October 2019

Employers, Employees, and Mental Health

Employee Wellness Affects More Than You Think

A healthy employee is a productive employee. WHO (the World Health Organization) estimates about 1 trillion dollars are lost globally each year from depressive and anxiety-based illnesses in the workplace.  Employees unhappy at their jobs, whether due to bullying, harassment, career fatigue, or general discontent, are much less likely to be engaged in their work.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that depressed employees perform about 20 percent worse at physical tasks, and 35 percent on cognitive tasks.  A difficult job environment can lead to diminishing physical and mental health, substance abuse, absenteeism, and an overall lack of effort.  Companies which routinely address and support their employees’ mental wellness have less turnover, less costs, and higher productivity.

The Workplace Can Be an Environment for Success

The workplace offers a number of innate advantages: communication and program policies are set and centralized; social interactions and networks are readily available; and employers can issue incentives for appropriate and healthy behaviors.  For larger companies, data collection (e.g. satisfaction surveys) is an invaluable tool used to inform trainings, management techniques, and budget direction of employee health services.  Team-building events, huddles, one-to-one sessions, and so on are all great opportunities for an employer or their Human Resources personnel to touch base.  Clueing into an employee’s mindset and needs can determine how best an employer should offer their support.

Employers Play a Critical Role

Improving employee mental health is a meaningful cost-saving measure in the long-term, but might require some initial investment; employers should consider a number of solutions depending on their budget.  Free clinical screenings would help employees identify the need to seek out a professional psychiatrist or therapist.  In an ideal environment, employees would have insurance with negligible out-of-pocket expenses for medications and psychiatric counseling.  Free or subsidized access to life coaching, lifestyle experts, and self-management programs can help round out an employee’s wellness journey.  As WHO suggests: every dollar put into mental wellness treatment means four dollars in employee health and productivity.

Every employee will have different needs.  Seminars, workshops, and/or classes on mindfulness and stress management teach autonomy to employees in dealing with their issues.  Scheduled moments for meditation and alone time provide respite to employees needing to reconfigure and breathe.  Likewise, encouraging holistic activities such as yoga and tai chi during and outside of work could embolden employees in managing their anxiety (especially during stressful moments).  Employers might even consider providing a dedicated quiet space for employees.  Perhaps most importantly, giving employees the ability to share and collaborate with trusted members of upper-management helps both parties be on the same page.

Employees Should Advocate for Their Needs

All employees should feel safe and confident at work.  To ensure this, employees might better define their relationship with their employers and colleagues by laying down expectations and boundaries – particularly when concerning a medical disorder.  Of course, employees are not obligated to divulge their illnesses, but might consider doing so if comfortable – talking openly helps remove the stigma, and paves the path forward for others.  Employees should take advantage of resources provided for mental wellness whenever possible, and champion for programs they think would benefit themselves and their colleagues. 

Closing

The suggestions above are just a few examples of how to promote a successful work environment; employers should conduct their own research and consult with their Human Resources department to determine their best path.  After all, each workplace is its own living, breathing organism, complete with different needs.  Whether as an employer or employee, investing in mental health today is a guaranteed return for the future.