Mental health disorders—which include depression, anxiety, stress and other psychological disorders—affect nearly a quarter of all adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Employees afflicted with poor mental health could potentially experience the following symptoms:
- Reduced focus
- Low productivity
- Reduced cognitive abilities
- Poor physical wellbeing
The monetary repercussions of poor employee mental health are tangible—costing the U.S. economy nearly $226 billion each year in lost revenue. Fortunately, your business can implement programs to help your employees cope with and manage their mental health.
Activities and Programs
Despite its intangibility, mental health can be managed through programs, activities and treatment. For that reason, you may want to consider these five suggestions to assist your employees and minimize the effects of poor mental health on your business:
- Develop an employee assistance program (EAP) that offers screening, counseling and referral services for mental health and other issues. Ideally, the EAP would offer customized services based on the needs of your employees by being responsive to acute and emerging stressors in the workplace. Reassure your employees that all health information will be kept confidential and that sharing that information will not impact their jobs.
- Provide mental health screenings and educate your employees on the symptoms of mental health illnesses and the methods of treatment. Encourage employees to get screened, either through their primary doctors or through your EAP, if they have symptoms.
- Encourage employees to engage in physical activity, both during the workday and at home. Mild exercise can decrease some mental health disorder symptoms, and, in some cases, even prevent mild depressive episodes. Consider the following:
- Organizing a company sports team
- Scheduling walking meetings
- Offering gym memberships at a reduced cost
- Conduct employee surveys and ask about work stressors (such as conflicts with co-workers or managers), job demands (such as time pressure or physical demands), the level of support provided by supervisors, etc. All of these issues can affect the mental health of employees and can give you a baseline for implementing further training or workplace changes.
- Establish a workplace environment that is supportive of your employees who have mental health disorders by doing the following:
- Encourage social support among employees, such as an organized support group that meets regularly.
- Educate all employees about mental health to reduce stigmas and confusion.
- Treat people who have mental health problems with respect and dignity. Never label people by their conditions.
- Provide training on problem solving, effective communication and conflict resolution to support the mental health of employees.
- Create policies citing appropriate standards of conduct. Include conflict resolution and other training initiatives.
(Note: Depression can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As employees are screened and begin treatment, they may request a workplace accommodation, such as a change in work schedule, the option to telecommute, job modification or modifications to their work environment. You may be obligated to provide such accommodations, if they don’t cause undue hardship to your company. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers more information at www.eeoc.gov.)
Remember to Breathe
An employee who suffers from poor mental health costs his or her employer an average of $1,685 each year, according to the American Psychological Association. How a workplace is structured can either help or exacerbate an employee’s mental health. By developing helpful programs and communicating with your employees, your business should be able to minimize the impact of poor mental health.