In a given year, approximately 1 in 4 adults in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Unfortunately, according to the report Mental Health Has Bigger Challenges Than Stigma, 45% of people with a clinically significant mental illness fail to seek help. But, as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our collective mental health has deteriorated to the point that we’re not facing a crisis.

As a result, this can have serious repercussions when not addressed. By neglecting your mental and emotional needs, you’ll suffer from a decreased quality of life. What’s more, you can expect diminished physical health and strains on your relationships. And, your professional life will also be impacted.

Why you need to protect your team’s mental health.

Suffice to say, as a leader, it’s time to make your team’s mental health a priority. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it also creates a more supportive environment. As a result, this will;

  • Boost productivity. Studies show that nearly 86% of employees with depression report improved work performance. Researchers have found that treating depression can reduce presenteeism and absenteeism by between 40 to 60 percent in some studies.
  • Sparks creativity. It’s not surprising that anxiety and stress hamper creativity. What’s more, the effort involved in doing creative work increases for people with mental health challenges. On the other hand, when people report struggling “not at all” with mental health, creative work involves 23% less effort.
  • Improves retention. In a 2019 survey, half of millennials, (defined here as 23-38 years old) and 75% of Gen-Zers (18-22 years old) left a job, both voluntarily and involuntarily, partly because of mental health issues.
  • Decreases health care and disability costs. Those with serious mental illness have twice as many heart and metabolic diseases as those without.

Globally, depression and anxiety are estimated to cost $1 trillion in lost productivity per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the WHO, treating mental health concerns has a return of $4 in improved health and productivity for every $1 invested.

And, finally, an American Heart Association CEO Roundtable report called “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis” identifies this link between physical health and mental health. In the document, employers are called upon to provide comprehensive programs that address mental illness prevention and treatment. “The cost of doing nothing is higher than investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment,” the report found.

But, how exactly can you protect your team’s mental health? Here are ten suggestions to achieve this goal.

1. Create policies that promote a culture of safety, inclusion, and equality.

The culture of your organization is comprised of its values, expected behaviors, and practices. As a result, this will guide your team in how to view, engage, and follow leaders. Because of this, the National Safety Council has identified six areas that are fundamental to workplace mental health policies:

How your organization interacts with everything from customers, vendors, and employees is established by the policies you develop. It can also improve your team’s mental health, as well as your company’s performance. Make sure, however, that these policies, both written and unwritten, provide a safe, inclusive, and equal environment.

2. Develop EAPs.

Programs that help employees resolve personal issues that could affect their lives are called employee assistance programs, or EAPs. These programs are intended to help employees deal with personal problems, like substance misuse or relationship challenges before they impede their work performance. Employee assistance programs are provided for free by stand-alone vendors or by providers included in comprehensive health insurance plans.

In spite of the fact that EAPs can significantly reduce absenteeism and workplace stress, they are largely untapped. Studies show that less than 10% of companies use EAPs.

If you’re looking for a top EAP program, consider Modern Health, Spring Health, Ginger, Talkspace, or Anthem.

3. Promote the importance of mental health and stress management.

Many employees are unaware that there are resources and benefits are available to them. Often, individuals do not know where to find lists of options, let alone what they are or how they are relevant to what they are going through.

How can you solve this problem? Here’s what the CDC recommends;

  • Deliver mental health self-assessment tools to all team members.
  • Offer free or subsidized depression screenings and follow up with feedback and referrals when necessary.
  • Provide mental health counseling and medications with no or low out-of-pocket costs.
  • Offer lifestyle coaching, counseling, and self-management programs for free or at a reduced cost.
  • All employees should be provided with materials, such as brochures, flyers, and videos, about mental health signs and symptoms and treatment options.
  • Organize seminars or workshops on depression and stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation, to reduce anxiety and stress in the workplace and increase focus and motivation among employees.
  • Allow employees to take part in decisions regarding job stress issues.
  • Managers should receive training on recognizing stress and depression in team members and urging them to seek professional help if needed.

Will this be a lot of work to implement? I would think so.

However, you should know that a survey of employees throughout the nation found that what people want in the workplace is training and access to easy-to-find mental health counseling information. Moreover, the survey finds that employees would prefer an open culture regarding mental health at work.

4. As part of your health care plan — include mental health coverage.

Take the time to get to know the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Why? Well, a mental health condition, including substance use disorder, must be covered in the same way as other medical problems.

With that in mind, don’t buy plans with “phantom” mental health coverage. Instead, discover the number of psychologists and psychiatrists who are in-network with your plan. And, consider, incentives, such as health savings accounts (HSAs, that can offset out-of-pocket expenses.

5. Overcommunicate.

“Our study with Qualtrics and SAP showed that employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the outbreak,” write Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol for HBR.

“Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates,” they suggest. Set clear work hours and expectations. Whenever possible, minimize stress by setting expectations about workload, prioritizing what must be done, and acknowledging what can be put off.

“Make your team aware of available mental health resources and encourage them to use them,” Greenwood and Krol add. “Almost 46% of all workers in our study said that their company had not proactively shared those. Don’t hesitate to share them again if you have already done so”

“And be aware that shame and stigma prevent many employees from using their mental health benefits to seek treatment, so normalize the use of those services.”

6. Embrace positivity.

Does the workplace have the power to energize and fulfill employees so that they are able to perform at their best? Absolutely.

As a result of leading with empathy, hope, trust, and compassion, work becomes a positive experience instead of a stressful one.  A solution such as Workhuman’s Social Recognition® can be a powerful tool to create positivity, purpose, and belonging. According to the science, social recognition in organizations leads to;

  • Aligning people and culture to the mission
  • Reducing voluntary turnover
  • Increasing engagement
  • Increasing employee happiness

Other ways that you can create a more positive work environment include;

  • Make the effort to build meaningful relationships with your team members, either individually or as a group.
  • Show your gratitude and appreciation, such as a handwritten “thank you” note or a team party.
  • Listen to everyone’s ideas and solicit their feedback.
  • Instead of micromanaging, grant your team autonomy.
  • Be spontaneous and have fun from time to time. For example, after a product launch, throw a surprise ice social, impromptu basketball game, or dance party.

7. Support well-being.

There are many components to mental well-being. For mental health support to be effective, many departments need to work together. Again, you can offer clinical depression and mental health screenings or host mental health workshops.

Beyond that, consider the following other ways to support your team’s well-being;

  • Schedules should be as flexible as possible for all employees.
  • Provide users with access to apps that can assist in sleeping and reducing stress.
  • Think about introducing a meditation room, mindfulness training, and/or yoga classes.
  • Encourage employees to take advantage of their vacation time. Some companies limit the number of vacation days employees can carry forward to encourage this.
  • Permit your team members to take mental health days.

Also, if you have people who need to take a leave of absence due to mental health issues provide accommodations and develop a return-to-work process for them. It’s an effective way to help employees feel supported upon their return.

Finally, provide employees with opportunities to build connections among themselves. Examples could be social events, affinity groups, or even virtually through electronic message boards or virtual lunches.

8. Provide mentoring opportunities.

Mentoring can offer an effective method of supporting mental health at work, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Mainly, this is because employee well-being is improved since mentoring encourages human interconnection. It’s particularly relevant today, given the challenges posed by remote and hybrid work environments in terms of added isolation and stress.

Furthermore, workplace engagement is improved through these meaningful relationships. In fact, it’s been found that having a best friend at work not only increases engagement, it also leads to innovation and a more positive work experience. Additionally, mentoring can make team members feel included and fosters a greater sense of purpose.

9. Improve the workplace.

The benefits of natural light, adequate personal space, greenery, and designated quiet spaces in offices are beneficial to employee productivity and satisfaction. You should strive to create a welcoming atmosphere in your office while making sure each space meets the needs of your employees. For instance, co-working can be a great place for some individuals. But others may prefer to work alone from time to time.

In short, stress and anxiety in the workplace often stem from its design. And, eventually, this can lead to employee burnout.

10. Adjust with changes.

There is no guarantee that what works today will work tomorrow. In the same way that circumstances may impact organizational strategy, team-based support is subject to change as well.

In the event of a change in circumstances, strategies and steps to support a team member’s mental health may be less effective. With that in mind, if you want to keep your team mentally healthy, leaders should maintain ongoing communication with them.

Image Credit: Thirdman; Pexels; Thank you!