Peer Influence May Encourage Colleagues to Use Mental Health Benefits

By Alana Smart / May 29, 2024 / Blog ,

Peer Influence May Encourage Colleagues to Use Mental Health Benefits

Researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science suggest that the knowledge of colleagues using employer-provided mental health benefits can influence others to do the same. A recent study led by Laura Giurge provides robust evidence on the effectiveness of peer influence in encouraging employees to utilize mental health benefits.

This study, conducted among 2,400 workers at Swiss multinational pharmaceutical corporation Novartis, not only underscores the power of peer influence but also offers practical strategies for employers to enhance the well-being of their workforce. When implemented, these strategies can pave the way for a more supportive and mentally healthy work environment.

The Power of Storytelling

The research team employed a peer-to-peer mental health support program to examine how different narratives about mental health experiences could influence employees’ willingness to seek support. Workers were randomly assigned to view an overview of the program, with some reading a “mild” story about a colleague managing work-related stress and anxiety. Others learned of a “severe” case where an employee sought help for depression outside of work.

The findings were revealing. Employees who read the “mild” story were 8% more likely to sign up for mental health services. Colleagues who encountered the “severe” story showed a 6.6% increase in the likelihood of seeking support. Though seemingly modest, these increases translate into significant numbers when scaled to a large organization like Novartis. These results underscore the important role that storytelling can play in reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues and in promoting the utilization of available resources.

Interestingly, emphasizing the program’s anonymity did not significantly affect sign-up rates. In an article published in Harvard Business Review, researchers emphasize how surprising the finding was. Given that one of the most often cited reasons for the low uptake of mental health support resources is fear of being marginalized or treated differently, this suggests that the stigma surrounding mental health may be diminishing, possibly due to increased openness about these issues during the pandemic.

Additionally, the study found no significant differences in sign-up rates based on gender or organizational role. However, men reported having, on average, 3% worse mental health than women, highlighting the need to further normalize discussions about men’s mental health in the workplace.

Practical Steps for Employers

Based on the study’s insights, employers can take several practical steps to support their employees’ mental health:

Implement Peer Support Programs: Develop and promote peer-to-peer support programs that allow employees to share their mental health experiences. This can create a sense of community and reduce feelings of isolation among employees facing similar challenges.

Share Success Stories: Regularly share stories of employees who have successfully utilized mental health resources. These stories can range from managing everyday stress to overcoming more severe mental health issues. This can help demonstrate that seeking help is both normal and beneficial.

Train Managers and Leaders: Equip managers and leaders with the tools to recognize mental health issues and foster an open, supportive dialogue about mental health within their teams. Leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone for workplace culture.

Normalize Mental Health Conversations: Encourage regular discussions about mental health in team meetings and company communications. This normalization helps reduce stigma and makes seeking support a standard part of workplace wellness.

Provide Comprehensive Resources: Ensure that mental health benefits are easily accessible and widely communicated. Employees should be aware of the range of services available to them and understand how to access these resources.

Employers have the ability to improve the mental well-being of their workforce significantly. As the research by Giurge and her team illustrates, the power of peer influence and storytelling should not be underestimated in efforts to encourage the use of mental health benefits. An open culture around mental health can lead to a healthier, more productive workplace.



Ready to elevate your workforce’s health? Partner with NMS Health for your occupational health screenings. With NMS Health, you are not just identifying and preventing future illness; you’re investing in a safer, healthier future for your team. Get started today!

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