Success at work is measured in many ways. Hitting productivity goals, achieving financial gains, completing projects on time—these are some of the ways a company knows it’s doing well. Employees are key to reaching these success measures, and the importance of their mental health can’t be ignored in the pursuit of success.
Ensuring employees are mentally well is beneficial for a company and for workers both at work and in all other aspects of their lives.
Why workplace mental health matters
According to the 2021 State of Mental Health In America report, anxiety has reached the highest level since the pandemic began, and the depression rate has tripled.
Depression has become one of America’s most costly illnesses to the tune of over $51 billion in absenteeism and productivity lost. Additionally, it costs over $26 billion in direct treatment costs each year.
Even when the issues that cause depression in an employee are not related to work, their mental health affects their job performance.
Bill Riegner, Vice President of Employee Benefits for USI Insurance Services says, “People diagnosed with depression will miss, on average, 19 days of work per year, as well as 46 days of being at work but unproductive. When a person has depression and is diagnosed with another disease, the costs go exponentially higher.”
When untreated, mental illnesses can cause disability and unemployment rates to rise, resulting in employees who are hired and trained but no longer able to do their jobs. Additional time and money need to be invested into finding, onboarding, and training a new employee.
How employee mental health affects the workplace
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that mental illnesses affect employees in several ways. Of course, they can negatively alter job performance and productivity, but mental illness also affects an employee’s communication with coworkers and their physical capability to function daily.
The CDC’s statistics show that depression interferes with an employee’s ability to complete “physical job tasks about 20% of the time.” It also can cause a 35% reduction in cognitive performance.
Not all employees who suffer from depression seek treatment. Those who report moderate depression get help 57% of the time. Those who report suffering from severe depression are even less likely to seek help. They turn to professionals only 40% of the time.
In fact, the CDC says that employees who have a high risk of depression had “the highest health care costs during the 3 years after an initial health risk assessment.”
Why is there such a discrepancy between how many employees have issues with mental health and how many seek medical or psychiatric help?
Normalizing conversations about mental health
Harvard Health reports that “the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder is such that employees may be reluctant to seek treatment.” They fear it may jeopardize their jobs so they avoid treatment, despite the fact a recognized and properly treated mental health issue can “alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance.”
A shift in attitudes by both employees and employers about mental disorders is needed to address the importance of mental health in the workplace. An understanding that treatment does not always result in a quick fix is also needed so employees feel confident taking the time they need to treat their mental illness.
What employers can do to support mental health
Practice mental health first aid
Employers can offer a program to employees—including management and HR professionals—a program called Mental Health First Aid by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
The courses in the program are designed to help people “notice and support an individual who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use concern or crisis.” Other skills the program gives to employees include communication skills and knowledge of how to connect someone with mental health issues to employee resources.
Equip management to help
Forbes agrees that increasing awareness so people in the workplace can notice when a coworker is in crisis is an important step in supporting mental health and emphasizes that training managers to do this is critical.
Managers should have opportunities to attend training that will give them the skills to support those who have mental illnesses for both the well-being of the person who needs help and the well-being of everyone in the workplace. That training should include the knowledge that not all employees’ mental illnesses can be treated the same way, and managers will need to approach each employee as an individual.
Give employees tools
Most employees keep an important mental health tool in their pocket—a smartphone. There are many mental health apps that employers can provide to those who work for them that support habits such as meditation and breathing exercises as well as provide tips for getting better sleep and increasing focus and creativity.
Help prevent burnout
When an employee has emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by “excessive and prolonged stress,” they are likely to be overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of their job.
Help Guide says the most common signs of work burnout include feeling like there’s little or not control over work, getting no recognition or rewards for good work, job expectations that are unclear or too demanding, being assigned unchallenging work, or an environment that is high-pressure or chaotic. An employer should minimize these situations to help prevent employee burnout.
Make mental health policies clear
Let employees know their mental health is important to the company and that addressing mental illness is encouraged at all levels of employment. Ensure that health plans offered to all employees include adequate mental health coverage, and discuss mental health issues in the workplace. The more the conversations around mental health happen, the less stigma employees will feel surrounding them.
Read this blog next to learn how to create inclusive workplaces, and reimagine—or start—effective ERGs at your organization.