Take Steps To Improve Mental Health in Your Organization

Mental health, noted by the World Health Organization as the leading cause of disability even before the pandemic, has exploded as a workplace concern. Boston University reports that rates of depression have increased from less than one in 10 to nearly one in three adults in the United States since 2020.

As one way to support employees, many organizations have increased their mental health benefits over the past two years. While these benefits are an important part of the solution, health experts suggest that the workplace itself needs to improve.

After all, employee benefits alone can’t solve the issues that contribute to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges if the main cause is an unhealthy workplace.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at ways to examine your organization, key traits of healthy work environments, and mental health benefits that can further support your employees.

Examine your workplace

A good starting point is a self-examination of your culture, leadership and workplace practices. Take time to review the following areas. A few sample questions are included.

  • Leadership practices — Do your executives demonstrate empathy and adaptability? Are productivity demands reasonable? Is collaboration encouraged at all levels?
  • Supervisor training — Managers set the tone for your employees. Have they received instruction on management best practices? Are they trained to identify and respond to mental health issues?
  • Employee well-being — Do you have metrics in place to measure employee health? Have you seen upticks in specific health disorders like stress and anxiety? Are your attraction and retention rates meeting or exceeding industry standards?

Speak with your company’s executives and supervisors to get a feel for leadership styles. Employee surveys are another way to better understand your culture and overall levels of wellness.

Make sure your efforts are transparent and authentic. Otherwise, employees may be hesitant to answer questions with a level of openness and honesty that can help them identify improvements. In addition, if your company’s work practices create barriers to healthy habits, employees won’t utilize and may even resent resources that talk about a better mindset or improved sleep, fitness, and nutrition.

Create a healthy environment

The Center for Supportive Leadership cites three factors that positively impact employee wellness:

  • Realistic demands on workload and productivity
  • Employee autonomy regarding when, where, and how they work
  • A supportive, empathetic work environment

Conversely, common workplace stressors include micromanagement, invasive monitoring tools, compensation tied to unreasonable performance goals, and toxic relationships. These problems are compounded when leaders won’t admit to mistakes or fear changing a business model that has been profitable.

However, research from the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center indicates that healthier work environments lead to better business results, including:

  • Reduced health plan costs
  • Higher productivity
  • Improved attraction and retention rates
  • Better employee engagement, performance and job satisfaction

To create healthy practices, leadership needs to walk the walk on values like reasonable workloads and time off to address physical and mental health challenges. By talking about and, even more importantly, demonstrating these practices. This creates a safe environment for employees to communicate their challenges, both at work and at home.

In addition, supervisor training at all levels of your organization can improve:

  • Early identification of employee mental health issues
  • Better prevention, intervention, and health care resources
  • Disability policies and rates
  • Return-to-work programs

Identify the right mental health benefits

When combined with a supportive work environment, mental health benefits can help your employees make lasting, positive changes.

Talk to your employees about their challenges. This will help you provide options that meet their diverse needs.

Mental health benefit offerings may include:

  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide confidential resources for stress management, substance abuse, relationship and family struggles, financial education, and legal help
  • One-on-one coaching to help employees reduce stress and anxiety
  • Access to therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, including telehealth options
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to understand stressors and improve coping mechanisms
  • Online courses or apps on meditation, mindfulness, and resilience
  • Additional paid time off, including mental health days

Benefits education and communication efforts are central to your success. When your benefits are easy to understand and easy to access, usage rates and subsequent health improvements will increase.

Set measurable goals

Even with a healthy office culture and expansive mental health benefits in place, it is still vital to set metrics to make sure you are reaching your goals.

Install measurements that speak to your leaders and employees. Examples include:

  • Healthier workforce based on health plan trends, challenges, and costs
  • Happier employees based on surveys and retention metrics
  • Disability rates and costs
  • EAP usage
  • Mental health benefit utilization

For more information

If you need support in getting started, talk with your insurance broker or benefits adviser. They can help you assess your health costs and metrics, identify leadership and training opportunities, and review mental health benefit options.