A new era of work: why supporting employee mental health is essential

May 25, 2023 | Renee Neppl and Teri Raney, Account Executives, EFR

A new era of work: why supporting employee mental health is essential

The ongoing social turmoil, climate crisis, economic uncertainty, and world unrest are compelling workers to re-evaluate their expectations for work, and mental health is top of mind. In 2021, 50% of full-time US workers left their previous roles, at least in part due to mental health reasons. With world events amassing stress on employees, mental health supports at work are no longer just nice to have competitive differentiators; they are the linchpin to a productive, engaged culture.

Cost of workplace mental health problems

At a time when over 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in a given year, and less than half of those who need help receive it, leaders must empower their teams to care for their mental well-being. When your employees are physically at work but mentally elsewhere, the quality of work plummets and productivity suffers. Stressful situations like relationship troubles, financial insecurity, caregiving responsibilities, etc., follow employees as relentless distractions, stealing focus and sapping concentration and energy. These challenges cost the workplace billions – the WHO attributes $1 trillion in lost productivity due to anxiety and depression alone! The health of your team also suffers when their physical and mental health isn't supported; cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are 2x higher in adults with serious mental illness.

Supporting mental health is a smart business move

The cost of doing nothing is significantly higher than investing in mental health. In fact, for every $1 spent treating mental health concerns, there is a $5 return in improved health and productivity. When workplaces prioritize supporting the people behind the work titles, they create an environment where team members are empowered to bring their best selves to work. Research studies have found that feeling open and authentic to work leads to better performance, engagement, retention, and well-being. 

How leaders can support team members’ mental well-being

Because managers have their boots on the ground and oversee the day-to-day interactions and processes in the workplace, they are uniquely positioned to push for a culture shift that prioritizes employee well-being. Supporting team members' mental health and creating a culture of acceptance starts with addressing stigma at work:

  • Embrace Vulnerability: Our collective experiences can only help decrease stigma if people, especially those in leadership positions, share their experiences. When team members see their leaders become vulnerable about the challenges they face, it builds trust and opens the door for employees to be upfront about their own struggles.
  • Model Healthy Behaviors: Leaders can get so caught up in focusing on their team's well-being and managing projects that they forget to practice self-care. Share how you're prioritizing self-care and boundary setting. For example, taking a stretch break, going for a walk, having a therapy appointment, or taking a mental health day. This takes mental health from everyday conversation to everyday actions and helps set new norms in the workplace.  
  • Check-In: Set touchpoints throughout the day to connect with team members, not just for project updates or work-related conversations. Take time to engage with them by asking questions about their well-being. Doing so is a friendly invitation for employees to share their struggles or concerns and demonstrates you genuinely care about who they are and how they are doing. Be mindful not to become overbearing, as that can signal a lack of trust or desire to micromanage. 
  • Overcommunicate: Employees who feel a lack of communication from their managers are 23% more likely to experience mental health decline. Uncertainty breeds stress and anxiety, so it is important to communicate more than you think you need. Proactively inform your team of organizational changes or updates, and clarify as much as possible. Define the expectations for workloads and productivity, and acknowledge what can slide if necessary. Consistently remind your team of available mental health resources, and normalize their use.

For more information email Teri and Renee at info@efr.org.