October 7th, 2021

6 Ways Employers Can Support Mental Health

Our mental health is getting worse. In 2018, 1 in 5 adults experienced a mental illness. Then the pandemic hit last year and made things harder for many workers. Pile on the social isolation with social unrest and substance abuse, it’s no wonder so many of us experienced one of the most trying times in our lives. 

With the impact that workplaces and jobs have on our mental health, employers are doing more to support their employees. The bare minimum is to have a policy in place — but there are many ways employers can support mental health, no matter their size, industry, or occupation. After all, no one is immune to mental illness. 

The Importance of Mental Health

Our mental health has a significant impact on our work — even everyday tasks can be challenging when coping with a mental illness. Poor mental health results in: 

  • Increased health care costs for employers
  • Lower productivity 
  • More turnover

There is enough research to show that mental health goes hand-in-hand with physical health. We can all attest to being stressed and getting headaches or struggling to sleep. So it’s no surprise those suffering from mental illnesses are more at risk for things like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.  

Mental illness can also make it hard to engage and communicate with others — impacting our productivity and those around us. Eventually, if a mental illness goes unchecked, workers can’t cope and end up leaving a job. 

As a result, companies should recognize the importance of mental health to their business and its success. It is a responsibility of an employer to take care of their employees financially, physically — and now mentally. If a physical threat existed in your workplace, you’d be held liable. Employers who apply the same perspective to mental threats are doing more to support their employees and business. 

6 Ways to Support Your Employees’ Mental Health

The most important thing you can do to support your employees’ mental health is to educate and engage them on the topic. There are a variety of ways you can do this: 

  1. Health insurance coverage that includes mental health: If you offer healthcare insurance or are looking for a new plan for the upcoming open enrollment period, consider a plan that covers mental health services. Some providers now include coverage for the treatment of mental health conditions — such as therapy — under employer-sponsored health plans. 
  2. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP):  Another benefit specifically for mental health is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs provide employees with outside counselors or resources during difficult times. You can get access to low-cost options from a variety of providers. Though employees don’t have to participate in the program, having it immediately available provides peace of mind and instant support.  
  3. Work-life balance: Encouraging breaks, offering flexible schedules, and leading by example are a few ways to promote a healthy work-life balance. But at the end of the day, the employee will need to learn to set some boundaries as well. So offering solutions to disconnect and limiting contact outside of working hours also helps. 
  4. Mental health employee resource group (ERG): Employee resource groups or ERGs are company-formed, but employee-led networks where employees can discuss relevant issues such as mental health. They’re meant to create a more inclusive environment and platform for discussion. Creating one in your organization shows you care about the topic and creates an opportunity for employees to develop a deeper understanding of one another — and they usually lead to more engaged employees. 
  5. Sick leave or designated mental health days: While you may offer vacation or sick days, providing an additional one to two mental health days can go further in supporting mental wellness. If encouraged, mental health days can lower employee stress and improve productivity — but only temporarily. Mental health days should be combined with other strategies to support your employees’ mental health, as they’re often just a quick fix for particularly stressful times. 
  6. Perks: Last, but not least, perks are a great way to make life easier for employees. Though they may not have the most substantial impact on mental health, a few of them can go a long way in showing you care and support your employees’ health in general. For example, free food or drinks around the office promote breaks and are one less thing employees have to think about as they head out the door. And now, there are more perks employers can subscribe to, like mindfulness and meditation apps, that promote mental health and well-being. 

Identifying Mental Illness & Creating a Culture for Mental Health

No one is immune to mental illness, but a stigma around it still exists. Though the ways above will help you care for your employees’ mental illness, offering them isn’t enough. The biggest challenge in overcoming mental health issues is encouraging your employees to seek help. 

So outside of the ways above, you should make sure your management is trained on how to exhibit healthy behaviors, identify potential mental illnesses, communicate appropriately with employees on the topic, and encourage employees to take advantage of the support you can offer.  If any of your employees suddenly exhibit the following signs of mental illness, it could be worth having a conversation with them: 

  • Social withdrawal
  • Prolonged fatigue or sadness
  • Extreme changes in mood 

Even the physical environment your employees work in can impact their mental health. So if possible, make sure your workspace provides adequate natural light, limited distractions, and private spaces where employees can go to relax and refocus. 

Last, your culture has a considerable impact on fostering mental health and well-being. The importance of leading by example can’t be understated. As a business leader, communicating about mental health or even sharing your own struggles starts the conversation for your entire organization. And it immediately removes the stigma associated with mental illness — sometimes this is all that’s necessary for someone to seek the help they need. 

This year has shown us, we don’t need to be struggling with a mental illness to feel the effects of poor mental health. The pandemic and stress of society are enough for many people to struggle. To learn more about how to cope and reduce stress, download our eGuide below. 

Download Our eGuide: 15 Ways to Reduce Work Stress

Your team is your most important asset. Learn 15 stress management techniques to keep your team stress-free and thriving.

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