As U.S. unemployment hits record lows and the labor market tightens, employers are doing everything they can to attract, support and retain talent. Some leading companies are taking an important step to keep workers healthier and happier by improving the mental health benefits they offer their employees.
This focus on mental health in the workplace is long overdue.
In the U.S., one in three working age adults currently deals with a mental disorder. Anxiety, one of the most common mental health conditions, impacts 18 percent of American adults, yet many people with anxiety symptoms go for two years or even longer before getting diagnosed, according to research by the American Psychiatric Association.
Mental health conditions have a huge if often unrecognized impact on the workplace, including higher rates of absenteeism/presenteeism, feelings of isolation and discrimination among employees, high disability costs, and, of course, lost productivity. Depression alone generates $24 billion in lost workplace productivity every year. For all mental health conditions the cost rises to $89 billion annually.
One Mind at Work collaborates with many major employers seeking to enhance workplace mental health. Any effective program starts with a culture that promotes open sharing by employees about the emotional and mental health challenges they face; dialogue that can only take place in a safe, supportive environment.
We work to model that environment at One Mind by encouraging employees to communicate freely and honestly about their challenges. I meet with each reporting employee at least once every month in person or by videochat if they work remotely. These meetings allow employees to share their feelings about their work life, including how to make the work experience more comfortable and rewarding.
Beyond creating a receptive culture, employers also need to engage and educate supervising managers so they can understand mental health risk factors among employees. Supervisors are often the first link toward fostering a mentally healthy workplace, so they need to understand and promote the full range of resources and tools their companies provide to treat and care for employees with mental health conditions.
For employers looking to get started, One Mind at Work has teamed up with the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health and Mental Health America to offer a workplace assessment. After taking the assessment, companies are connected with information and resources to help them improve workplace mental health.
Of course, employees have a critical role to play as well. The first step for employees is telling employers about anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue that impacts them. That way, employees and employers can work together to help reduce excessive stress or other environmental risk factors in the workplace that can contribute to mental health disorders.
Both employers and employees need to recognize that it takes a long-term commitment to supporting mental health and wellbeing for workplace programs to be effective. By adopting a proactive prevention approach and offering seamless connections to mental health treatment, services and support, companies can not only create more productive workplaces, but happier, healthier employees as well.
Brandon Staglin is a member of Mental Health for US, a nonpartisan educational initiative focused on elevating mental health and addiction in policy conversations. The initiative is powered by a coalition of more than 65 stakeholder groups from around the country dedicated to uniting the American people to make systemic, long-term change with civic engagement tools and resources. For more information, visit www.mentalhealthforus.net.