6 Ways to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace

Employees stand together and have a discussion

Here's a closer look at what steps employers can take to support mental health in the workplace, from evaluating their benefits to modeling an open and healthy corporate culture.

Mental health in the workplace is a critical topic that employers must consider in 2020 and beyond. Untreated mental health conditions can affect employee quality of life and workplace performance, and studies have shown that access to support and treatment options makes a significant difference.

One study from the World Health Organization found that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion annually in lost productivity. According to the American Psychiatric Association, one in five adults experiences a mental health diagnosis each year, and more than 80% of employees who receive treatment for mental health issues report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.

With that in mind, what can organizations do to ensure they're providing appropriate employer-sponsored support for mental health in the workplace?

Taking Steps Toward Supporting Mental Health

Yasmin Flasterstein co-founded Peer Support Space, a Florida-based grassroots organization that teaches people how to use "the power of lived experience to support, educate and guide one another while providing additional, free options for mental wellness." Flasterstein used her personal and professional experiences in the mental health field to shape the organization.

Peer Support Space offers services for individuals who don't have access to employer-supported resources, and Flasterstein provides organizations with critical guidance regarding the steps they can take to contribute positively to the mental health of their employees. Below are some key takeaways from Flasterstein's work that organizations can leverage to accomplish this goal.

1. View Investing in Mental Health as Investing in Your Business

All organizations must understand that there is a business case for investing in employee mental health and making it a priority. "When I'm talking to businesses, what I really try to highlight is that, by investing in the mental health of your employees, your company is going to make more money," says Flasterstein.

According to the World Health Organization study, every dollar invested in mental health treatment returns $4 in improved health and productivity.

2. Evaluate Your Benefits

One immediate area for evaluation is your standing benefits program. If you currently offer health insurance, for example, does your policy include mental health coverage? There are a number of other areas to consider from a mental health perspective, including PTO policies and Employee Assistance Programs. Investing in policy planning and coverage resources can provide a solid baseline of support so any employees struggling with mental health issues can get the assistance they need.

"My experience in working with mental health is that the smallest thing can really go the furthest, because people don't talk about mental health at all."

- Yasmin Flasterstein, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Peer Support Space

3. Proactively Support Mental Health to Prevent Burnout

Research from Gallup suggests that two-thirds of employees experience burnout. Providing support for mental health in the workplace can help reduce this statistic within your own organization.

"The lack of mental health support for employees leads to loss of productivity. It leads to burnout — and a lot of occupational burnout, where people just aren't as passionate about their jobs as they used to be," says Flasterstein. "They're not getting as much done, and ultimately burnout can also lead to some more severe mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety or even suicide."

4. Create a Culture of Openness About Workplace Pressures

Flasterstein notes that it's important to talk about other stressors that can plague professionals, such as impostor syndrome. "A lot of people, especially in leadership positions, feel like a fraud, and they're just waiting for someone to kind of figure them out," she says. "And the reality is that if we talk about these things, we become better employees."

Peer Support Space uses a role model approach to help individuals struggling with mental health issues connect with others who have experienced similar challenges. Also, encouraging leadership and talent management to speak openly about their own challenges and difficulties in the workplace, even broadly, can help create an open and supportive culture.

5. Encourage Employees to Use Time Off

If you already offer paid time off, it may be time to consider adding mental health days or letting employees know that sick time can be used for more than just "sick" time. If policies demand a doctor's note for an absence, for example, that could create additional challenges for employees who may be fearful of the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

"One of the things we really like doing is giving mental health days. You can extend sick days or exclusively give mental health days. It shows that, as an employer, you're acknowledging mental health and valuing it," says Flasterstein. "And it lets employees know that if they're going through something, it's OK for them to talk about it, because you're an organization that believes in mental health."

6. Take Steps to Support Diverse Employee Groups

As part of your diversity and inclusion initiatives, consider offering extra support to any individuals or groups who might face unique concerns. Taking steps to acknowledge diverse groups and support them in the workplace is important, and business resource groups and employer-sponsored events can help employees who are interested in related topics connect with others and find spaces to discuss important issues regarding mental health.

How to Start

As Flasterstein wisely observes, "My experience in working with mental health is that the smallest thing can really go the furthest, because people don't talk about mental health at all. And even if you just have a weekly meeting, taking a moment to do a personal check-in before starting the meeting lets your employees know, 'Oh, you care about me; you see I'm a person outside of my job and also want to do something.'"

As the new year gets underway, it's important to assess how your organization is investing in mental health in the workplace. If you have robust options in place, it may be time to go deeper. If you're just getting started, simple changes can make significant improvements.

How ADP Supports Employee Mental Health

Employer-sponsored mental health resources make it easier for individuals to get the support they need. At ADP, we take specific steps to ensure our employees have access to a broad range of support options, including mental health coverage through insurance programs. There are numerous additional steps we believe supportive employers can take to foster positive workplace mental health and cultivate stronger engagement, loyalty and performance.

Consider our approach, for example. ADP offers an employer-sponsored emergency stipend, paid time off (PTO) and sick days, on-site medical support and an on-site gym to make it easier for employees to prioritize their physical and mental health. Regardless of the exact policies and programs your organization chooses to implement, taking concrete action to create a supportive environment and a culture of positive mental health should be viewed as a business-critical consideration.

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