Originally published November 9, 2020.
The collective events of recent times — such as the pandemic, increased inflation resulting in higher prices for necessities, a rise in housing costs, interest rates up, investments down, and struggles affording childcare and commuting — have highlighted the importance of mental healthcare.
Promoting mental health in the workplace creates a culture of wellness which improves retention as employees feel valued, increases productivity by preventing burnout, and allows employees to flourish personally and professionally.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health problems impact employees in several ways. Struggling with a mental challenge can negatively alter behavior in the workplace, job performance, and productivity, and can affect an employee’s communication with coworkers and their physical ability to function daily.
As an employer, you should recognize the benefits of offering your employees mental health support and how such programs improve your bottom line by reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity.
Take a look at the top ways employers can help their employees take care of their mental health.
1. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, are a type of employee benefit wellness program designed to help individuals resolve a wide range of personal issues impacting their emotional, physical, financial, and mental well-being. The goal of an EAP is to assist and resolve issues that may be affecting the employee's work performance. Enduring stress from burnout, health concerns, caring for children or an elderly family member, substance abuse, or addictions are some of the issues an EAP will address.
Added pressures make it difficult for some individuals to process and express their emotions. By offering an EAP, you make it easier for individuals to access the confidential support they need. Such assistance is also likely to help them stay on track and motivated to work.
Unlike traditional mental health services offered through health insurance, EAPs often provide a more comprehensive range of services such as marriage and family therapists, attorneys, financial advisors, elder and childcare specialists, and more.
2. Review Your Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Coverage
Historically, mental and physical healthcare were covered differently by health insurance companies. In recent years, with a push for mental health parity — equal coverage for mental and physical health — many health insurance companies are now offering psychological support services. These programs may provide the support your employees need to help cope during difficult times.
Check the range of services provided to your employees by your health insurance provider. If mental or behavioral health services are offered, be sure to communicate this to your employees and let them know how to access care.
3. Encourage Breaks
Job burnout is defined as "a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity."
Most people experience job burnout when they fail to strike a balance between professional and personal responsibilities. It's important to encourage your employees to use their Paid Time Off (PTO) hours throughout the year to get some relief from the workplace grind and enjoy time spent on their personal interests. Equally important is encouraging short breaks during the week. Employees should step away from their work periodically, stretch their limbs, and get fresh air if the weather permits. Being consistent with short breaks is an excellent way to avoid long-term job burnout.
4. Set Clear Goals
Another potential cause of job burnout is unclear job expectations. If employees don't have defined goals or a clear understanding of their responsibilities, it's likely to cause stress.
If employees go for too long feeling uncertain about their organization's direction and how they can contribute to success, they're likely to become dissatisfied with work. To avoid this type of burnout, make sure to set clear expectations, communicate changes, and provide constructive feedback.
5. Offer Paid Time Off for Life's Events
Employees need time off for all sorts of life events such as personal health needs, caring for children or elderly parents, school events and teacher visits, moving, home repairs, or going on vacation. Whether you offer paid vacation time, paid sick time, or have a combined Paid Time Off (PTO) benefit, employees need this “income protection” benefit to be robust and flexible. This is an area of the employment relationship where you must be highly competitive. By doing so, you make it clear that the well-being of your employees is a top priority.
6. Be a Great Manager
It’s often heard that employees leave their job more frequently because of dissatisfaction with their manager rather than because of the company. A difference maker for reducing your employees’ level of stress is the manager and how well that manager leads their team.
Are your managers treating each team member with kindness and respect?
Are they informing, coaching, mentoring, and recognizing success?
Do they display the servant-leader style of managing where, instead of brandishing authority, they are laser-focused on empowering, supporting, building confidence, and professionally developing those who report to them?
This type of leadership unlocks potential, creativity, and a sense of purpose, and promotes an opportunity for the employee to have a high level of engagement and when that occurs, stress at work will be less.
As the importance of mental healthcare comes to light, more companies are jumping on board to provide helpful resources to their employees. The stigma surrounding mental healthcare makes it difficult for some individuals to speak up and take action. Proactively communicating with your employees about mental health topics can go a long way to help those who are struggling reach out for help and improve both personally and professionally.