Most people want to be healthy, happy and do a good job at work. However, there is often a gap between wanting and achieving, impacting the ability to be our best. Closing the gap can be challenging, but the connectivity between physical health, mental health and employee engagement and productivity means there is an opportunity for employers to empower people to act. Recent research indicating employees trust their employers more than any other entity suggests that organizations are well-positioned to support and encourage employee mental health, fueling a healthy, productive workforce and driving business success. Employees and employers benefit, as do families and communities, and the overall economy.
Employees: Taking Care of Mental Health Drives Better Work Performance
Mental health happens wherever a person is, including at work. More than 60% of U.S. adults working full time believe taking care of their mental well-being will have desired outcomes at work, including higher quality output, improved resiliency and improved adaptability, according to a recent Humantel wellness survey.
Employee Desired Outcomes at Work
High quality output:
- Focusing my attention where it is needed most (65%)
- Boosting my brainpower (65%)
- Increasing my productivity (63%)
- Boosting my confidence at work (65%)
- Feeling empowered (60%)
- Tapping an inner strength (57%)
- Adapting to unexpected changes (52%)
- Responding to criticism well (50%)
Knowing the Importance of Mental Health and Taking Action Are Two Different Things
The survey results from Humantel suggest that the majority of people know the benefits of taking care of their mental health, and know steps they can take to do so – but don’t.
In fact, 98% of those surveyed stated that taking care of their mental well-being would be useful to them, but approximately 30% reported a strong association with contempt, fear, confusion and frustration with doing so. This may be due to difficulty obtaining the care they need. The journey from feeling something is not right, to seeking information, care and support options, to actually getting the help is a challenge in itself. Factoring in the many other things occurring in one’s life that limits the time, energy and resources to take action, including work and cultural stigma, can make seeking care even more difficult.
According to an Evernorth Research report on behavioral health care, 15% of people who have mental health issues go undiagnosed and 60% of people with diagnosed mental health conditions do not receive care. This was before the pandemic exacerbated mental health issues. A national study that measured mental health in April 2021 found that 32.8% of U.S. adults reported symptoms of depression, such as losing interest in activities, feeling hopeless, not getting quality sleep, feeling fatigue or lacking energy. This was above the 27.8% who did so in March 2020, and more than three times as high as the pre-pandemic estimate of 8.5%. With so many people experiencing mental health issues, the negative impacts to the U.S. workforce and the economy are likely significant.
Employers Should Take an Active Role in Employee Mental Health
Despite the mutual benefits of mental health support, it’s unclear whether employers and employees are aligned when it comes to what that support looks like. According to Evernorth’s Health Care in Focus report, workers want support that helps them deal with issues like work-life balance, stress and burnout. This goes beyond what many employers are currently doing, which is providing traditional benefits and resources for employees to improve their mental health on their own. Employees desire an organizational culture and workplace environment that values their mental health. While benefits and resources are an important part of that, companies also need to take a broader approach by promoting the importance of maintaining mental well-being across their entire workforce.
The strategy and tactics for building and sustaining a work culture that values mental health can vary by organization. However, there are some basic steps to help employers get started:
- Demonstrate a commitment to mental health at all levels of the organization, starting at the top. Senior executives and managers can lead by example by engaging in health and wellness programs and taking time out from work to destress, encouraging everyone to take care of their well-being.
- Get employees involved. Confidential surveys and assessments, as well as employee focus groups, can help organizations better understand the specific mental health issues their workforce is facing, and determine the right set of benefits and support programs that can serve everyone.
- Make it easy to access mental health support. This is more than offering a wide range of services, including face-to-face counseling, support groups, digital apps, and Employee Assistance Programs. It also means educating workers about this support, providing clear instructions on how to find and use these services. This also involves destigmatizing mental health concerns like stress, isolation, and depression, so people feel more comfortable seeking help for such issues.
- Continuously check progress. Keep the lines of communication open to gather employee feedback on their mental health status, as well as the effectiveness of support programs and initiatives. It is also important to make adjustments to mental health programs when needed.
Employers have a vested interest in the mental health of their employees. It is vital for people to be present, resilient and perform at work – which is not only good for them personally, but also good for business.
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