Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

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Between a global pandemic, new wars, political turmoil and more, the past two years haven't been easy on anyone's mental health.

Backed up by multiple studies, mental health challenges in America have increased across the board, from cashiers to CEOs alike. According to surveys from Mind Share Partners (published in the Harvard Business Review), 76% of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition, up significantly from 59% in 2019.

Meanwhile, Mental Health America reports that not only has the percentage of adults experiencing a mental illness increased since 2019—in other words, before the pandemic—serious indicators like suicidal ideation, substance use and youth depression are on the rise, as well.

While this is clearly an all encompassing issue, work is a huge part of our lives and this rise in mental health challenges has also led to increased attrition across the board, especially when it comes to Millennials and Gen Zers.

The Mind Share study found 68% of Millennials who've left roles have done so for mental health reasons, versus 50% in 2019. An overwhelming 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively affected their mental health, primarily citing stressful, boring, overwhelming, or otherwise emotionally draining work.

Mental health challenges also affect work quality, the ability to meet deadlines and burnout. A study from the World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety "cost" the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

Unfortunately, these findings also show that many people are not getting the help they need. So how can companies address mental health in the workplace?

Many workplaces have already instituted measures to support mental health, including extra paid time off, mental health days and even mental health training. More respondents than ever before (47% in 2022, up from 37% in 2019) believe their company leaders are advocates for mental health at work.

However, the same study noted that employees have been leaning toward utilizing day-to-day support, such as more frequent breaks and time off for therapy appointments. The extra days off have largely gone unused, likely due to the fact most employees' workload has remained steady or increased, which doesn't allow for lengthy time off. In other words, employers need to make sure they're prescribing the solutions their employees actually desire.

Consistently, companies that have supported their employees with issues like the pandemic, racial injustices and return-to-office planning have better mental health and engagement outcomes. The most successful results come when the entire workplace's culture changes, rather than trying to address problems individually.

A culture of openness and vulnerable honesty is key to addressing mental health in the workplace. When a stigma exists, no one feels comfortable actually making use of the resources and benefits offered to them. Due to the inherent nature of most company's power structures, this must start at the top.

Many adults don't want to open up about their emotional wellbeing—especially not to their boss. Leaders and managers need to be open and vulnerable about their own struggles if they expect their employees to do the same, and they should be trained in having difficult conversations and creating a supportive environment.

Thinking about time is also important. Employees want the ability to choose where they work, and they don't want to lose the flexibility they gained during the height of the pandemic.

The world has changed, along with the way people think about work, and there's no use as an employer in fighting against it. In fact, supporting your employees' mental health means better work, more productivity, a happier office, and less turnover.

You may not be in charge, but as an employee, you do have power to make change happen. Talk to your managers about the need to address mental health in the workplace, and make clear it's a priority for you.

If your work does offer mental health resources and benefits, make full use of them! If they're not what you need, make the ask. Being open and honest is the best policy, especially since employees hold the leverage in today's job market. Not getting the support you need? It may be time to find another job, or at least let your employer know you intend to.

Lastly, take care of yourself. From individual therapy to national mental health organizations, there are a bounty of resources out there just waiting to be used. No matter your workplace environment, you should make yourself the highest priority.

Written by Josh Veal for West Michigan Woman.

This article was republished with permission and originally appeared in the Sep/Oct '22 issue of Groups Today.


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