The Workplace Mental Health Crisis: Why It Matters & How to Care for Your Employees
How many of your employees are dealing with mental health issues? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in any given year. In addition, more than half of all people living with a serious mental illness are not receiving treatment — and that’s if they have health insurance that covers it. When you look at those numbers, it becomes clear that your employees will likely have either personally experienced mental health issues or know someone close to them who has suffered or struggled with mental health problems, whether those issues be depression or substance abuse, or some other issue.
What is the workplace mental health crisis?
The World Health Organization estimates that 12 billion working days are lost annually all around the world to anxiety and depression, costing a whopping US$ 1 trillion in lost productivity. From a business perspective, it becomes essential to review the role the company plays in the mental health of its employees.
Indeed, mental health risks are present in the workplace, even for individuals who have not experienced mental health issues before. In many cases, the work environment can create a terrain that contributes to the development of psychosocial risks related to the work schedule, specific elements of the workplace, the overall job content, and specific career development paths. These risks can be linked to a variety of factors that are typically associated with low job satisfaction, such as excessive workload, under-use of skills, conflicting home and work-life balance, lack of recognition, etc.
While psychosocial risks are present in every environment, some sectors are more likely to be affected than others. In many situations, walking away from a workplace that nurtures mental health issues is not easy to do. Employees may struggle to find new roles that match their skills in their industry. Additionally, a situation that already creates high stress and depression is likely to affect self-confidence levels, which means employees may not feel qualified for other roles — even if those would be better-suited and generate job satisfaction.
Why does workplace mental health matter?
Mental health problems are common in the workplace, with one in five working adults experiencing a mental health problem each year. The prevalence is even greater among those who work in high-stress jobs. There are many reasons why it’s important to care for your employees’ mental health, but one major reason is that employees are your most valuable assets.
What are the long-term consequences of a mental health crisis for a business? While the loss of productivity and creativity are the first things that come to mind, the long-lasting effects of a mental health crisis in the workplace can destroy a brand’s reputation. Indeed, it affects the mood of not only a handful of employees but it also spreads throughout the business. Low-spirited employees are more prone to look elsewhere for a better option and quit, causing:
- Waves of departures across the business
- Deep impact on the remaining employees and shareholders
- Loss of value for existing stocks
- Customers to turn away from the brand
- Difficulties in replacing talent (nobody wants to work for you)
In other words, unaddressed mental health issues in the workplace can drive companies to closure.
What can lead to the workplace mental health crisis?
The leading cause of the workplace mental health crisis is prolonged exposure to extremely stressful events. However, many companies focus on events such as discrimination, harassment, and violence. There is no denying that the effects of these can be devastating. At the individual level, this stress can lead to anxiety disorders and depression. For employees who have been exposed to discrimination or harassment over a long period of time, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Contrary to common beliefs, however, a workplace that experiences high levels of mental health disorders doesn’t necessarily struggle with the above-mentioned HR red flags. Mental health traps are often unnoticeable at first, such as:
- Invisible bias, which is essentially low-key discrimination but much harder to spot
- Workplace isolation
- Feeling like you have no control over your workload or job design
- Not receiving sufficient support from coworkers and managers
- Long working hours
- Unpleasant work environment, including noise pollution, clutter, lack of lighting, etc.
- Lack of promotion opportunities
- Insecure job
The bottom line: The psychological well-being crisis in the workplace is not necessarily the result of extreme conditions. Poor choices and management styles can gradually lead to the creation of long-lasting stress and depressive disorders. When an issue is left unaddressed or unsolved, it can affect employees in the long term with no possibility for improvement. For example, someone who needs to work longer hours to make up for workforce shortage faces the same situation day after day. Gradually, they find it more and more difficult to relax and rest, which leads to chronic stress, fatigue, and job dissatisfaction. So, it is never a case of ignoring the little things because, in the long term, even little things can be soul-destroying for your team.
How can you create a mentally healthy workplace?
What contributes to a mentally healthy workplace? Experts reckon that businesses that put their employees’ mental health first share the following common traits:
- Offer business-neutral resources. Giving your employees access to mental health services is a major step in creating a mentally healthy workplace. Providing resources such as business chaplains can help employees better understand their mental health, in turn giving them the tools and support they need to prevent or address symptoms of mental illness before they escalate into something more serious. Indeed, chaplains can be instrumental in delivering proactive care to your employees, as they are not associated with business operations and are sworn to confidentiality.
- Create an open dialogue about mental health in the workplace and beyond. The business must take the first step in showing psychological well-being understanding and support. It can be through simple choices, such as promoting mental health days or even asking employees about their mental well-being in confidential one-to-one meetings. The information can be used as a way to address problem points and make the business friendlier and more supportive for everyone.
- Consider the environment. Indeed, the workplace environment can influence individual mental health conditions. An organized and bright office is more likely to have a positive influence. On the other hand, a space that is cluttered with furniture and struggles with lighting quality can be prone to mental well-being issues. When it comes to creating a suitable office decor, some of the best design lessons come from space-brightening home improvement projects. Indeed, the tips used to bring your home to the next level can also work in the office: new paint job, less unnecessary furniture, and additional lighting.
- Bring mental health experts on board. Did you know that the main obstacle when it comes to the mental health crisis is the lack of time? Many employees are unsure how to handle their problems, and they struggle to make time outside of work for a professional appointment. Instead, it can be helpful to join a healthcare plan that provides direct access to mental health specialists during business hours. For example, you could have an online therapy package where employees can reach out to therapists via chat or phone call. Some companies also have a counselor working on-site.
- Provide more flexibility in day-to-day work. Flexibility is at the heart of mental health. Flexibility can tackle many issues that build the path to a mental well-being crisis. From lack of work-life balance to unnecessary long-working hours, employees can frequently feel trapped in their roles. Flexible work arrangements create an opportunity to regain control of the work day and the workload. Some of the best options include 4 work days a week or even home-based arrangements.
What are the consequences of a poor mental health work environment?
If you don’t take care of your employees, they’ll stop caring about the company. Lack of engagement as a result of poor mental health is not without consequences:
- It can drive productivity levels down
- It damages creativity and motivation
- It affects the overall quality of the work produced
- It becomes noticeable for customers and shareholders
- It can lower your stock value
- It can drive talent away
- It destroys the brand’s reputation
- It lowers revenues
It’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure your employees are happy and healthy!
Mental health is a physical and emotional state of wellbeing in which the individual can be happy, healthy, productive, and energetic. Unfortunately, our workplaces are not immune to mental illness. According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly half of Americans live with a diagnosable mental health condition each year. Additionally, the workplace environment can contribute to the creation of psychological well-being disorders. The ever-growing workplace mental health crisis affects every company all around the world. Employees feel excessively stressed or dissatisfied with their work. As most employees spend, on average, 40 hours or more every week in the workplace, it becomes essential for employers to take steps now in order to be proactive about their employees’ mental wellbeing.