Today more than ever, mental health is taking the front position in the conversation about well-being within companies. In a recent poll conducted by KFF, nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID-19. Some of the main causes of stress mentioned were the health and the economic impact of the virus. However, some alarming data regarding mental health in the workplace emerged also before COVID-19, indicating that this is not a new issue.
From a recent survey conducted by Mind Share Partners (“Mental Health at Work” report, 2019), in partnership with SAP and Qualtrics including participants representing the full mental health spectrum (from 100% mentally healthy to chronic and severe impairment):
- Almost 60% of employees have never spoken about their mental health status to anyone at work
- Less than 50% felt that mental health was prioritized at their company, and even fewer viewed their company’s leadership as advocates
- 86% thought that a company’s culture should support mental health (this percentage was even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers, who have higher turnover rates and are the largest demographic in the workforce).
- About half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers quit their job or changed their role in the past for mental health reasons (compared with 34% of respondents overall).
- Overall, only 57% of employees who reported moderate depression and 40% of those who reported severe depression received treatment
In the working environment, there are several risk factors for mental health. Most of these relate to interactions between the organizational and managerial environment, the type of work, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work. For example, some of the causes of poor mental health in the workplace include inadequate health and safety policies, poor management practices and communication, lack of or limited participation in decision-making over one’s area of work, inflexible working hours, and unclear direction and organizational objectives. The resulting stress and poor mental health of the above-mentioned causes can negatively affect the employees’ job performance and productivity, the engagement with one’s work, the ability to communicate with coworkers and their physical capability, and daily functioning.
How Can Companies Do Better?
In order to improve the state of mental health at work, especially for younger demographic groups, companies need to adjust their current strategies:
- Start at the top. Changing culture is a top-down process. It starts with transforming leaders into allies, modeling vulnerability as a strength, and encouraging transparency.
- Invest in training. All employees, especially managers, could benefit from learning how to navigate mental health at work.
- Provide support. Companies should provide and clearly communicate mental health benefits. In many instances, employees are unaware of the mental health resources offered at their organizations.
- Look at other companies. There is no need to invest a lot of time and resources in implementing mental health measures. It’s enough to be aware of what other companies have done.
- Spread knowledge. Share the stories of organizational leaders and employees who have taken action.
Some of the actions that employers have taken in the past to improve mental health in a company, and that can be used as an example, include:
- Availability to all employees of mental health self-assessment tools
- Free clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional.
- Offer health insurance coverage for depression medications and mental health counseling.
- Promote workshops that address issues such as depression and stress management techniques, to help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation.
- Create and maintain dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation activities.
- Allow employees to participate in decisions about issues that affect stress on the job.
Actions to improve mental health in the workplace, don’t necessarily have to be initiated solely by the employer. There are also initiatives that can be taken directly by the employees. For example, they can proactively encourage employers to offer mental health and stress management education and programs. They could also serve as wellness champions and participate in training on topics such as how to manage reports that are dealing with mental health issues. Other important initiatives can include opening themselves by sharing personal experiences with others and responding with empathy to the experiences and feelings of colleagues.
The ones listed above are only some of the actions that can be proactively taken by employers and employees to improve mental health conditions in the workplace. In conclusion, we would encourage to not underestimate the power of a healthy work environment, as the happiness and well being of the employees can result in improvements in productivity and quality of work.