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A mentally healthy workforce is more productive. Learn why every business should invest in their employees’ mental health (and how to get started).
Once a taboo subject, mental health is now a growing topic of conversation in workplaces across the globe.
There’s a good reason for that. Nearly 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness. Mental illnesses include things like depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
The widespread prevalence of mental illness was only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. People around the world experienced widespread disruption and increased levels of stress and anxiety.
Everyone’s struggling, so what should your company do about it?
While the individual experience of mental illness can vary widely, it’s indisputable that mental health issues have a huge impact on the workplace. A 2021 study by Qualtrics and Mind Share Partners highlighted how large the impact of mental health is on companies. Some key takeaways include:
Research by Putnam Investments found that absenteeism for mental health reasons eats up an estimated 7% of global payroll. That’s a phenomenal cost.
Add to absenteeism the impact of presenteeism — when workers are technically present, but not functioning at their peak — and the costs skyrocket. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety alone costs the global economy over $1 trillion dollars each year in reduced productivity.
If you’re a people manager or a business leader, the data is crystal clear: ignoring mental health is a bad decision.
It’s costly in the short term, but if you fail to invest in employee mental health you’ll feel the pain even more over the long term. Prioritizing mental health is especially important to younger generations — particularly millennials and Gen Z — and failure to invest in mental health will make it difficult to attract new employees over the next decade and beyond.
The statistics above paint a compelling picture, but let’s drill down further. What are the benefits you’ll see from investing in mental health for your employees?
Christian Hiscock, CEO & co-founder of Kardia, sums it up well: “Investing in your employees’ mental health is, of course, good for your business because healthier people are much more productive - but the bigger reason for making that investment is because it’s simply the right thing to do by the people who have invested in you and your company. They deserve it!”
There’s no quick fix that can guarantee mentally healthy employees, but there are a growing number of resources and tools that can help. Combine cultural norms and structures with the right tools and technology and you’ll lay the foundation for a mentally healthy workforce.
There’s a good reason mental health days are growing in popularity, but they aren’t a silver bullet. Providing company-wide mental health days can be a great way to help employees de-stress and recharge their batteries. Many employees just need a break. But the impact of mental health days doesn’t last long, so don’t stop there.
For a longer-term impact, you also need to do the hard work of creating healthy boundaries and cultural norms. When employees are experiencing burnout, setting boundaries is a critical step toward recovery.
“We prioritize employee mental health by ensuring our team has an outstanding work-life balance,” says Annabel Maw, Director of Communications at JotForm. “We encourage our teammates to sign on and off at reasonable times and not work after hours and on the weekends. Having a [healthy] work-life balance helps our team recharge, have better mental health, and come to work fully present.”
Mental health is a spectrum. At various points in our lives — or even in a given week — we’ll be at different points on that spectrum. In some seasons we might be struggling with major depression or dealing with the loss of a loved one; in other seasons we might feel stressed because of a new job or finances.
Different challenges required different types of support and treatment, and that’s where you can help your employees. Using tools and services like Modern Health and Happify Health can give your workforce easy access to resources like coaching, mental wellness programs, and even one-on-one therapy.
Your managers are one of your best resources for supporting the mental health of your employees. They’re constantly interacting with your workforce, meaning they’re close enough to see signs of stress or mental illness early.
By training your managers to recognize symptoms and to act with compassion, you’ll be able to promote mental wellbeing early on. Employees will quickly get the help they need and your business won’t feel the strain as acutely.
One way to improve your managers’ abilities to spot these signs is to leverage tools like Kona. Kona facilitates quick daily check-ins within Slack that enable managers to understand how employees are feeling. It helps you see trends and changes over time, triggering you to act before things get worse.
Apps like Headspace and Calm for Business exist to improve mental health by helping people engage in things like meditation and mindfulness. As a business, creating a wellness benefit where you reimburse employees who leverage tools like these can be powerful.
It’s a signal to your employees that you care about their well-being enough to put your money where your mouth is. It’s also a really practical way to put mental health tools directly into their hands.
We've spoken with hundreds of people leaders and oftentimes learn that workplace mental health is passed around to different stakeholders. Nobody takes full ownership, and in turn, addressing mental health falls to the bottom of the to-do's.
We've covered why mental health should be at the core of every business, but that means companies must proactively develop and iterate on mental health initiatives.
To accomplish that, we recommend that companies appoint a wellbeing lead; someone who runs point on everything related to mental health. Whether that's someone in People Ops or a passionate manager who wants to take ownership, embed it into an employee's quarterly goals to ensure the company is covering all of its bases when it comes to caring for what matters most: your people.
Investing in employee mental health is playing the long game. Making a few strategic investments today will pay off for years to come.
Lawrence uses his decade of customer experience leadership to create content for B2B SaaS companies that love their customers. He writes on a broad range of topics, all with the aim of helping human-centered companies attract the right customers and empower them to be successful.