Maintaining Employee Mental Health Through Difficult Times
Your employees’ mental well-being is essential to building a healthy and productive workforce. However, despite the importance of employee mental health, you won’t always know when it’s becoming a problem in the workplace. Unlike other illnesses, the signs of poor mental health aren’t always visible, and employees may not be quick to ask for help.
As employees continue to face concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of working from home, they may need more help than ever before. Employers can play an important role in helping employees cope with everyday and life-changing stressors, and the assistance goes far beyond offering mental health benefits through company-sponsored health insurance.
Use the following tips and ideas to support your employees’ mental health during these challenging times.
The Importance of Employee Mental Health
Employee mental health is important in any organization, and it may be a more concerning problem in yours than you think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 20 percent of U.S. adults experience a diagnosable mental illness every year. Many other mental health issues may go undiagnosed, making it even harder for some employees to stay focused and productive.
When employees are distracted, distressed, or have trouble managing life and work challenges, it can spill over into their work effectiveness and impact their work and the work of others. Poor employee mental health can lead to problems in the following areas:
Sometimes employees can feel depressed or overwhelmed to the point of not being able to make it into work in line with their normal schedule. According to LifeSpeak research, 172 million work days are lost each year due to employee depression. Persistent absenteeism doesn’t just affect the employees who don't come to work; it also impacts others on their team who rely on them to meet deadlines and team goals.
Employees with mental health issues may exhibit behavior leading to poor performance, a lack of communication with others, or less interest in their work. Issues persisting long enough can even lead to an employee being terminated from a position or resigning. In a recent Mind Share Partners survey, 34 percent of employees said they have left a job for mental health reasons.
Employees experiencing poor mental health can have trouble concentrating and doing their best work. Studies have shown that individuals battling depression and related mental health disorders are less productive and often suffer “presenteeism”—they are physically present in the workplace but not operating at optimal performance.
Individuals struggling with their mental health may also have trouble talking about their problems and seeking help. When employees are unable or unwilling to open up to others on their team, the entire team can suffer from poor communication and a drop in overall effectiveness.
8 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health
Employees experiencing poor mental health can benefit from workplace programs and activities designed to help them cope. Perhaps more than ever before, now is the time to take action. According to a Ginger survey, 70 percent of employees said they feel more stressed during COVID-19 than at any other point in their entire professional career.
To help employees during these difficult times, offer the following support and resources in support of employee mental health.
1. Understand current employee mental health levels.
Before you implement any changes or programs targeted at improving employee mental health, you should try to understand where employees stand and their key areas of concern. Some of the tools you can use to understand employee mental health levels include focus groups and employee surveys. Manager training can also help you understand the current employee mindset. Managers who know how to speak to their employees can get them comfortable talking about mental health in team settings and individually.
Another way to understand employees’ mental well-being is to understand the possible causes of their stress. Consider the following factors and how each may be impacting your employees’ mental health:
- The effectiveness of your managers: How well manager behaviors alleviate (or cause) employee stress
- Staffing levels: The level of burnout employees may be feeling due to overwork or staff shortages
- Organizational clarity: The degree to which employees feel they fit into the overall company mission
- Change management: The frequency of change in the organization, and the availability of mechanisms to help employees manage it effectively
- Overall employee relations: How well the organization offers a safe work environment free of discrimination, harassment, and bullying
- COVID-19: How well employees are managing COVID-19-related stress and working from home
2. Build an inclusive work culture.
Good mental health is beneficial for all employees and at every level. By building a supportive and inclusive culture, you can help employees avoid the feelings of isolation and helplessness often accompanying mental illness.
Build an inclusive culture and help employees struggling with mental well-being by taking the following actions:
- Actively promote mental health benefits throughout the year, and not just at open enrollment time
- Offer employee mental health tips through information sessions, lunch-and-learns, and other informal programs
- Keep remote employees involved by offering activities such as virtual fitness challenges and a health and well-being club
3. Show managers how to lead by example.
Company leaders set the tone for many different employee behaviors, and they can also lead by example when it comes to prioritizing mental health. Encourage managers to take the lead in showing employees how to take care of their mental health. For example, they can take time off regularly, encourage healthy working hours within their team, and set reasonable deadlines for projects.
4. Review the mental health coverage in your company health plan.
Most reputable health plans include mental health coverage, but it’s a good idea to see what your plans offer and how much coverage is available for different mental health services. Make sure your plan includes the following factors, and remind employees what’s available:
- Inpatient and outpatient mental health services
- Competitive deductible and coinsurance levels (how much employees pay compared to what the plan pays for services)
- Telemedicine and remote counseling services
5. Offer perks to support employee mental wellness.
Not all employees who need mental health support require a doctor’s visit. Some just need an outlet to let off steam and decompress after a busy work week. By providing employees with multiple ways to manage their stress, you can help them achieve work-life balance and improve their overall health. Offering perks such as fitness club reimbursements or a mindfulness app subscription are simple ways to support employees and show how much you care.
6. Encourage employees to take their vacation time.
While many employees take their accrued vacation time, others may need encouragement, particularly if there are limited travel options. Employees working from home or under state quarantine may see a traditional vacation as unfeasible. They may even put off a vacation until a time in the future when they can travel. To encourage a healthy work-life balance, remind employees to take time off, even if it means taking a “staycation” or a series of half-days here and there.
7. Offer an employee assistance program (EAP).
EAP benefits are among the lower cost benefits an organization can offer, and they take the legwork out of an employee’s search for local resources and support services. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 79 percent of organizations offer an EAP, many at no cost to employees. If you don’t already have an EAP, consider adding one, and remind employees how to take advantage of EAP resources such as a help hotline and referrals for childcare, eldercare, and mental illness support.
8. Remember the mental health needs of new hires.
Starting a new position is stressful enough, and it can be even more stressful for remote hires who won’t have the benefit of having lunch with colleagues and getting to know the office layout. Help remote hires feel at ease in their new roles by offering the following resources:
- Remote onboarding support, which helps new hires seamlessly jump from the screening and hiring process into their early days as an employee
- Opportunities to get to know others professionally and off-hours through virtual get-togethers
- Tools to help educate new hires about the people, processes, and work practices of your organization, for example, informational videos and an online resource library
Support Mental Health and Improve the Employee Experience
Employee mental health isn’t just a matter for mental health professionals. By taking proactive steps to support your employees and their mental well-being, you can improve the employee experience and keep your workforce engaged even during the most challenging times.
To set the stage for a great employee experience, you need an efficient hiring process and an exceptional candidate experience. Check out our interactive background screening assessment tool for more helpful tips.