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 of 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.
According to a recent mental health study reported in the Harvard Business Review, 54% of employees believe that mental health is highly prioritized by their employers, up 13% in two years. The trend toward greater attention and prioritization of mental wellness has left a gap in actual support as only 47% of employees believed that their manager was equipped to support them if they had a mental health condition or symptom, according to the same study.
54% of employees believe that mental health is highly prioritized by their employers, up 13% in two years.
Harvard Business Review
The stigma of mental health
Mental health and mental wellness initiatives are quickly becoming part of the DEI and human resources conversations at a majority of companies. An ongoing pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, and increased violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have been catalysts to a growing level of mental health conditions, including burn out, PTSD, anxiety, and other stress disorders. Although awareness is growing and companies are beginning to acknowledge the need for more resources and programs for their employees, the traditional approaches are not meeting the need.
Offering more sick days, instituting no meeting Fridays, and shortening the work week are positive steps toward a healthier workplace and should be encouraged. As employers implement these practices into their workplace culture, they are likely to find that a gap still remains between the desired outcomes—including greater retention and productivity—and the actual results. What these practices fail to provide is the daily support and personalized modifications employees with mental health challenges need to succeed.
To address the growing incidence of mental health challenges, employers must first find ways to remove the stigma of mental health and equip their managers and employees with the vocabulary and tools to address the issues directly.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders. The stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against people with mental health challenges are so great that people will avoid or delay seeking treatment over fears of losing their jobs and livelihood.
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.
More than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help for their disorders.
American Psychiatric Association
Consider this: 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees, according to a study by Interact. The study didn’t focus on mental health issues. The discomfort is any form of communication about work performance, expectations, and daily updates. While most companies say they value soft skills and screen their management applicants for emotional intelligence, most do not have the tools to accurately assess these factors in real work situations.
In addition, managers are often promoted as a result of their individual contributions and productivity, not their people skills. Through no fault of their own, these managers are not equipped to know how to provide the right mix of leadership and support that leads to productivity and a sense of emotional wellbeing among employees.
While most companies say they value soft skills and screen their management applicants for emotional intelligence, most do not have the tools to accurately assess these factors in real work situations.
Due to a lack of training and well-communicated company policy, most managers are not fully aware of the internal and external resources available to employees who may be in crisis. In addition they don’t have the skills in place to talk to employees about their mental wellness, the power to adjust workloads, or the knowledge of who to contact if they have concerns about an individual’s state of mind.
Many of these challenges can be addressed with the right training and creating an atmosphere where employees can receive the support they need to continue to contribute to the company goals in a nurturing and safe work environment that encourages everyone to thrive.
An open line of communication
Asking an employee, “How are you?” is not enough of an opening to get to the truth of how an individual is feeling or coping. “How can I help you?” and “What do you need?” are more open and inclusive types of questions. Regardless of the questions you ask, if your company has not made mental health awareness and wellness a stated policy, the likelihood that an employee will answer truthfully is low.
Before individual managers can be effective people managers, they need support from within the organization. When the heads of People and Culture, Human Resources, and other employee-facing departments are able to communicate their commitment to mental health wellness by proactively putting structures in place to support employees, the dynamic between managers and employees can begin to change. Without the safety net of a company-sponsored program, employees will continue to avoid truthful conversations out of fear.
Regardless of the size of the organization, training all employees in mental health first aid sends a message that the company is taking employee mental wellness seriously and is committed to creating an inclusive and judgment-free work environment.
“The Center for Workplace Mental Health suggests organizations strive to ‘create a culture in which mention of depression, anxiety, post-trauma, and other common illnesses become as mentionable as diabetes, hypertension, and migraines.’ ”
Working in an atmosphere where company values around mental wellness are not just words, but are put into action everyday helps to build employee resilience and creates an atmosphere of mutual trust.
Burnout and the Great Resignation
The Great Resignation in the US is shifting power back to the employee and employers are looking for answers as to why people are leaving. While burnout and a realignment of personal priorities are often cited as causes, it goes deeper than that. In fact, according to a 2021 study by Edelman, 76% of employees have higher expectations from their employer than they did just 3 years ago.
What does that mean for employers? It means that people are expecting their employers to take care of them. Many doubled their efforts at the start of the pandemic and juggled home life that included homeschooling children or caring for elderly family members. Even after what seems like Herculean efforts to help the company survive, and even thrive, employees did not see the types of support and rewards they may have expected.
In fact, 62% of those surveyed by Edelman reported that they have increased their value to their employer by taking on more work and responsibility while nearly half (42%) say their employer is not taking the issue of employee burnout seriously and actively taking steps to prevent it and many are planning to leave their jobs as a result.
These statistics, and others, are a wake up call for employers to put their new found company priorities into practice, or to establish workplace wellness as a short-term and long-term goal. Employees want more control over their work lives and are responding to unhealthy workplaces by leaving. Employers who are waking up to the trend can begin by actively listening to employee concerns and taking visible action to address them.
62% of those surveyed by Edelman reported that they have increased their value to their employer by taking on more work and responsibility while nearly half (42%) say their employer is not taking the issue of employee burnout seriously.
The empowerment of wellness intelligence
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.
Spurred by an ongoing pandemic, the Great Resignation has created an opportunity for companies to reassess their goals and to recognize employees as their greatest asset. With this revelation in mind, looking for more ways to support employees professionally and personally are natural outcomes. Companies can begin to empower employees to seek the help they need to deal with the emotional fallout by not only removing the stigma and prejudice around mental health conditions, but by also actively providing support.
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.