Commitment to Employee Mental Health is the New Workplace Requirement

Written by: Team Welligence

June 09, 2022

As the pandemic enters its third year, a new study by Lyra has found that the employee mental health crisis is getting worse. Nearly a third (31 percent) of workers surveyed said their mental health has declined over the past year—up from 24 percent at the end of 2020, according to the study.

Meanwhile organizations are witnessing the negative effects of employee turnover on the bottom line and are realizing that a mindset shift in their HR policies is an imperative for long-term sustainability. In fact, regardless of industry or seniority level, mental health problems are affecting 59% of employees in 2021, up from 48% in 2020, the study found. These issues are leading to lower productivity and an increase in job loss.

Growing awareness of workplace mental health

Most companies now realize the importance of protecting their most precious and fragile asset: their employees and have acknowledged the need for programs that support workforce mental health. The study found that 92% of employee benefits leaders said providing mental health support for their people became a higher priority for their company in 2021, and 93% said they expect it to stay that way over the next three years.

In response to the need for more employee mental health support, a majority of employee benefits leaders (61%) are reevaluating medical coverage and EAP programs to make access to therapy and other treatments easier and more affordable. Still, only 29% of employees agree that these programs fully address their mental health needs.

Before real progress can be made, employers must look for ways to break down the barriers to mental health care, normalize the conversation about mental health challenges, and educate managers and employees to help remove the stigma and reverse unsupportive work cultures.

While more employees are feeling comfortable discussing their mental health (51%) in 2021 than in 2020 (17%),  34% still believe their employer doesn’t care about their mental well-being. The study found that those who feel comfortable discussing their mental health are the same individuals who report that their manager models mentally healthy behaviors.

34% of employees still believe their employer doesn’t care about their mental well-being.

Source: Lyra

The study outlines five recommendations for organizations to strengthen workforce mental health:

  1. Establish workplace structures that support mental health

  2. Listen to your people and put their mental health needs first

  3. Make sure your employees can access quality mental health care

  4. Create an open conversation around mental health

  5. Seek out policies and programs that address the caregiver mental health crisis

As the study found, normalizing the conversation and eliminating stigma is key for organizations committed to improving workforce mental health. Unless employees feel free to discuss the challenges they are facing, they are unlikely to seek the help they need. Removing the stigma of mental health challenges by teaching managers to talk about mental health matters and model mentally healthy behaviors opens the door to establishing workplace structures that support mental health.

The imperative for manager training

In the case of mental health wellness, managers often just don’t know what they don’t know. A lack of understanding and sometimes a lack of management empathy leads to disengagement, lost productivity, and ultimately employee turnover. Education is key to eliminating the stigma and creating a workplace where managers can model healthy practices and support better employee mental health. Mental Health Wellness training for managers helps people leaders to redefine how we view mental health, identifies common challenges people face in the workplace, and provides structures for normalizing the conversation for employees.

Elements of Mental Health Wellness Training, include:

  • Education

  • Skills development

  • De-stigmatizing language

  • Seeing mental health challenge through employee case studies

  • Organizational consulting

  • Mental Health Wellness audit

  • Skills application

Learn more about Mental Health Wellness Training in the Workplace—the importance of management training, mental health wellness education, and skills development for creating an organizational mindset shift.

Psychological safety and employee retention

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and is key to establishing greater employee mental health wellness.

Individual managers can self-evaluate by honestly considering these five signposts of team psychological safety:

  1. Do team members speak up in meetings, or do you feel like you’re the only one talking—you may even experience having to ask people directly for questions or feedback and only get agreement with your point of view.

  2. Do your direct reports feel comfortable stating their opinion—even if it isn’t directly in line with your own? How have you reacted? Did you thank them for the feedback and consider it, or did you make them feel they were doing something wrong by not agreeing with you?

  3. Is there an active exchange of ideas on messaging boards like Slack or Microsoft Teams? Or do people keep their conversations private?

  4. Do your employees freely share their emotional state of mind? If and when they do, are you able to respond in a way that’s empathetic and helpful? Do you have the tools to confidently respond without making the situation worse?

  5. Are you running your team in accordance with company policies for things like workplace choice, holidays, office hours, and no meeting Fridays, or have you set your own policies based on your management needs—or perceived needs?

Without the proper training, many managers will answer “no” to at least one of these questions—a signal that your organization has team members who are in danger of feeling unsafe, undervalued, and disengaged at work. As we move toward greater awareness of the growing mental health crisis in our workplaces and employees continue to demand better treatment, organizations will need to help managers at all levels to address their leadership styles and provide training and education that will help them create safer working environments—or risk more employee turnover.

Discover the correlation between employee retention and psychological safety in change environments and in the presence of other outside factors, such as the ongoing pandemic.

Workplace structures that support mental health wellness

By now, your organization most likely already has a DEI policy or is working to create greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in your company through prescriptive hiring practices. These policies not only encourage, but demand the inclusion of people from a wide range of ages, genders, races, and other demographics in your organization.

Once hired, individual members of your diverse workplace may not be getting the support they need. Given that the incidence of mental health issues is not equally distributed among all employees, the programs and practices in place to support employee mental health may not be effective for every person on every team. Ideally, DEI leaders will seek out and identify programs and training that addresses the uneven incidence in mental health challenges among women, care givers, and other traditionally marginalized groups.

Affecting organizational change will require expanding the employee mental health wellness conversation far beyond employee benefits leaders to include all members of your people and culture team—with programs that directly address your DEI efforts. Discover Why Workplace Mental Wellness Should be Part of Your DEI Playbook.

Listen to your employees

Employee surveys that ask specific questions about the work experience and culture are good ways to begin the conversation at your workplace and will give leadership a clear view of employee sentiment and make your employees feel heard.

Using surveys before and after mental health wellness initiatives will give you a benchmark by which to measure your success, and quarterly employee pulse surveys will help keep your organization on track to identify areas of weakness. Be sure the questions you ask are directly associated with mental health concerns, and be prepared to act with real solutions once you have the results.

Here are 10 sample employee survey questions that will help you measure your employee workplace wellness:

  1. Do you commonly feel exhausted, drained, or sad at the end of the workday?

  2. To what extent does your work contribute to those feelings?

  3. Do you have trouble concentrating as a result of workplace stress?

  4. Do you enjoy communicating with your direct supervisor?

  5. Do you feel your direct supervisor understands your challenges at work?

  6. Do you feel your direct supervisor helps manage your workload?

  7. Can you talk to your direct supervisor about negative feelings when they arise?

  8. If you do talk to your direct supervisor, do you feel supported?

  9. Is your direct supervisor empathetic and caring in their communications?

  10. Does your direct supervisor provide mentorship and coaching to help you grow professionally and personally?

Chances are leaders and company executives will be surprised at the level of burnout, anxiety, and depression they find among their workforce. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming each other for the state of the workforce, take positive action. Your efforts will not only improve the working lives of your employees, it will likely have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Learn more about the importance of open lines of communication and 3 Ways to Improve your Workplace Wellness Intelligence Quotient to encourage better employee mental health and  a healthier workplace.

Make a commitment to employee mental health wellness

Letting employees know that the company is investing in them personally, as well as professionally, has the effect of creating greater job satisfaction, higher workplace sustainability overall, and reduced turnover as a result.

A study by McKinsey identified 9 positive outcomes of offering mental health support for employees:

  • Increase employee satisfaction

  • Increase employee engagement

  • Reduce overall healthcare costs

  • Increase productivity

  • Reduce workplace injuries

  • Reduce number of employees going on disability leave

  • Reduce length of disability leave

  • Reduce prevalence of mental health challenges and substance abuse disorders

  • Improve retention

If your organization is looking to get started on health and wellness initiatives that will help stem the tide of resignations and lost productivity, discover the 5 Keys to Better Mental Wellness in the Workplace

Increase your organizational wellness intelligence

Wellness intelligence is the heightened awareness of mental health challenges and the ability to provide the necessary support to employees, coworkers, and others who are expressing their concerns or displaying signs of a mental health condition. Although mental health has always played a key role in the overall happiness factor for individuals, the effects of the traumas of the last two years are prompting companies to consider mental wellness and awareness as key corporate goals, in some cases eclipsing other, more established goals.

Management training in mental health awareness, ongoing support and tools, and employee training helps establish a much-needed common vocabulary and safe space for talking about mental health challenges and mental health wellness—eliminating the stigma and prejudice now present in a large percentage of work environments.

Once an employer has acknowledged the impact of mental health conditions on overall productivity and employee retention rates, the next step is to enact a proactive plan. Establishing an atmosphere of mental health intelligence by providing the training and tools necessary for all managers and employees to successfully navigate the wellness landscape will help companies begin to build teams of resilient, balanced individuals who feel empowered and nurtured.

Learn what we mean by Wellness Intelligence, how the stigma of mental health challenges has been a barrier to building better workplaces, and how to empower your leaders with greater Wellness Intelligence.

At Welligence, we specialize in mental health training programs for the workplace. Our courses are designed to lead companies to overcome the stigma of mental health concerns by way of education and implementation of workplace wellness best practices. Find out how we can help you normalize the mental health conversation in your workplace.