“Mental health” is one of the biggest talking points in the current social climate. People are more aware than ever about the direct connection between how they feel and how they function.
At the same time, many businesses are struggling to assess and calibrate their approach to employee mental health because (1) the topic was unfortunately taboo for decades and (2) they lack a high-level understanding of what mental health really is and means.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- Ways in which employee mental health affects employee work and the workplace
- The importance of starting a dialogue about employee mental health
- How you can use employee benefits education as an opportunity to discuss mental health
- How you can learn more about the most important mental health topics affecting the workforce
How Mental Health Affects the Workplace
Mental health directly affects workers’ ability to physically function. Their energy levels, clarity of thought, and ability to communicate effectively are all tied to their ongoing mental health.
In previous eras, people were told to “suck it up and work through it,” but now we understand that approach is counterproductive and only makes employee mental health struggles worse.
Let’s take a look at three main ways mental health affects employee work on a daily basis:
When people aren’t feeling like their best selves, they can’t do their best work. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other conditions all impact employees’ abilities to work like the superstar talent you hired.
Sometimes, managers or supervisors will infer that the quality of an employee’s work is “slipping,” but the truth of the matter is when great talent suddenly starts underachieving, there can often be a mental health component involved. Those moments should be treated as opportunities to address mental health, connect employees with the support they need, and continue the relationship forward in a positive way.
Morale & Culture
Part of building a great business is creating an environment and culture where everybody feels valued, enfranchised, and bought into a unifying mission. In order to achieve that, you need positive enthusiasm and daily participation from your team members.
Mental health struggles can create significant roadblocks to engaging with company culture. Social anxiety can make part of participating in any community tough, and depression can easily undermine enthusiasm and authentic buy-in. When those issues go unaddressed, the cumulative effect can slowly erode the strength of your culture and the morale of your team overall.
People frequently unfairly compartmentalize physical and mental health, but there are several crucial points of interdependency between them. One of those is the physical safety of your workforce on the whole.
When employees are experiencing or suffering from mental health struggles at work, it inhibits their ability to do their job in the best way possible. In an industrial, manufacturing, or warehouse environment, for example, that translates to increased hazard and safety risks. Even in a traditional office, bottled up, unaddressed mental health issues can lead to confrontations between employees. Ongoing employee relations issues can create an environment where team members don’t feel safe.
Why it’s Crucial to Start a Dialogue About Mental Health
The vast majority of mental health issues (work-related and otherwise) remain unaddressed because of the culture of silence and stigma attached to admitting you need some help. Words like “crazy” and “nuts” have been thrown around homes and offices for decades to describe people who are difficult to work with, and nobody wants to be that.
If you as an employer don’t proactively start a positive dialogue about mental health, your employees will assume that you don’t care about it or don’t want to hear about their mental health needs. A great first step in addressing workplace mental health is breaking the ice and saying the words “your mental health is important to us.”
The second you initiate that dialogue, you become a far more human employer to your workers, building authentic buy-in and increasing engagement by showing them you really care. By taking that first step, you squash the stigma and communicate clearly to your team – both those with self-identified mental health needs and those without – that you’re a holistic, future-facing employer who takes these matters seriously.
In the current environment, that sort of proactive environment will only boost your current employees’ daily satisfaction and productivity, with their positive experience eventually trickling down in ways that you can leverage for improved recruitment.
Using Employee Benefits as a Jumping-Off Point
Starting the conversation about mental health can often be the hardest part, but employee benefits education provides the perfect opportunity to initiate a dialogue in a way that feels natural, supportive, and maximizes access to resources.
When you connect mental health discussions to your traditional healthcare benefits education, you clearly establish that mental healthcare is healthcare. That means you expect employees to protect that health and get what they need, just like you’d expect them to get their arm casted if they broke it. It also means, just like casting a broken arm, there’s absolutely no reason to feel reservations about seeking the necessary care and using employer-provided insurance to get it.
It’s also important to explicitly discuss the connection between mental health, performance, and work-life balance. When you discuss those concepts out loud and make them real, you signal to your workforce that they are equal values of yours. You want and expect your employees to be healthy, do great work, and have a fulfilling life away from the office.
Nobody wants to hear why they need to take care of themselves, but if you use your yearly open enrollment education as an opportunity to start a dialogue about mental health, you’ll actually be opening doors and removing mental barriers to care for your employees. By stressing the importance of mental health, describing how your benefit packages address mental health, and what employee assistance program resources are available in times of mental health struggle, you create a support system that makes benefits more valuable for everyone and goes a long way to strengthen your team on the whole.
Why Aren’t These Already Common Practices?
The two primary reasons employers haven’t been addressing mental health during benefits enrollment are that they either assumed the conversation wasn’t necessary or felt the stigma around mental health was so strong that it would be awkward or uncomfortable to discuss it. Both those assumptions are completely false. Mental health is relevant in every workplace and for every worker and talking about it is empowering, not embarrassing.
Many great organizations with progressive, employee-centric mission statements are only now beginning to appreciate the importance of a mental health dialogue, as decades of business tradition and norms maintained the wall of silence. As mental health awareness spreads throughout the workforce and access to appropriate healthcare continues to improve, the workforce and business space as a whole can only get stronger.
Employee mental health is one of the fastest growing areas of focus of human resources professionals, business leaders, and ground-level supervisors. Remember:
- Employee mental health can affect performance, morale, culture, and safety
- It’s extremely common for employees to experience mental health struggles at some point
- The first step to addressing the issue is to break the silence, name the problem, and talk about it
- Employee benefits education provides the perfect venue to start these discussions in a safe, positive, supportive manner
- In the near future, workforce maximization will depend on addressing and prioritizing employee mental health in powerful ways