Experts recommend taking a holistic approach to health, which includes good stewardship of the body, community, emotions, environment, finances, spirit, and mind. And one of the many things the pandemic has made apparent is that managing your mind and your mental health is an absolute necessity.
We’ve seen firsthand that confinement, isolation, and lack of socialization takes its toll on how people act and feel.
But what can employers do to help struggling employees, and in turn, reduce burnout, stress, and turnover?
Mental health statistics are grim, but there’s hope
1 in 5 adults deal with mental health issues. That’s approximately 43.8 million Americans, so chances are, one or more of your employees is experiencing something — whether it’s apparent to you or not. It’s also not just younger or lower level employees trying to cope, mental health affects executives and older employees alike.
No one is immune.
Employers feel the pain of this both in genuine care for their employees and in their reduced productivity. People under duress report over 3.25 unproductive work hours per day, which is almost double the amount of those who do not.
On the positive side, according to the 2022 Ease SMB Benefits and Employee Insights Report, more than 90% of employers surveyed planned on offering more insurance options for their employees, including additions for telemedicine and mental health benefits. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it’s there, and many employers are doing just that.
Now is the perfect moment to further distinguish your company at a time when recruitment and retention of talented employees is more important than ever. By doing these 10 things, you can cultivate the health of your employees — and your business.
1. Remove the stigma
While it’s decreasing, there’s still stigma surrounding mental health. This makes employees reluctant to discuss it with their peers and managers. Additionally, employees fear they may get fired or not advance in their careers, which prevents them from taking advantage of benefits that may help them.
You can help remove the stigma when you formally discuss mental health at work. This will show a level of openness and awareness that will lead to a culture of acceptance.
Consider creating mental health coaching positions, similar to mentorships. This might make it easier for employees to reach out to these individuals as a starting point instead of going straight to their manager. It will also give employees a chance to grow leadership skills as a bridge to management.
You can’t control who seeks out mental help in your workplace, but you can establish a judgment-free, supportive culture that encourages and accepts those that do. A strong culture is so important — and it produces results.
Less likely to experience symptoms of poor mental health.
Less likely to underperform and miss work.
More likely to feel comfortable talking about mental health at work.
More satisfied with their job and more likely to stay with their company.
Once your employees are comfortable talking about their challenges, you can start pointing them toward your existing self-help and professional resources and get them on the path to better mental health.
2. Don’t just talk about it, be about it.
While 86% of employers said mental health is a priority, only 26% have adopted a well-being strategy. Lip service in and of itself doesn’t work anymore.
You can show your employees you care about them and are truly making it a priority through official policies and procedures assisting employees in need. This will also set you apart from employers who are talking the talk, but haven’t started walking the walk.
They can’t go for a run, lift weights, read a book, or do whatever their relaxation mechanism is at home, so these emotions linger until the end of their work day. So encourage them (if feasible within the constraints of their job duties) to take a walk outside and get some fresh air, try breathing exercises, or go to an off-site coffee shop to decompress.
Depending on your business, you could also have them step away during the work day. This is becoming more common as research has shown a spike in productivity during triple peak day.
4. Promote preventive care
The best remedy is always prevention and the best price is always free. So encourage and even incentivize employees to schedule regular annual health checkups with their primary care physician (PCP).
Many employers also provide a stipend as an incentive for their employees to utilize their free yearly wellness exam. Not only could this help them with their physical health, it could also help assist them with their mental health.
5. Know the warning signs
You won’t always know when employees are going through something. But there are some recognizable signs:
Changes in work performance and behaviors.
Changes in physical appearance, emotions, or reactions.
Missing or being late to work.
6. Encourage employees to use their PTO
Research from SHRM indicates nearly 85% of employees say they are happier at work after a vacation. A good time-off policy allows employees to decompress and focus on their mental health and lets them come back to work reenergized. That makes them happier at home and in the office — and more productive.
Getting inventive with PTO could also help provide Resistance to The Great Resignation. Consider developing a leave of absence and/or sabbatical policy for employees needing extended leaves to deal with things going on in their personal lives. This lets valued employees handle what matters most to them without worrying about not having a job to come back to.
7. There’s an app for that
If your employees are reluctant to use their PTO because they don’t want to, or have the opportunity to work an in-office visit into their schedule, thank goodness it’s 2022. There are many online and digital tools available in lieu of seeing a doctor in-person that can help with mental health challenges.
Free apps like Calm or Headspace are designed to lower anxiety and stress levels. There are also online chats, podcasts, and other digital vehicles your employees can use to help combat a variety of issues before seeing a mental health professional.
If your employees want to talk to a professional but feel like they don’t have the time or the physical access, they’re not alone. Telehealth usage increased 7,000% during the first year of the pandemic, with a whopping 44% of claims coming in for mental health.
Many of these businesses, like our partner MDLIVE, grant access to board-certified doctors who treat routine, non-emergency medical issues, including mental health conditions. They can also prescribe medications when necessary, all by phone, video, or app.
With the popularity of these services, you could also consider choosing a health plan that lowers out-of-pocket costs for your employees who use this virtual solution. That way, they spend less time away from work traveling, and less money at the gas pump and doctor’s office.
9. Offer expanded access
While digital tools and virtual care are becoming increasingly popular, some people just want to talk to someone face-to-face. To assist those employees, consider offering an expanded network so your employees have a wider range of mental health professionals to choose from.
You can also work with your health insurance provider to see what plan offerings they have that include coaching, counseling, customized well-being programs, therapy, and more. What’s more, ask how they can integrate these treatments with your employees’ PCP so there’s a holistic approach and comprehensive care.
10. Stick with it
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. got it right when he wrote: “…everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”
Addressing mental health isn’t just creating a strategy, announcing it, and letting it run its course. It’s not just talking about it on Mental Health Day or during Mental Health Month.
It’s constant, ongoing maintenance. So schedule periodical check-ins with your employees so you can tweak your strategy as necessary.
Starting a mental health and well-being strategy is a journey and no one condition or person is the same, so be prepared to be unprepared for what comes next. And, just like our own individual health journeys are in different stages, employers are at different stages in what they do to support the mental health of their employees — and that’s okay.
The key is to start, learn, adjust, and communicate, communicate, communicate.
How Ease can help
With our medical carrier connections, Ease can give you access to claims data and provide insight on current and potential future mental health issues on a macro level. That could help determine what level of resources you may need to devote to the issue.