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Investing in Your Employees’ Mental Health

Workplace stress, anxiety and burnout are epidemic in today’s fast-paced and competitive business environment, but these strategies can help business owners deal with the ongoing issue of employee mental health.

By Chris IrbyCopy Editor
8:08AM 05/20/24

In 2022, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a framework document entitled “Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being” in which he specifically called out the issues of heavy workloads, limited autonomy, unpredictable schedules, low wages and long work hours. Vivek claimed that these stressors weren’t simply contributing to the national labor shortage but were, in fact, causing widespread feelings of anxiety and depression among workers. 

Prioritizing employee mental health in the workplace is more than a moral obligation; it’s a long-term strategy that will ultimately drive the success of your business.

Dr. Kyle Elliott is a tech career coach in Silicon Valley and founder of Kyle Elliott Consulting. He also lives daily with generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD and panic disorder, which has given him some unique insights into the issue of mental health in the workplace. 1851 Franchise recently spoke with Dr. Elliott about the importance of investing in the mental health of your employees.

Understanding the Importance of Employee Mental Health

Today’s business environment tends to be fast-paced and competitive, which can lead to unprecedented levels of stress and burnout in employees. And while these challenges do impact the individual well-being of your employees, they also have more far-reaching consequences:

1. Impact on Productivity

“Work doesn’t exist in a vacuum; employees bring their whole selves to work,” Dr. Elliott said. “When employees are doing well mentally, they’re likely to perform better. However, when employees are mentally unwell, their work quality will likely diminish.”

Research consistently demonstrates that mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, can significantly impair cognitive function, decision-making abilities and overall productivity. Employees struggling with mental health concerns may experience difficulty concentrating and effectively managing their workload.

“Worker productivity can significantly decline when employees don’t receive the mental health support and resources they need from their organization,” Dr. Elliott said. “Attending to the mental health of employees is a benefit for both workers and companies. Companies that prioritize worker mental health not only have happier, healthier employees, but also more productive workforces.”

2. Effect on Employee Engagement and Retention

A workplace culture that prioritizes employee mental health fosters higher levels of engagement, and job satisfaction. Conversely, neglecting mental health can lead to increased absenteeism and turnover rates, resulting in significant costs for recruitment, training and productivity losses.

“I expect the costs associated with absenteeism will rise as employees continue to struggle with stress and burnout,” Dr. Elliott said. “It’s important that people get more comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace … Remember that it costs much less to retain an employee than it does to replace them because of burnout or an unsupportive work environment.”

3. Reputation and Brand Perception

Organizations that demonstrate a genuine commitment to employee well-being enhance their reputation as employers of choice. A positive workplace culture that values mental health attracts top talent and enhances brand perception among customers and other stakeholders.

“Investing in the mental health of your employees pays dividends,” Dr. Elliott explained. “Top talent, particularly those who belong to the younger generations, often look for organizations that value and prioritize mental health.”

Dr. Elliott specified that these efforts need to be sincere and he advised against using the issue of employee mental health as a cynical branding ploy. “These employees are clever and able to discern between organizations that are truly walking the walk and those that are simply investing in good employer branding,” he said. “If your company is not ready to do the important, yet difficult, work of prioritizing worker mental health, please do not advertise as such, as you are doing both yourself and your employees a disservice.”

Strategies for Investing in Employee Mental Health

Now that we understand the importance of prioritizing employee mental health, let's explore actionable strategies for integrating some mental health initiatives into your organization.

1. Provide Accessible Resources and Support Services

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Offer confidential counseling, crisis intervention and referral services to support any employees who may be facing personal or work-related challenges.

Mental Health Education and Training: Provide comprehensive training on stress management and mental health awareness to equip your employees with the knowledge and skills to navigate challenges effectively.

Wellness Initiatives: Implement wellness programs that promote physical activity, mindfulness practices and work-life balance to support the overall well-being of your employees.

“Many companies educate new hires on their EAPs when they’re getting onboarded,” Dr. Elliott said. “However, onboarding is a stressful time for employees because a lot of information is being thrown their way. You must regularly educate employees on your available resources and support services if you want people to utilize them.”

2. Promote a Culture of Psychological Safety and Support

Open Communication Channels: Create opportunities for your employees to discuss mental health openly and without fear of judgment. Encourage your managers to initiate regular check-ins to assess well-being and offer support to members of their teams.

Normalize Help-Seeking Behaviors: Challenge the stigma surrounding mental health by normalizing help-seeking behaviors and emphasizing the importance of seeking support when needed.

“Mental health storytelling is a powerful resource to reduce the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors,” Dr. Elliott said. “While I never recommend that leaders self-disclose a mental health condition before they feel 100% ready, doing so can encourage others to access help for themselves.”

Leadership Buy-In and Role Modeling: Demonstrate visible leadership support for mental health initiatives by participating in wellness activities, prioritizing self-care and advocating for mental health awareness.

“Leaders should also model taking care of themselves holistically,” Dr. Elliott said, “which includes taking breaks throughout the workday, not working outside normal hours unless it’s a true emergency, and using their allotted [paid time off].”

3. Flexible Work Arrangements and Policies

Remote Work Options: Offer flexibility in work arrangements, including remote work options and flexible scheduling, to accommodate the diverse needs of your employees and promote work-life balance.

“Providing employees the option to work remotely allows for more accessibility, particularly for those employees living with mental health conditions,” Dr. Elliott said.

Paid Time Off (PTO) Policies: Encourage your employees to utilize their PTO for rest and rejuvenation. Implement policies that discourage excessive overtime and promote a healthy work-life integration.

Dr. Elliott advised reviewing your company’s current PTO policy to determine if it is unnecessarily restrictive, laborious or even inaccessible for last-minute needs. “Many employees with mental health conditions often can’t plan their time off in advance,” he explained. “Aim to create a PTO policy that is flexible and easy to use.”

4. Performance Evaluation and Feedback

Mental Health Metrics: Integrate mental health metrics into performance evaluations to assess your employees’ well-being, job satisfaction and engagement levels.

“Like anything in business, what gets measured gets improved,” Dr. Elliott said, “and this also applies to employee mental health.”

Feedback Mechanisms: Solicit feedback from your employees regarding their experiences with mental health initiatives and workplace culture. Use this feedback to direct continuous improvement efforts and refine your strategies accordingly.

“Frontline employees living with mental health conditions must be involved in the decision-making processes,” Dr. Elliott said. “You cannot implement this work effectively without including those with lived experience, period. At the same time, this work must have the attention, support and dollars of your executive team.”

A Mentally Healthy Workforce Is Good for Employees and for Business

Investing in employee mental health isn't just a moral imperative — it's a strategic business decision that pays dividends in terms of productivity and engagement. By prioritizing mental health initiatives and creating a supportive workplace culture, businesses can foster a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. 

Remember, a mentally healthy workforce isn't just good for employees — it's good for business too. So, let's prioritize employee mental health and build workplaces where everyone can thrive.

For more info on employee mental health issues and initiatives, check out these related articles on 1851 Franchise: