making room for lasting personal and professional growth.
If seeking an outside partner is an option for your organization, I highly recommend it. Having experts develop a robust program that meets your needs and provides ongoing training to managers is the most productive path forward and shows your employees you care. With more and more workers in need of help to perform at their best, it’s up to us to address mental health issues head-on and create a comfortable, safe environment for all our employees.
Norman Winegar is the chief clinical officer at Espyr. With a background in managed behavioral healthcare, disease management, social services, crisis intervention, case management, and strategic planning, Winegar is a licensed mental health professional and a nationally certified addictions counselor.
Tag(s): Mental Health