In the United States, 1 in 5 adults reports having a mental health disorder. Increasingly, America is shifting its attitude toward mental health problems, reducing the stigma and encouraging those with mental illnesses to seek treatment—but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
When we consider that an estimated 157 million Americans are employed and that working people spend most of their waking hours at their jobs, we understand how uniquely positioned employers are to help solve the problems surrounding mental health.
Businesses can raise awareness, reduce stigma, and implement programs that prioritize mental health in the workplace. In honor of World Mental Health Day, we’ve created this guide to help businesses do just that.
Read on to find out more about supporting mental health in the workplace or jump to the infographic to see how 7 companies are making mental health a priority.
What Causes Mental Health Problems in the Workplace?
Many causes of mental health problems come from outside work, but others are born from unsatisfactory working environments. Some sources of work-related mental health problems include:
- Job insecurity – Uncertainty about one’s future at a company can cause anxiety.
- Unrealistic workloads – Overworked employees are more likely to burn out and feel stressed about their performance.
- Long hours – Employees who work more than 40 hours a week have less rest time to restore their minds and bodies and more exposure to work-related stressors.
- Poor company culture – feeling socially disconnected, intimidated or outcast can lead to anxiety and depression.
- Uncomfortable physical environments – Inadequate natural lighting, quiet spaces, and uncomfortable environments can have negative mental health impacts.
- Bad management – Managers who have unrealistic expectations, psychologically harass or fail to support employees can cause high levels of stress for employees.
- Lack of support – Feeling supported by both managers and peers boosts confidence and reduces stress, especially in scenarios where employees are taking chances.
- Relationships – Unhealthy interpersonal relationships can cause anxiety and depression.
- Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work – Micromanaged employees with few freedoms or opportunities to voice their opinions can suffer from depression.
- Unclear tasks or organizational objectives – Employees who don’t know what’s expected of them can become anxious about their performance.
How Does Employee Mental Health Affect Businesses?
Although depression and anxiety are common problems among workers, the majority are not seeking help. Only 40% of those who report having severe depression receive any treatment. Left untreated, depression and anxiety negatively affect businesses because cognitive performance is reduced and absenteeism increases. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
According to the CDC, poor mental health can negatively impact an employee’s:
- Communication practices
- Performance and productivity
- Ability to function physically
7 Ways to Support Mental Health in the Workplace
Businesses are in a unique position to improve the mental health of their employees and help solve the wider mental health issue. Here are 7 powerful ways to do so.
1. Implement an Employee Assistance Program
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a voluntary benefits program that helps employees address personal and work-related problems that could affect their mental health or work performance. Most EAPs offer screenings, confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services.
Employees can seek help from an EAP whether they’re dealing with work-induced mental health issues, like occupational stress, or trying to navigate difficult mental health concerns in their personal lives. Benefits to employers include increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and healthier employees.
2. Optimize Workloads
Mental Health America’s most recent “Mind the Workplace” study found that over 70% of workers felt their companies had unrealistic workload expectations. Such expectations can lead to stress, increased absenteeism, and mental and behavioral health risks. In fact, in the same study, 63% of respondents reported that frustration at work led them to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking and crying regularly.
Although dialing up workloads to maximum productivity might seem like a great strategy, employers who want to prioritize mental health will need to take a different approach to determining how much employees can handle. Finding the optimal workload that both meets company goals and reduces workplace stress will benefit both employees and businesses in the long run.
3. Create a Stable and Supportive Company Culture
A company’s culture has a great deal to do with the mental health of its employees. Dictatorial or disjointed workplace cultures can leave employees feeling unsupported and uncertain of expectations. A stable culture provides employees with clear goals, rules, and values.
One of the most effective ways to affect company culture is to train supervisors to enforce values and support employees. In Mental Health America’s “Mind the Workplace” study, only 36% of respondents felt their supervisors always or often supported them when things got hard. Employees who have clear-cut goals and feel supported even when things get hard will ultimately be happier, healthier, and more productive.
4. Cultivate Inclusion and Connection
Small businesses often take on the personalities of their founders or c-suites, but assuming that your employees share your preferences could create a climate where people with different personality types feel excluded. Too many meetings and noisy work environments might exhaust introverts while extroverts will feel stifled and uninspired in workplaces with little or no social interaction.
The “Mind the Workplace” survey showed that 63% of workers often work alone because their workplace is unhelpful or hostile. Businesses can avoid having employees who share this sentiment by training managers to recognize when team members are feeling isolated and encouraging collaboration and socialization.
5. Host Seminars or Workshops
Company-wide mental health education can help your team more easily identify mental health issues and alert them to helpful solutions like an EAP. Outside experts can train your staff to recognize mental health problems while equipping them to support one another.
Workshops also let your team know that leaders care about their wellbeing, which can help employees feel supported and reduce the stigma around mental illness.
6. Create a Safe and Productive Atmosphere
Environmental factors such as lighting, exposure to nature, and noise levels can have a big impact on mental wellness at work. Providing your employees safe and comfortable spaces to work in will help improve workplace happiness and mental health.
Ideal office atmospheres offer:
- Well-lit work stations
- Quiet areas
- Areas designated for socialization
- Access to nature
- Protection from intimidation, bullying, and sexual harassment
- Comfortable working temperatures
7. Conduct Anonymous Surveys
Get to know the concerns of your employees—anonymously. It’s possible that many of your team members have the same pain points or mental health concerns. Providing them opportunities to voice these matters without fear of retaliation gives companies insights into what improvements they need to make.
Companies can also use surveys to assess how well managers are supporting their team members. Employees can be afraid to speak up about poor management. Given the chance to provide anonymous feedback, employees can help business leaders identify patterns as well as managers who are abusive or simply need more mental health training.
Contributing so greatly to the mental wellness of employees is a big responsibility. It’s also an opportunity for companies to make a positive difference while improving their businesses.
Small businesses, especially, will benefit from employee mental wellness given that company-wide productivity is so dependent on individual performance. No matter how you look at it, improving HR processes and building mental health solutions into your business is worth it.