Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges have become the norm in today’s American workforce. In fact, an estimated 55 percent of U.S. adults indicate feeling stressed on a daily basis, which exceeds the world average by 20 percent, according to the Global Emotions Report from Gallup.
As the numbers imply, the state of mental health in the workplace is a concern among many professionals. If unaddressed, issues like substance abuse, depression, and anxiety could cost U.S. companies as much as $80 to $100 billion, along with 400 million days of absenteeism nationwide per year, as reported by Forbes.
If you’re ready to tackle mental health in your workplace, start with these five ground rules.
Rule #1: Overtime is No Longer Allowed
Often employees, whether salaried or paid by the hour, are obligated to remain at the office. Or take projects home with them until the work is finished. Occasionally, this is inevitable. However, when it turns into a standard protocol, workers can feel depleted, tense, fatigued, or discontent. Thankfully, employers are starting to recognize this. In Workplace Trends to Watch, Hubgets explains:
“In a culture that traditionally values productivity over personal well-being, trends are starting to shift. Employers take measures to increase happiness and decrease stress levels among their workers. The most frequent measures are no overtime rules—no working past the regularly scheduled hours and no expectations to answer their work phone or reply to work emails during the evenings or weekends.”
Eliminate overtime and give employees the time they need outside the office. This way, they can decompress and enjoy time with loved ones. Thus, when they come back into the office, they are ready to work. One way to mitigate overtime is to put a formal policy in place. One element of that policy should be a monthly or annual cap, suggests Workforce. As Workforce explains, “Many operations set an annual or monthly cap on overtime hours. A cap benefits employee health and safety and also helps distribute overtime more evenly among the employee population.”
Rule #2: EAP is Necessary
It’s more important than ever to initiate a mental health Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in addition to a standard benefits package. This resource counteracts the financial burden of therapy with free access to confidential, short-term counseling services or referrals for issues such as addiction, trauma, relational conflict, and grief.
In addition, EAP agencies often administer frontline intervention in workplace emergencies. The annual cost of offering EAP benefits is $12 to $40 per employee, according to Tess Taylor, an HR professional and member of SHRM. However, Taylor explains: “Employer costs may be partially offset by gains in productivity and employer healthcare savings for more serious medical treatments that could be needed if persistent problems or negative behaviors are not caught early.”
When you consider that substance abuse and mental health cost U.S. companies between $80 and $100 billion annually, it’s easy to justify the cost of adding EAP to your benefits package. When you’re ready to move ahead with an EAP, work with your health insurance agent, who will guide you through the following steps, as outlined by Fundera:
- Determine your employees’ needs.
- Find the assistance program that fits your budget and those needs.
- Educate employees about the program and what they get.
The third step is arguably the most important. If employees don’t know how to use this resource, it’s not providing the value you’re paying for. Fundera suggests, “Employers can encourage usage by educating employees about the availability of the program and emphasizing that it’s free and confidential. You can also have your EAP provider come in and explain the services as part of mandatory company-wide training.”
Rule #3: Mentoring is a Valuable Mental Health Tool
Micro-management is not only a cause of turnover, but it also exacerbates mental health issues because a “lack of autonomy at work elevates stress hormones,” while criticism and control “erode self-esteem” and produce anxiety, suggests NPR.
Instead of relying on an authoritarian leadership style, use mentoring. Not only does this reduce stress, but it also enables a culture where employees are invested in the company. Therefore, this helps them feel empowered to harness their skill sets while learning what they need to know to be better at their jobs.
If you’re looking at the bottom line, Chronus Talent Development reports that companies who use this model boast 25 percent higher retention than those who don’t. The good news is, that a mentoring program doesn’t have to cut into the budgeting. At least not as much as other mental health tools and resources.
With mentors already in the workplace, it’s up to HR and leadership to put together a program as simplified or extensive as you want. For example, a simple mentorship program can involve weekly 1-on-1 meetings between a junior and their mentor. They should be paired with goals for each person and a reporting system on whether the mentoring is effective.
Rule #4: Workplace Sensitivity Training is Not a Nice-to-Have
Mental health challenges are common. More specifically, employees with anxiety, depression, and similar conditions often feel unsafe disclosing these struggles to coworkers and supervisors. They fear the stigma of others’ misconceptions, which means that these employees become “excellent at faking wellness” in the office, explains Harvard Business Review.
This slowly drives a wedge between employees and the people who manage them. Creating a workplace that’s not inclusive and mentally supportive is not a great basis for good teamwork and mental stability amongst the team members.
To form a workplace of inclusion, mental health should be prioritized. Hence, leaders must reinforce awareness, literacy, and compassion around the topic. This starts with educating yourself and your team on how to enter the mental health dialogue with a sensitive, non-stigmatized attitude. Use training materials from the National Alliance on Mental Health to facilitate this learning and make workplace sensitivity training an important aspect of your company culture.
Rule #5: Stress Management Resources Must be Available
The concept of self-care might still sound like a trendy buzzword in modern culture. But employers shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of offering stress-reducing, self-care resources to employees. Both in the office and outside of it. Here are a few stress-management resources and tools that can help boost mental health:
- Subscription to meditation apps like Headspace
- Membership gym or yoga studio
- In-office meditation room
- Subscription to a mental health tool like Joyable
You can also integrate tools like Modern Health within your company, providing a custom solution for the mental health needs of your employees. Through the tool, employees are able to access health professionals, programs, and resources. They allow you to directly provide mental health assistance to anyone who needs it.
Alleviate Mental Health Challenges in Your Workplace
Now is the time to take mental health seriously. There are many ways you can make your employees’ experience less stressful and exhausting. Use these rules as a foundation for integrating mental health benefits into your company’s benefits packages and management practices. Always be prepared to face mental health challenges with endurance, knowledge, and above all no prejudice!
About the author
Jessica Thiefels is an entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications like Forbes. She also writes for Business Insider, Virgin, Glassdoor, and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.