Mental health in the workplace is a serious concern

Mental health concerns need to be discussed openly, even brazenly, as they’re amongst the most disabling barriers to a company’s progress. The obscure nature of mental health makes it impossible to detect in its initial stages, and if not professionally sought, it tends to creep up as a downgrade in an organization’s performance, creativity and profitability.

Unfortunately, employee mental health is an area that hasn’t seen notable initiative from a vast majority of organizations.  As a result, a staggering 36% of the US workforce is suffering from work-related stress which amounts to an astounding loss of nearly 30 billion USD every year for businesses due to lost workdays.

While business owners are beginning to take interest in these camouflaged concerns due to their evident long-term financial as well as cultural implications for organizations, for most of these businesses, employee wellness programs are acts of largesse that revolve around medical insurances and paid leaves.

So what can be done? First things first, it is important to understand that mental health concerns can be triggered by an array of on-job and off-job stimuli such as a negative work culture or stress, and these factors require much more than just time off and financial backing. They can only  be addressed via a more holistic approach to employee wellness.

Here are some basic steps that can be taken as your organization attempts to deal with mental health concerns;

  1. Understanding employee wellness:

The starting point to a psychologically safe workplace is the realization that employee performance is affected by an array of factors such as work load, work conditions, workplace politics, substance abuse and family and personal concerns.

According to Marjorie Paloma, Director, Robert Wood Johnson foundation, “Far more of what shapes health happens outside the health care system and also outside of encouraging healthy behaviors”. Therefore, it becomes imperative for employers to devise policies that affect workers’ mental health outside of the workplace such as counseling and therapy, telecommuting, flexible working timings, etc.

Moreover, it is crucial to acknowledge that there is no one size fits all approach to employee wellness. This is because every organization and industry has its own unique set of concerns that require pertinent and tailored solutions to deal with them.

Louise Aston, Wellbeing Campaign Director, Business in the Community (BITC) spoke of the findings of the one-year report of the ‘Time to Change’ initiative, UK and said that evaluation of employee behavior by both direct and indirect means is crucial. She said, “Businesses are using a combination of things – these can be scores for specific questions in employee engagement surveys, lost time, sickness, injury rates, absence data, work-related ill health incidences, information on flexible working arrangements or the number of line managers receiving mental health and resilience training. An easy approach is to utilize data from employee assistance programs.”

Firms can also employ formal assessments to gauge the mental health of their employees such as general satisfaction and stress level tests. Additional tools include the PHQ-9 tool for depression, GAD7 questionnaire for anxiety, and brain test for early detection of cognitive ailments as well as MyCQPro for cognitive health.

The tools are effective in assessing the prevalence of psychological issues in an organization and also keep track of their development over time. After implementing a relevant set of techniques, it becomes vital for the organization to take initiatives and assist ailing employees towards suitable treatments.

  1. Determining the impact of mental health:

Most companies underestimate the hidden costs of employee sickness and stick to myopic wellness campaigns thinking that doing more is either not financially feasible or out of their scope of responsibility.

In reality, however, the exact opposite stands true as psychological issues manifest themselves in the form of absenteeism, lowered productivity levels, diminished morale and in extreme cases, destructive behavior.

All of these symptoms directly impact an organization’s profitability and therefore makes their intervention justified. Moreover, more people have been documented to take days off for mental health issues as compared to physical ailments and so leaving these issues untreated becomes costlier for organizations in the long run.

A brief assessment of the financial and cultural impact of these factors will be beneficial in determining exactly how much a business is suffering due to poorly treated mental health concerns.

  1. Breaking the silence:

One of the causes of under-treatment of mental health issues is the social stigma associated with such ailments that inhibits people from stepping up and gaining support for these very real concerns. The onus, therefore, lies on the top management to take on the topic of mental illness on an organization wide level in order to send across a note of encouragement to the staff that will motivate them to seek help.

Employers should also cultivate a culture of well-being where getting help for psychological issues is seen as a sign of strength and is in no way deemed different from seeking physiological treatments.

Additionally, it is essential that employers set in place non-discriminatory policies to support people with such ailments, ensuring that they are not denied opportunities to excel. Doing so will not only enhance the company’s profitability by improving employee performance but will also allow it to be known as a preferred employer that genuinely invests in its employees.

  1. Ensure affordable access:

Another major barrier to the successful implementation of employee wellness programs is lack of affordable access to employees and their families. This is mostly due to an insurance culture that tends to discourage the utilization of mental health services. Basic medical insurance also fails to integrate Complementary and Alternative Medicine in their plan despite the fact that more than 30% of American adults use these non-mainstream practices.

One way to effectively address this concern is to ensure that the company’s health plans, EAP and behavioral health vendors offer affordable access to care. They should also include holistic health care as an integral part of their plan as this form of treatment not only treats a specific ailment, but endeavors to help the patient reach their optimum level of wellness.

It strives to integrate a state of positive well-being in an individual which ultimately transforms them into assets for a company. Moreover, all available treatment options should be communicated thoroughly to the employees to encourage them to take optimum advantage to boost or regain their productivity.

The current focus on employee well-being programs is surprisingly dismal with certain states only offering as low as one mental health professional for 1,000 employees. This lack of interest is causing the business community to lose out on financial as well as human capital and needs to be addressed as a top priority by any organization that wishes to achieve their true potential.