October 10th was an important day for many. World Mental Health Day is a day to recognize and raise awareness of mental health issues across the globe. This year it is even more poignant as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom. Recent studies have shown that during the pandemic the rate of depression alone has tripled.
Companies were woefully underprepared for the effects the pandemic would have on their workforce. In the past 19 months, workers have had to contend with work/life balance issues; caring for family members and homeschooling, working remotely, being deemed essential, working on the frontlines, losing their routines and for some losing their jobs. According to the 2021 Mental Health America (MHA) Mind the Workplace report, about 9 in 10 employees said that their workplace stress impacts their mental health. Nearly 1 in 4 employees demonstrated severe signs of burnout and 3 in 5 employees expressed not receiving adequate employer support to assist them.
When employees are experiencing burnout, the whole organization suffers. A study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy 1 trillion dollars each year in lost productivity. A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity. Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.
5 things employers can do to support mental health
Normalizing mental health issues is the first step to successfully supporting your employees. By being open and vulnerable with your employees, you lay the groundwork for destigmatizing these issues and opening the door for effective communication.
The compounding stressors of work and home life balance are one of the largest contributors to the rise in mental health issues recently. Many employees are trying to navigate new routines and new norms. It is important to be flexible when strategizing with your employees on how they can best meet your expectations. Being empathetic, patient, and flexible as an employer can mean a lot for employees and their wellbeing.
Build connection culture
According to MHA’s research, having positive relationships with coworkers and managers is the top reason employees feel satisfied at work. That sense of connection is important, and employers and managers are responsible for helping facilitate how employees stay connected. Checking in with your employees, individually and regularly, demonstrates that you are invested in your team and when employees feel connected, they are more inclined to stay with your company.
Many day-to-day stressors can be eliminated through open and frequent communication. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and stress so it is important to inform your team of any modifications or updates regarding your organization. Be vocal about expectations, goals, and changing workloads. When employees are well informed it is easier for them to prepare and accomplish tasks. Additionally, if you have mental health resources available, make your team aware of those benefits, how to access them, and encourage them to use them if needed.
Train and measure
Taking the time to train managers and coworkers to recognize signs of mental distress and burnout will allow you to step in before the situation is dire. When managers are aware of the signs of distress, they can step in and support your employees. Pulse surveys are also a good tool to measure the current climate of your workforce, track any changes over time, and address the needs of your team. Input from these surveys allows employees to make suggestions and shape the culture around them.
“2021 Mind the Workplace Report.” Mental Health America, Mental Health America, 2 Mar. 2021, https://mhanational.org/research-reports/2021-mind-workplace-report.
“Depression Rates More than Three Times Higher Due to Covid-19 Pandemic.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/depression-rates-in-the-us-more-than-tripled-during-the-pandemic.
“Mental Health in the Workplace.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/promotion-prevention/mental-health-in-the-workplace.