More people report psychological symptoms; loneliness and isolation have reached epidemics. Many workers now expect their employers to be proactive in supporting mental health. In fact, employers can also benefit from fostering a mentally healthy workforce.
Mental problems are everywhere
Anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses are widespread. The National Institute of Mental Health says that more than one in five adults in the United States lives with some form of mental illness. However, the actual number of people struggling with mental health issues may be much higher. In a Harvard Business Review survey, 76% of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year. That is a noticeable increase from 59% in 2019. The pandemic and various social and economic factors have created new stressors. As a result, many are struggling.
Loneliness has also become a serious problem. According to HHS, the Surgeon General has issued an advisory regarding an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Both increase the risk of anxiety and depression as well as physical health consequences, such as heart disease and stroke.
The impact on work is tangible
Because mental health problems are extremely common, employers should assume that some of their employees are struggling. If these workers don’t get the support they need, they may leave. Harvard Business Review say 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left positions for mental health reasons. In a survey by the American Psychological Association, 81% of workers said how employers support mental health will be an important factor when looking for work in the future.
Mental problems can also affect daily work performance. The CDC states that poor mental health and stress can negatively affect job performance, productivity, employee engagement, communication with coworkers, physical ability, and daily functioning. Mental illness is also associated with a higher degree of disability and unemployment.
How can employers support mental health?
In the Harvard Business Review survey, 91% of respondents said they believe a company’s culture should support mental health.
Supporting mental health can make financial sense. The World Health Organization says around 12 billion working days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety. This costs employers about $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.
What can employers do? Mental health is a complex issue – there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a company’s problems. However, employers can take a number of steps to support mental health.
- Review your health insurance benefits. Most employer-sponsored health plans are subject to mental health parity requirements. According to the American Psychological Association, health plans must cover mental health and substance abuse services comparable to services for medical and surgical issues. You can use a DOL checklist to see if your plan complies with mental health requirements.
- Consider adding additional mental health benefits and perks. Mental health is a good starting point, but – given how many workers struggle with mental health and how damaging mental health issues can be in the workplace – it may make sense to go beyond that with additional mental health benefits. Benefits may include employee support programs, additional telehealth counseling benefits, and subscriptions to apps that help with meditation, mindfulness, good sleep, and other mental health issues.
- Help your employees achieve a work-life balance. Unnecessarily rigid schedules can make it harder for workers to find balance. The American Psychological Association asked workers what type of mental health support they wanted from their employer: 41% said they wanted flexible work hours, 34% wanted a workplace culture that respects time off, 33% wanted the option to work remotely, and 31% wanted have a four day work week.
- Create a positive work environment. Your employees spend a lot of time at work. Building a workplace where people support, encourage and appreciate each other can go a long way to supporting mental health.
- Help your workers fight loneliness. People who work from home can be particularly vulnerable, but even people who work in an office or other place of business can struggle if they don’t have opportunities to socialize. Create opportunities for your employees to connect with each other. Also consider community involvement and volunteer opportunities.
- Listen to your employees. If you want to find out the best way to help employees with their mental health, ask them. Conduct anonymous surveys and use suggestion boxes to elicit their opinions. You can also create focus groups for employees to dive into mental health issues in more detail.
Does your employee benefits package support mental health?
If your employee benefits package doesn’t support mental health, your retention, recruitment and engagement efforts can suffer. BNC can help you put together an employee benefits package. Read more.