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Ending the Stigma: Why Employers Should Care About Mental Health

Whether you run a company employing thousands of workers or manage a local, small business, you (hopefully) want what’s best for your employees and you try to ensure they feel happy, safe, and fulfilled at work.  If you do, that’s great because most people spend a majority of their waking time at work.  The environment at work can have a considerable impact on employees’ mental health and well-being.  As companies look for new and innovative ways to improve the physical health of their employees (i.e. providing employees with standing desks; conducting walking meetings; and holding office cross-fit classes after work), it’s important to include employee mental health in the conversation.

It is no surprise that a negative work environment is bad for employee morale; but what’s worse is that it can cost your company financially.  Decreased productivity, absenteeism, and increased healthcare expenses are merely a few ways mental health problems create financial losses for businesses.  Studies have shown that 42% of employees consider resigning due to stress from work, and 30% of workers feel they are not able to speak openly and honestly with their superiors about being stressed at work.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that in the U.S. depression causes around 200 million lost workdays each year, costing employers between 17 billion and 44 billion dollars.  It’s easy to see happier employees are more productive and cost-effective.

So if having happier employees leads to greater levels of employee productivity, then what is stopping companies from taking action to improve employees’ mental health?  Unfortunately, mental health is still perceived as taboo and a topic to be ignored in the workplace.  The stigma associated with discussing mental health and illness overshadows the incredible financial losses businesses experience as a result of disregarding their employee’s mental health.  According to the World Health Organization, mental health issues affect 1 in 4 people.

Both biological and environment factors contribute to a person’s mental health.  As a business owner, you can’t affect the biological aspects but you can take steps to improve employees’ work environment.  Here are a few suggestions to help make your employees improve their mental health and in return, increase your company’s productivity.

  1. Break the silence and talk to your employees. The best way to combat the stigma associated with mental health is to simply begin the conversation.  Employers should make it clear that employees should not be afraid of repercussions if they speak up about mental health.  It is a good idea for employers to have conversations with employees to find out what their employees think of the workplace culture, how well supported they are by the company, and what sources in the workplace are causing stress or anxiety.  Some ways employers can begin the conversation are by holding a town-hall style meeting to let employees know the company is taking steps towards improving mental health in the office to reduce stress; or by creating a memo with your HR department explaining how employees can go about discussing mental health within the company.  Be sure to provide next steps, including offering a voluntary check-ins for employees to speak with management regarding reasonable accommodations they may need.  By providing a welcoming and supportive space for employees to discuss mental health and the resources available, you can provide employees with stepping stones towards receiving treatment and to improve your workplace.

  2. Train managers on how to discuss mental and physical health issues presented by employees. It can be difficult, and sometimes inappropriate, as a manager or supervisor, to speak with employees about their mental health.  As you try to foster a supportive and positive workplace, you don’t want to make your employees feel uncomfortable or overstep a boundary.  Employers should offer training to supervisors and managers to learn how to identify and address mental health appropriately.

  3. Provide mental health resources to employees. It is easy to forget that mental health looks different in each person and those who smile the most might be silently battling hard times on the inside.  Even though it’s impossible for supervisors to be mental health professionals, you can make your employees aware of the available resources.

  4. Promote healthy work practices and aim to minimize stress. Employees are likely to enjoy a better work experience if management sets realistic goals for them to meet.  Employees should have clarity on their work responsibilities and have a manageable workload.  Supervisors should aim to keep late nights in the office at a minimum and avoid sending emails at 2 a.m. or on the weekends.  Although it might be par for the course to burn the midnight oil, be sure to give your employees a chance to catch their breath and get a couple of good night’s sleep in order to prevent burnout.  Employers should encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance, so employees can feel more peace, comfort and joy both at home in their personal lives, and at work.

  5. Be flexible and reasonable by making accommodations for employees to deal with mental health issues. When an employee is struggling with a physical health issue companies understand that reasonable accommodations are required.  The same should be done with those facing mental health issues.  It can be as easy as allowing the employee to work from home or another remote location or trade shifts.  It should also not be frowned upon for an employee to ask for a mental health day, so long as the employee has days available to take.

Employers know that happy and healthy employees are the backbone of a great organization.  By taking these small steps in the workplace employers will undoubtedly see increased productivity and a better company culture.


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