Op-Ed: Workers Need Mental Health Support

For any business, productivity is closely related to profitability. When productivity declines, regardless of the reason, businesses lose money.

Some studies blame drops in productivity to be responsible for as much as $1.8 trillion in business losses each year. Beyond the financial implications, problems with productivity can also affect workplace morale, employee retention, and an organization’s ability to innovate.

So, how can businesses that are concerned about productivity take proactive steps to keep it optimal? One critical step is addressing employee mental health.

A decline in mental health

Among the many side effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to our culture, a decline in mental health ranks among the most serious. Recent studies reveal that the number of adults struggling with anxiety and depression has increased fourfold since the pandemic began.

The increase in mental health issues has had a dramatic impact on our workspaces, especially in regards to employees’ productivity. Employees dealing with mental health issues struggle with absenteeism, presenteeism, coworker relations, and stress management. The American Psychiatric Association says that employees struggling with depression are 35 percent less productive than those who are not.

Addressing workplace challenges

In response to the general decline in mental health, many workplaces have placed a greater emphasis on providing employees with mental health services. This new approach sees an investment in employee mental health as an investment in the overall success of the business. By providing resources for identifying, understanding, and addressing mental health issues, employers assist their employees in becoming more confident, resilient, and productive.

Programs designed to address employee mental health issues generally fall under a broader employee wellness initiative. The key to the success of these programs is creating a safe space in which employees feel empowered to share their mental health struggles. Admitting that mental health issues exist can be challenging. When employees fear that they will be stigmatized, bullied, or let go because of a mental health issue, they will rarely be honest about it.

Another key to addressing mental health issues in the workplace is educating leaders on ways they can promote and manage wellness programs. Normalizing mental health struggles is something that must be done from the top down. Clear communication from senior leadership that values the programs is essential for encouraging participation.

In addition, establishing effective mental wellbeing programs should include training for managers and team leaders on how to identify and engage with mental health issues. To help with this, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing offers Mental Health First Aid to teach the skills needed to identify, understand, and respond to mental health issues. The resource offers classes online and around the country with the goal of making mental health first aid as available as CPR.

Practices that can improve wellbeing

One of the trends to emerge from the increased priority on mental wellbeing is the inclusion of mental health days as an employee benefit. Whether given as paid or unpaid time off, these days are made available to encourage employees to unplug from their work pressures and pursue activities that can restore mental balance.

Another trend involves hosting mental health seminars for employees to provide understanding and tools related to mental wellbeing. These seminars often involve bringing in mental health professionals to lead discussions and provide guidance on follow up and ongoing efforts. Should employees feel the need for treatment outside of the workplace, professionals can provide information on the best ways to make those connections.

One proactive step that employers can take as they begin to encourage better mental wellbeing is reviewing their insurance plans to see what mental health benefits they offer. In some cases, the mental health services that are provided have limitations that make them difficult to access. Employers should make sure that employees are aware of the benefits and assist them in finding services that are a good fit for their needs.

As employers review the efforts that they are taking to assist their employees with mental health issues, they must keep in mind the overall benefit such efforts bring to the organization. By acknowledging the need, normalizing the struggle, and ensuring resources are available, employers can ensure that their employees are able to enjoy optimal health and, consequently, achieve maximum productivity.

Darren D. Moore, Ph.D., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner of I AM MOORE, LLC, a counseling and consulting practice in Georgia providing individual, couple, and family therapy services across multiple states. Dr. Moore is also a Clinical Professor and Associate Director for Clinical Training and Supervision in the master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Family Institute, Northwestern University. Some of Dr. Moore’s areas of expertise include Workplace and Mental Health, Men’s Health and Mental Health, Couple and Family Relationships, and Mental Health, Fatherhood, and Fatherlessness.

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