July 21, 2024

Serene Nest

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A Crucial Moment For Workplace Mental Health

5 min read

Sushant Gupta is the Co-Founder and CEO of Meomind, an innovative digital mental health enterprise expanding access to therapy worldwide.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a tectonic shift in the way we approach our work, our health and everything in between. Amid the flurry of changes that came with the Covid-19 pandemic, we gained a new appreciation for the importance of mental health in the workplace.

The question is: How are we implementing the lessons we learned? Business leaders have a lot going on—tricky, amorphous issues like mental health may fall to the bottom of the pile.

But the mental health crisis hasn’t faded away. More than ever, the happiness and wellness of your people contribute to the success of your team.

As a leader in the mental-health-tech space, I’ve learned some important lessons about employee expectations, management styles and the real costs of ignoring your team’s mental health.

Of course, you’re not solely responsible for your employees’ mental well-being—but you can build your management skills, foster a safe and supportive work culture, and provide robust resources to ensure that they can bring their best efforts to work every day. Work can be stressful, but you can minimize any negative impact on employees’ wellness, happiness and productivity.

The Workplace Mental Health Crisis

Gallup estimates that the additional work missed by workers with fair or poor mental health costs the U.S. economy $47.6 billion annually in missed productivity. The overall costs of work-related stress may, in fact, be much higher.

That doesn’t even begin to account for the impact of poor mental health on productivity and performance, or the unquantified costs of mental-health-related issues in recruitment and retention.

Half of people surveyed by Mind Share Partners (via HBR) in 2021 said they left a job for mental-health-related reasons. Those numbers were way higher for Millennials and Gen-Z workers.

Mental health in the workplace has been a major issue since well before Covid-19. But as with so many issues, the pandemic brought the crisis into sharp focus. Suddenly, the relationship between work and mental health was clearer than ever before.

In response, public health agencies, healthcare organizations and corporations have rallied to center workplace mental health, but there is still lots of work to be done.

The same Mind Share Partners report (via HHS.gov) found that “76% of U.S. workers reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition,” and “84% of respondents said their workplace had contributed to at least one mental health challenge.”

Crucially, 81% of workers said that, in the future, they’ll look for workplaces that support their mental health. For leaders, the takeaway message is clear: In order to recruit and retain top talent, you should demonstrate a commitment to their mental well-being.

A New Era For Workplace Wellness

The good news is that plenty of companies have gotten the memo. The so-called “Great Resignation” in the wake of the pandemic has seen many employers refocusing on mental health benefits. In my own work, I’ve met dozens of executives who have a new understanding of the importance of robust mental health resources.

Perspectives seemed to be shifting in response to the mental health crisis highlighted by Covid-19. A survey by WTW (via CNBC) found that 87% of employers claimed enhancing health benefits was a top priority in the next two years.

A 2022 survey of HR professionals from the SHRM Foundation found that 86% believe offering mental health resources can increase retention, and 88% believe it can boost productivity; 78% said that offering such resources can increase organizational ROI.

But I’ve seen signs that the groundswell of support for employee mental health has already lost some momentum over the past year. Although it may feel like we’re in a “post-pandemic world” (even though we know that Covid-19 is still a very real threat), there’s no vaccine for mental health problems.

And the return to “normalcy” may have lessened the urgency and enthusiasm for workplace mental health—so much so that there are reports of a new crisis linked to the return to the office.

Now What? Leadership Skills For A Healthier Workplace

You’re a leader. You know workplace mental health is vital. Maybe you’ve taken steps to provide your employees with better resources or benefits. But mental health challenges still loom, even as the nature of work—remote and in-person—remains in flux.

What can you do to support your team’s mental health?

It’s not rocket science. It often comes down to management basics: empathy, flexibility and inclusivity. Here are some practical steps you can use right now.

• Practice empathy. Ensure that your workplace is a psychologically safe place for everyone on your team. Listen to your employees with sincerity. Be open, trusting and humble.

• Hone your skills. You’re not a mental health pro, and nobody expects you to be one. But supporting your employees emotionally may not be part of your traditional managerial skill set. Invest in training for yourself and your team. Or consider forming an employee resource group.

• Embrace diversity. Put diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility into practice. If your company has norms in place, adopt them in everyday life. People are likely to experience less stress when they feel included and safe to be themselves.

• Be flexible. Allow your employees to take mental health days. Give them plenty of paid leave. Let them work remotely. When they’re happy and healthy, they’re likely to perform better.

• Provide better resources. Meet your employees where they are—offer them a variety of mental health resources to fit every need. Your benefits package doesn’t mean much if your employees don’t find it easy to access and use.

You can’t control stressors in your employees’ personal lives. You can’t prevent some inevitable spillover when employees unconsciously bring their personal stress to work.

But you can—and should—anticipate your team’s needs. You can ensure that the workplace is a safe, supportive environment for their mental health. When you do that, you’ll likely also improve recruitment, retention and productivity.

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