Mental Health and the Workplace

Mental Health and the Workplace

It would be unusual to find someone who doesn't believe that we don't have medical needs, or that it's not worth it to invest in physical wellness. These are obvious priorities.

But do we all perceive mental health needs in that sense as well?

We have those too. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults in the U.S. experience a mental health condition. There are many who battle with untreated or undertreated mental health issues.

Unfortunately, many employers underestimate the extent of their employees' mental health needs. And this situation is essentially a cycle, perpetuating every time employees feel the need to set aside their mental health needs for the sake of workplace productivity.

Should I Be There?

It is common for individuals to have to choose between mental wellness and their obligation to their job. As reported by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 81% of lost productivity related to mental health is because of 'presenteeism' – being there but not actually there. Many workers find themselves grinding through a day at work when they might be better off taking a personal day to rest and recuperate.

Let's look into the diagnostic criteria for depressive disorder, which is prevalent among 16.2 million adults in the U.S. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions, constant fatigue, and loss of pleasure in doing activities one typically enjoys. Each of these symptoms can hinder engaged, efficient, and enthusiastic productivity. Employees could curtail serious mental health symptoms with one "off day".

What Can Employers Do?

Overall, more elevated moods yield greater levels of productivity. Several employers have already begun implementing mental wellness programming and resilience support for their employees. Many companies also have targeted mental wellness programs that work closely with teams to provide education and advice regarding mental health and the workplace. What does this look like?

Here are some examples of wellness programming:

  • WellMD, Stanford University's wellness programming for their hospital physicians.
  • Unilever's Wellbeing Zones within their corporate offices. They include Zones that promote employees' rest, recovery and sleep: the Connection Bridge for interpersonal connectivity among colleagues; the Movement Zone for yoga; and the Quiet Zone for meditation and sleep.
  • Weekly farmers' markets provided by SAS.
  • Hapster's open channels, which leverages the power of peer encouragement for positive peer recognition.
  • Telemental health options offered by BetterHelp and Ease Central to their employees.
  • Mayo Clinic's comprehensive employee assistance program.
  • HR Company educating their managerial level workers on how to spot and support employees who may show mental health concerns.

At minimum, an employer can introduce some very basic aspects of mental health care like self-care promotion or wellness program workshops. Employers can also educate their workers about understanding, recognizing, and addressing mental health concerns. Acknowledgements of mental health-related movements in the workplace, such as Suicide Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day, are easy and accessible ways of showing employees that mental health issues are widespread.

Creating something as simple as a pro-mental-health workplace environment can help employees feel appreciated, important, and supported. Such feelings can curb many of the negative thoughts and emotions commonly associated with mental illness. Additionally, having open conversations regarding mental health can help employees see that their work environment deems these issues important and prevalent. If they are struggling, they are not alone.

Mental Health is Important for Your Career

It's time we all start prioritizing mental wellness whenever and wherever possible, including the office. Promoting mental healthcare can amplify employee resilience and workplace productivity. As "mental health days" are becoming more openly discussed and accepted, many companies have been doing a better job in supporting employee mental health in recent years. But this is just the beginning.

When employers take proactive steps to support mental health and wellness, it helps scaffold employees toward awareness and action. It also poises them for an opportunity to thrive. And let's not forget: it is the employees' success that allows the organization to succeed.

By Tasfia Jahangir