In the U.S., a mental health crisis costs the economy tens of billions of dollars each year.

Almost 19% of U.S. workers rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor,” according to a Gallup survey of 15,809 respondents, and those workers are four times more likely to miss work because of their mental health. The results of Gallup’s survey estimated that these workers are absent for almost 12 days a year, costing the U.S. economy $46.7 billion in lost productivity.

“It’s a real wake-up call for U.S. employers that the job has a net negative impact on mental health,” Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup National Health and Well-being Index, told Yahoo Finance, adding that the total cost was “bigger” than expected.

The survey also found that 33% of U.S. workers consider their jobs to be “somewhat negative,” while 7% believe the jobs to be “extremely negative.” In addition, individuals were asked to rate the overall quality of their mental health – 13% indicated that it was excellent, 34% said it was very good, and 34% said it was good.

Those individuals collectively missed 2.5 workdays a year due to mental health problems. In addition, 16% rated their mental health fair and 3% poor, resulting in an average of 11.8 missed days annually. Many factors contribute to these absences, including burnout, therapy during working hours, or the need to recharge during a mental health day.

But that’s not all. Policies supporting employees’ mental health will benefit your workplace and bottom line.

What are the benefits of supporting employees’ mental health?

“Addressing employee mental health is cost-effective for the employer and beneficial for the employee,” said Philip G. Levendusky, Ph.D., ABPP, director of the Psychology Department at McLean Hospital and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. “When employees receive effective treatment for mental illness, the result is lower total medical costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and decreased disability costs.”

Furthermore, according to The WHO, money spent on mental health care yields a 4x return on investment. In other words, each dollar spent on mental health treatment is worth $4.

Moreover, studies show that when people focus on their well-being, like women and parents, they are more likely to stay at their jobs by 31% and 13%, respectively. It also takes 23% less effort for people to work creatively when they report struggling “not at all” with mental health.

No doubt supporting employees’ mental health has significant benefits. How do you get started, though? To promote well-being at work, you can follow these ten ways.

1. Learn how mental health affects your employees.

“It’s important for managers to be trained to recognize the signs of emotional distress so they can react in a supportive rather than a punitive way,” says Jerome Schultz, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist and Harvard Medical School lecturer. “Some employees need people around them to say, ‘Hey, I see you might be feeling stressed. Maybe now is a good time to try some breathing exercises or go take a walk.'”

Your employees’ mental health can be assessed and understood by taking the following proactive steps:

  • Make mental health training mandatory to help your company’s leaders become more aware and engaged in their employee’s mental health.
  • Managers should be trained on how to deal with (and spot) emotional distress and substance abuse.
  • To estimate the cost of untreated depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse at your workplace, use mental health calculators.
  • To measure how employees’ health and stress levels affect their productivity, you might consider using questionnaires such as the Work Limitations Questionnaire and the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire.

2. Awareness of mental health in the workplace should be promoted.

Promoting awareness and destigmatizing mental health is another way to create a workplace that supports employee mental health. To achieve this, employees should be provided with resources to educate them about mental health or mental illness. You can also provide information on how employees who may be struggling can get help or make an appointment with a professional.

What’s more, talking openly about mental health and being empathetic encourages employees to ask for help when needed.

The following steps can also be taken to cultivate a work environment that is supportive of mental health:

  • Organizing a regular support group for employees to promote social support.
  • Setting up an anonymous portal for employees to report high stress and seek help from HR or managers.
  • Teaching problem-solving skills, communication skills, and conflict-resolution techniques.
  • You should promote your employee assistance program (EAP) if it exists.

3. Examine health insurance policies with a mental health focus.

It has never been more critical for employees to have benefits that promote their health and well-being. An employee survey conducted by Gallup in February 2022 found that 64% ranked pay and benefits as very important when choosing a new employer.

Additionally, 61% of employees look to their employers for support in balancing work-life balance and improving their personal well-being. And the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey found that 87% of employees said their employer’s actions would positively affect mental health.

Employee mental health can be supported by implementing various policies, resources, and management training. Occupational psychology considers these strategies as a primary intervention strategy to prevent significant stress and mental health conditions. It is essential to have comprehensive health insurance benefits that cover psychological services even when excellent preventive strategies are in place.

You should implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act into your organization’s health insurance benefits. It requires insurers to provide mental health, behavioral health, and substance use disorder coverage comparable to their physical health coverage. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as well as all commercial and union-negotiated insurance plans, are covered by this law.

Does your organization’s insurance coverage already comply with federal standards? If so, consider enhancing your plan to remove perceived and actual barriers. For example, consider a plan offering out-of-network mental health benefits so employees can see clinicians outside their provider’s network.

4. Make managers aware of the signs of emotional distress so that they can respond appropriately.

In the old days, mental health issues at work were treated as if they didn’t exist. However, that approach no longer works.

People need to bring their whole selves to work, and when they do, they thrive. Contrary to this, pretending to be okay reduces job satisfaction by about 32%.

To support employees who are not feeling well, managers can be trained to offer support. You should teach them how to listen without judging them and continue to provide support in the following steps. Among the options are:

  • Granting a mental health holiday.
  • Offering flexible hours.
  • Giving more time for a project.
  • Referring to an EAP
  • Contacting human resources.

5. Build a culture of connection through check-ins.

“Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports regularly is more critical than ever,” write Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol for HBR. In the pre-pandemic period, that was an essential but underutilized resource. Moreover, due to the number of people working from home now, it can be even harder to notice the signs of stress. “In our study with Qualtrics and SAP, nearly 40% of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK — and those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the outbreak.”

“Go beyond a simple ‘How are you?’ and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful,” they suggest. Don’t rush the answer, either. Instead, give your full attention to what you hear, and encourage questions and concerns. “Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.”

“When someone shares that they’re struggling, you won’t always know what to say or do,” add Greenwood and Krol. “What’s most important is to make space to hear how your team members are truly doing and to be compassionate.”

It is also perfectly fine if they do not want to share much information with you. What matters is knowing that they can.

6. Provide flexible scheduling options.

An employee’s mental health can be negatively affected by a lack of work-life balance. As a result of workplace flexibility, employers across the country are helping their employees balance work and personal obligations. Flextime, telecommuting, and unlimited paid time off (PTO) policies are examples of workplace flexibility.

Work-life balance, better health, reduced stress, and job satisfaction are all benefits of flexible schedules. Learn how to schedule your appointments better to save time and effort.

7. Encourage mindfulness practices.

Having anxiety can affect an employee’s ability to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues. HR leaders should encourage employees to perform brief, mindful exercises at work, says Mark Daoust, president, and CEO of Quiet Light Brokerage in Mooresville, NC.

“This practice can help employees start their day with the right mental attitude,” Daoust says. “You can inspire mindfulness practice at work by enforcing mandatory regular staff breaks and introducing a quiet space.”

“In my mindfulness practice, I can manage stress and anxiety, control my attention and make better decisions in the workplace, he adds. “Being mindful helps me listen more carefully to others’ perspectives, especially when they conflict with my own. I can make decisions based on rational thought rather than emotional reactions.”

8. Stress in the workplace should be addressed.

Approximately 80% of Americans find their jobs stressful. The effects of chronic workplace stress can include fatigue, irritability, and health problems for employees. In addition, employers in the United States lose close to $300 billion to workplace stress each year as a result of lost productivity.

Although you can’t eliminate employee job stress entirely, you can teach them how to manage it. Typical job stressors include heavy workloads, intense pressure to perform at high levels, insecurity at work, long working hours, excessive travel, office politics, and conflicts among coworkers.

It is possible to implement a variety of activities to reduce employee stress and improve employee morale and productivity as well.

  • Assess workloads and make sure they are reasonable for employees.
  • Facilitate communication between managers and employees by having regular one on ones.
  • Don’t tolerate bullying, discrimination, or any other similar behavior at work-address negative and illegal actions right away.
  • Celebrate and reward the successes of your employees. The result is a decrease in stress levels and a boost in morale.

9. Regularly encourage employees to take time off.

In addition, to netting short-term results, burning the midnight oil often leads to burnout. To keep your employees mentally engaged, encourage them to rest, recharge, and connect with loved ones on a regular basis. This could come in the form of frequent breaks throughout the day to provide paid time off.

Similarly, encourage your team to have fun.

Fun with coworkers can boost productivity and build trust, whether it’s taking a break to play a game or just chatting informally. Additionally, it reduces stress by changing the way stressors are viewed and creating an emotional reaction that is positive. Aside from reducing stress, laughter triggers relaxation.

10. Take employee feedback into account and evolve according to their needs.

The lack of involvement in workplace decisions contributes to 48 percent of employee stress. Several studies have shown that employees are more likely to remain in their jobs when they feel their voices are heard. Researchers have found that leaders who explicitly use employee feedback to inform their decisions reap the greatest psychological benefits.

It may be a good idea to ask staff for their input on company-wide policy issues, for instance. Gather feedback from diverse employees by using the following:

  • Anonymous surveys
  • Town hall suggestion box
  • Focus groups

Once the results have been gathered, share them transparently, develop a plan to address one or more of the identified issues, and implement it.

One more thing. Feedback from employees isn’t enough. Whenever you make positive policy changes based on employee feedback, you must inform employees about them.

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