Mental health conditions greatly impact companies, both financially and in terms of morale. Productivity can suffer and turnover can be high. Employees who frequently call in sick or work while sick when they should have called in can present big problems. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the workplace, and significantly contributes to lost productivity (2.5 absences per month); severe depressive disorders cost an estimated $12,000 per employee each year. In addition, 4.6 days are lost each month due to anxiety disorders. With only 20% of employees saying they’re completely comfortable discussing mental health issues at work (American Psychiatric Association), we have lots of room for improvement when it comes to supporting employees in the workplace.
Employers “have a responsibility to look out for the mental health of their employees,” said NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison Jr., in a statement announcing that NAMI would be offering their staff a paid week off during the pandemic to prioritize self-care and mental health.
How can employers support employee mental health?
Learn about and understand mental health conditions. There are so many misconceptions about what mental illness is and what it means to live with a mental health condition. For example, having a mental health condition is not the result of a personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. You don’t “get over it” with willpower. Many employers and colleagues can unwillingly send those messages to an employee or coworker struggling with a mental health condition. Making offhand comments about mental health can often add to the stigma that many living with a mental health condition experience daily.
Fight stigma by using respectful language to talk about mental health conditions, encouraging employees to talk about and take care of their mental health, and challenging misconceptions when you see or hear them. None of us likes labels, and no one wants to be labeled by a mental health condition. This can make an individual feel the pain of stigma—or a sense of disgrace that makes them feel different in a negative way. In the workplace, this may lead to teasing, harassment, lack of advancement opportunities or
discrimination. Plus, if you’re afraid of being misunderstood or unsupported, you might think twice about telling a
supervisor, seeking treatment or managing a loved one’s condition. Secrecy doesn’t help anyone.
Prioritize the importance of mental health. Make it clear that mental health is equally as important as physical health and let employees know that mental health days are valid sick days. Foster a culture where getting help for a mental health condition is as routine as getting help for any other challenge.
Lead by example and encourage work-life balance to reduce stress and maintain good overall health. Show that your company values the overall health of employees, which means prioritizing emotional well-being as well as physical health by offering:
- Health and wellness programs
- Manager and employee education
- Employee engagement activities about mental health
- Information about available mental health resources
- Social activities that let colleagues form supportive
- Ways for employees to get involved with community
- activities and events
- Respectful, supportive communication to break the silence around mental health conditions
- Distribute this NAMI flier and display it in a common area of your workplace
More on the subject
Tips on talking about mental health in the workplace (Mental Health Coalition)
The Mental Health Movement in the Workplace (NAMI blog)
How to Help an Employee with Anxiety (Entrepreneur)
Employer kindness can improve performance and mental health (Medical News Today)