The American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the nation’s top health problem. This makes sense, as mental capacity is highly valued in the workplace but can also be highly vulnerable. Today’s workplace, with technology, fast-paced growth and decreased resources, can contribute to increased stress.
Companies should value the mental health of their employees as a top asset and fiercely protect it. Mental well-being impacts engagement, presenteeism, absenteeism and productivity — all of which impact businesses bottom lines. More importantly, supporting and protecting the mental health of your employees is the right thing to do.
Here are five best practices to support mental health in the workplace.
- Normalize the conversation.
Top-down support of mental health is crucial in creating an open dialogue, as is an open-door policy. Senior leaders should participate in the conversation about mental wellbeing to show buy in. Normalizing the occurrence of a grief reaction or stress disorder can insure that your employees seek help when it happens to them.
Establishing mental health champions within your organization is another way to encourage a healthy dialogue. People with mental health conditions who want to help others are great candidates for this role.
Use awareness days that focus on stress and mental health as external nudges to educate staff about these important issues. Importantly, remind staff that a diversity of perspectives, including those with lived mental health experiences, are valued and encouraged in inclusive environments.
- Implement strong policies and procedures.
Disclosure can help an employee seek the appropriate resources and care before conditions worsen, so having proper policies and procedures in place are important in removing barriers to disclose.
This includes protection against discrimination, which is usually a top concern for employees, as well as providing appropriate workplace accommodations. Ensure managers are aware of key resources, like employee assistance programs, and maintain confidentiality when an employee discloses information.
Beyond this, educate employees on policies, procedures and proper protocols to increase employee awareness. Here’s a tip: Repeat key messages and tailor your communications to better reach your staff.
- Prevention is better than cure.
It’s essential to remember that anyone is susceptible to stress and a resulting decline in their mental health, whether a preexisting condition exists or not. Big life events like having a baby or losing a loved one and every day struggles like money worries, relationship issues or work-related stress can cause or aggravate mental health conditions to the point of interfering with work.
Mental wellness sessions or work/life balance programs can help. Bring in an expert and talk to your staff about how to safeguard their own mental health, build resilience and recognize signs of distress in others.
- Tailor your benefits package to support mental wellbeing.
Choose a major medical plan that gives employees access to quality mental health specialists in network, as these costs can add up significantly. Helping employees have access to and triage the right specialist support is crucial in managing conditions.
EAPs can act as a first line of defense for a wide range of problems – from money and relationship worries to support for working caregivers. They provide both practical and emotional support for employees through confidential counseling and can help prevent issues from escalating and impacting productivity. These programs are often offered as part of a major medical or disability plan, so your company may already have access to them.
Money worries can also take an emotional toll on wellbeing. In fact, financial concerns were the leading cause of stress across all generations in a recent consumer study conducted by my company, Unum.
Help your employees establish a strong financial foundation by offering financially-focused benefits, like life and disability insurance, retirement savings options and supplemental health benefits that can close the rising financial gap in medical plans.
If your budget doesn’t cover these benefits, consider offering them on a voluntary basis. Access to financial protection benefits are more affordable when offered through the workplace, even if the employee picks up the cost.
Flexible hours or remote working options can also help employees schedule their work days when they’re feeling most productive. This can help reduce presenteeism for mental ill-health, and it also signals to employees that you’re supportive of a healthy work/life balance.
- Encourage self-care.
Self-care plays a critical role in overall wellbeing. Encourage employees to do small tasks that’ll help them build resilience over time.
The basics like getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising are foundational in overall wellbeing.
Beyond these staples, developing appropriate time management and work/life balance skills are also important. Delegating and collaborating are also key to ensure healthy work behaviors which also decrease stress.
While technology and our always-on culture make it hard to disconnect, encourage employees to set device off-times so they can fully recharge before the next day. And most important, model this behavior to your staff and limit after hours work and emails.
Having a holistic mental well-being strategy that includes prevention, intervention and protection is essential for unlocking a workforce’s true potential.
Michelle Jackson is assistant vice president for workforce solutions at employee benefits provider Unum. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.