Mental health has become a topic of increasing focus and discussion in media and popular culture, and with good reason. Conditions like anxiety and depression are far more common than we might have believed in the past, with far more impact – in the home, the education system, and the workplace.
The reality is, poor mental health can be caused and aggravated in a workplace environment. Business leaders may a) not realize that their employees aren’t mentally healthy or b) don’t know how to help their employees’ mental health (or both).
The result? A vicious cycle where employees become increasingly stressed and unhealthy…and leaders lose out on productivity and efficiency in their business.
We’ll talk about why mental health is so important, despite the fact that it’s often overlooked; and how to help address mental health and give your employees the resources they need to thrive.
Defining Mental Health
Before diving into mental health in the workplace, let’s define and explain mental health.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) defines mental health as “an important part of overall health and well-being. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
The hallmarks of good mental health include:
- High self-esteem
- The ability to manage emotions
- Healthy relationships
- The desire to set and meet goals
- The ability to cope with stress
- And more…
That being said, being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean you’re not anxious or depressed; it means you’re highly functional and able to cope with challenges.
Poor mental health, can be indicated by a range of symptoms, including:
- Feeling excessively sad
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Pulling away from regular activities or relationships
- Excessive sleeping or eating – or a lack of sleeping or eating
- Extreme mood changes
- Thoughts of self-harm
- And more…
Perhaps the two most common conditions of poor mental health are depression and anxiety, although employees may also suffer from bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADD), or schizophrenia.
Mayo Clinic defines depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” Depression often interferes with a person’s ability to function or engage in normal, day-to-day activities.
Anxiety is defined as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”Any mental health condition can, of course, affect a person’s ability to engage and succeed at work. Click To Tweet
While this is by no means a comprehensive breakdown of mental health, it’s a good start to understanding why mental health is so important – and why it’s critical that you encourage mental health in the workplace.
[Note: If you’re experiencing symptoms of serious mental illness, seek help from a medical professional.]
Why does Mental Health Gets Overlooked in the Workplace
Mental health conditions among professionals are extremely common. According to the National Comorbidity Survey, “18% of those who were employed said they experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month.”
Here’s why mental health gets overlooked in the workplace:
Leaders aren’t educated on mental health.
Leaders and managers in the workplace may not be aware of how important mental health is, or how to gauge it in their workforce.
When high levels of stress are standard in company culture, symptoms of anxiety become the norm. Those in leadership are not usually trained to identify or manage employees with more serious mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia.
Employees are afraid of jeopardizing their jobs.
Employees who are suffering from mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder may be afraid of speaking up for fear of jeopardizing their jobs, especially in a more unstable economic climate.
A company culture that doesn’t acknowledge mental health also doesn’t create a safe space for employees to be transparent – and get the support they need.
The Benefits of Employee Mental Health
Overlooking the mental health of your employees can have serious consequences – resulting in a potentially worsened condition, churn, or employee burnout.
On the flip side, great mental health can contribute to a stronger, more successful business.
Believe it or not, the stress in the workplace can represent a heavy cost to businesses. In fact, businesses with high-pressure environments spend nearly 50% more on health care for employees. High stress can also result in higher turnover, which poses additional costs for re-hiring and re-training.
Ultimately, supporting the mental health of employees may help business owners to save on costs associated with having an unhealthy, high-churn workforce.
Supporting the mental health of employees will ultimately contribute to a higher level of workplace satisfaction and even employee loyalty. Helping your team members to cope with stress – and acknowledging the importance of mental health – tells them that you value them not just as “revenue generators” but as individuals.
Employees are likely to go into basic basic “survival mode” at work when they are distracted or burdened by a mental health concern. This meaning they’re unlikely to innovate or contribute in a meaningful way. Giving employees the space to focus on feeling centered and happy can ultimately help them think more creatively about solving problems.
How to Address Mental Health in the Workplace
It’s not enough just to understand the importance of mental health in the workplace; you’ve got to be strategic about addressing and improving the mental health of your employees.
Here are three ways you can address mental health in the workplace:
Start simply by demonstrating your awareness of the importance of mental health. You can do this by incorporating it into company policy, including it in your Employee Handbook, and creating a culture that acknowledges stress as well as diagnosable mental health disorders.
Provide resources and support.
Next, seek to provide resources and support on mental health for your employees. You might provide mental health benefits, or “wellness incentives” that encourage employees to get outdoors, be physically active, volunteer, and do other activities that improve mental health. You’ll also want to be prepared to recommend counseling for employees who do need help with their mental health.
Ask for feedback.
Finally, ask employees for feedback on their mental health. Using a software tool like Nailted gives team members a safe, confidential channel for being transparent with you about workplace stress and other factors that may be affecting their mental health. You can also use Nailted to measure metrics associated with mental health, including employee satisfaction or happiness.
The world is moving towards remote work. You can adopt the aforementioned manners to address mental health either in your workplace or in remote environments. However, if you wish to offer additional help to your people, we recommend you teach them how to practice self-care at remote work.
A Final Note on Mental Health
Mental health challenges are neither simple to understand nor easy to resolve. As you support your workforce through seasons that are especially difficult – including company-specific challenges, global pandemics, and political unrest – be mindful that there may be no easy solution for mental health disorders. That being said, you can still create a company culture of support, listening, and awareness that helps your employees – and your business – thrive.