by Margaret Stone
Supporting mental health in the workplace has never been more important than it is today. Since the onset of the pandemic, HR and benefits leaders have worked to proactively provide programming to meet employees’ well-being needs and the continually shifting landscape of how and where we work. In 2021, organizations became even more adept at addressing the growing rates of anxiety, disengagement and attrition in large measure due to continued isolation, family stress and concerns over children’s mental health, burnout and lack of control. Wellness offerings including virtual mental health counseling and coaching, webinars, workshops, mindfulness programming have been among the most widely used to support workforce mental health.
The Benefits of Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace
HR leaders know that investment in workforce mental health support means increased retention, productivity, engagement and reduced absenteeism. And employees are clearly taking advantage of these offerings. According to Kaiser Family Foundation study, 38% of the largest companies with 1,000 or more workers reported their workers used more mental health services in 2021 than the year before, while 12% of companies with at least 50 workers said their workers increased their use of mental health services.
How to Support Mental Health in the Workforce in 2022 and Beyond
As we move into 2022, HR leaders will continue to invest in programming and services that connect their employees and their leadership that address mental health and foster a culture of inclusivity and support. Rather than pull back as the pandemic recedes, companies are encouraged to make mental wellness a valued and much-needed benefit. And for the younger employees, Gen Z, these services are expected and impact hiring and retention.
So, what needs to be done to continue the momentum of offering workplace mental health support and wellbeing programs to employees?
Get Leadership Involved
Senior leaders are often reluctant to take advantage of workplace mental health offerings available to them. Some report that they thought they could ‘tough it out’ and others worried about confidentiality. What they miss by not taking advantage of these offerings is not only an opportunity to find solutions or a safe space to work things out, but also a better understanding of how to manage an employee’s needs. With the constant shift of in-person to virtual work and back, stressors continue to rise, and knowing how to best address an employee’s concerns demonstrates a genuine interest in their well-being.
Offer Workplace Communication Workshops
One of the most cited themes we saw in our 1:1 Mental Health and Wellness Coaching program in 2021 was communication. Feeling safe to approach your manager or leadership about a mental health crisis, workload, microaggressions, family needs or general anxiety has been a major theme among employees. Knowing how to communicate effectively with your managers and to advocate for yourself is a critical element in building trust and camaraderie. For managers, learning how respond to what is being said, to explore solutions rather than dismissing the employee’s concerns fosters stable working relationships and retention. Workshops that teach effective communication skills for both employees and leaders can have a direct impact on productivity and retention.
Encourage Utilization of Workplace Mental Health Support Services
Employees are overwhelmingly grateful for the mental health and wellness programming and services companies are offering, but employees often need encouragement to use the programs as it has not been the norm for most companies prior to the pandemic. Whether it’s an educational webinar or 1:1 coaching, employees seek tacit permission to utilize these services. When employers send out weekly reminders about workplace mental health programming, utilization always increases, giving leadership better insight into their employees’ needs.
Providing Mental Health Support to Employees – How to Get Started
Employee mental health support is an essential tool in any organization’s suite of employee offerings. It is a smart investment given the positive impact on retention and productivity and a material impact on lowering healthcare costs.