Support Employee Mental Health in These 5 Ways

Here are 5 tips for helping your workers improve their mental health.

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Over 80% of Americans report work-related stress

Here's what you need to know:

  • The majority of Americans suffer from some form of work-related stress
  • Managers often need training to spot problems before they become larger issues
  • Removing the stigma around mental health is an important step in helping employees cope with issues

Most Americans spend about a third of their lives at work. Working helps support our mental health being productive, making friends and connections, and being recognized for our efforts promotes a sense of well-being. But professional and personal issues can lead to depression, stress, and anxiety that interfere with mental health. Businesses can help, however, with services and policies that promote mental health on and off the job.

The CDC found that over 70% of Americans report at least 1 symptom of stress headache or feeling anxious or overwhelmed. It happens to all of us. Whether it’s a transient feeling or something that persists, employers can promote mental health and support employees experiencing issues. Businesses that prioritize mental health often reap more than the reward of happy employees. They often see a reduction in absenteeism, reduced healthcare costs, and increased productivity. There are many ways to help staff members care for their mental well-being that are good for the worker and for the business.

Here are 5 ways to support employee mental health.

1. Shop for the best mental health coverage in benefits plans

When shopping for health benefits for your workers, make sure that the plan includes strong and accessible mental health provisions. Most medical plans have some access to mental health services, but delve deeper to assure you’re not getting the bare minimum.

When it comes to mental health, finding the right carrier for your staff can be as important as finding a plan that adequately addresses physical well-being.

When it comes to mental health, finding the right carrier for your staff can be as important as finding a plan that adequately addresses physical well-being. Just as you would investigate whether medical clinics and physicians are available in your area, and not geographically prohibitive, make sure therapists, psychologists and other providers covered under the plan are nearby and/or accessible through telehealth programs.

Look for plans that have licensed professional counselors and therapists. You’ll want to assure they cover a range of disciplines – stress, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are the most common. Carriers that offer family counseling could be a plus for employees who are struggling with work/life balance. Make sure they’re licensed and have the ability to make referrals for long-term counseling and/or specialized care.

2. Make mental wellness a priority 

Workplace safety is always a priority for business. At annual open enrollment, businesses emphasize making the right choice for healthcare coverage, but mental health, either on a daily basis or annually, is often overlooked. Making mental health a priority, and promoting mental wellness as much as physical, can support employees who:

  • Need help
  • May need it in the future
  • Are currently receiving it

Too often workers fear getting the assistance they need. Promoting mental wellness means breaking the silence around the issue, which can remove the stigma of asking for help. If your organization makes mental health a priority, the message trickles down: this is important to us it should be important to you.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can underscore that effort. EAPs can be bundled with medical or disability plans, or purchased separately. They offer professional services for mental health, personal or professional sessions, help with substance abuse, and even grief counseling. Offering and promoting the services of your medical/mental health or EAP programs can boost participation. Remind employees that mental health is a large component of physical wellbeing and ensure them that you offer the services so they can get whatever help they need.

3. Reduce stress in the workplace 

One survey revealed 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress. While it may be impossible to completely remove stress from the workplace, business can help minimize it or offer assistance when it arises.

Watch out for common stress-inducers, like requiring employees to work overtime or extended shifts, as these can create work and home-related stress. Sometimes a coworker calls off at the last minute, and additional shifts may be unavoidable. But when it comes to pre-planned scheduling, work with the employee to make sure they’re comfortable with the hours/shifts before you put the plan in ink. If both sides are comfortable, stress is reduced and productivity is increased.

Workload can be another stressor if workload peaks and valleys regularly, it may be time to look for ways to create consistency and balance. If occasional mountains of work arise, provide assistance to those who are trying to manage it. This could include involving other team members who can perform the actual tasks, or those who can help the employee focus on the big challenge by taking their other, smaller tasks, in hand.

Harassment must be addressed quickly and decisively, particularly when it creates a compliance liability for the business.

Harassment on the job can be another stress-enhancing factor. Whether it rises to the level of job-protected harassment or is as common as exclusion or cliques, employees who feel disrespected are less productive and more prone to suffering stress on the job. Harassment must be addressed quickly and decisively, particularly when it creates a compliance liability for the business.

Creating a respectful and inclusive culture

Creating a culture where everyone is respected and included is critical to minimizing stress on the job and boosting productivity. Coworkers, like families, often have their ups and downs, but business can’t let squabbles go unanswered until relationships are no longer salvageable.

Employees should feel free to discuss their issues, respectfully, with others. After all, a manager can only help if they’re aware of a problem. If the situation becomes too challenging, it might be wise to bring in an outsider. A counselor or therapist can help mediate and find ways for the workers to move past differences and forward to a better working relationship.

4. Train managers to spot problems 

It’s critical for managers to look for signs of stress, anxiety, or burnout in employees. For some managers, this comes naturally. For others training may be necessary to help them learn to spot indications an employee or team might be dealing with challenges. Some of the most common indicators may include increased absenteeism/tardiness; normally productive employees underperforming; noticeable tension among colleagues or team members. When there’s a negative shift in a worker or a team’s dynamic, it may be time to take note and intervene.

While, as with physical issues, managers shouldn’t be asking employees about their mental health, they can offer assistance. Privately making note the employee seems to be experiencing challenges and offering their own ear to listen and help is a good first step. If the employee isn’t comfortable, reminding them there are other resources, through their healthcare or EAP coverage, available can put them on the road to getting assistance and getting back on track.

Managers should also look for ways they can help minimize stress-inducers. Be on the watch for scheduling issues, heavy workloads, or high pressure situations and be ready to listen, help and resolve. Efforts to keep the lines of communication open and to quickly address problems are critical to everyone’s workplace mental health.

5. Promote stress-reducing behaviors 

Just as we’ve learned that taking sick time when you’re ill is critical to both the individual and their coworkers’ health, taking ‘me-time’ to recharge is important to mental health. Burnout is real, problematic, and can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.  Managers should insist on and model taking vacation and personal time off every year. Employees need time to revitalize themselves and their commitment to work. Encourage your employees to take the time they need.

Some companies offer mental health days in addition to personal days off every year. While the sentiment is well-meaning, the term may be ultimately unhelpful for employees who worry about the stigma of taking time off to deal with mental issues. If you want to offer additional time off, just add the days to personal time so employees don’t feel the need to label when they need time to mentally recharge.

Time off or reduced scheduling

During high stress periods during the year, many companies offer additional support in the form of time off or reduced scheduling. For instance, holiday shopping days are a great way to help deal with the stress of the busy season. Some companies reduce hours during the lull between Christmas and New Years (traditionally slow times for many businesses) to help employees connect with family and friends.  Some organizations close their doors for a week or 2 during the summer to help families get vacation time together. Wherever you can, make time available and encourage staffers to take some “me-time.” It’s important for them and you.

Physical wellness

Gym memberships or discounts to wellness providers, like yoga classes, are another way to help reduce stress and promote mental wellness. The Mayo Clinic describes exercise as a great way to manage and relieve stress. Being active can boost feel-good endorphins and distract from daily worries. A bonus: physical wellness is also enhanced.

Prioritizing mental health for your staff members includes providing resources and promoting them. Mental health coverage, gym memberships and EAPs don’t do anyone any good if they’re not used. The more you emphasize mental health is important, by offering services and encouraging workers to access them, the better for them and your business.

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