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The average American working a full-time, five-day workweek spends 2,080 hours at work a year. As an employer, it's your responsibility to ensure those hours are spent in a healthy workplace culture. Because without proper mental health support, the well-being of your staff — and your company at large — will suffer. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, now is the time to put a plan into place.
In this blog post, we'll explore the latest research on how mental health affects job performance, the signs of employee stress you should never ignore, and actionable steps you can take as an employer to support your team's mental health.
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Mental Health and Work: An Overview
What is mental health? According to the CDC, mental health refers to our well-being at an "emotional, psychological, and social" level. But what does this have to do with the workplace?
Mental health impacts everything from how we think about new or challenging situations, to how we feel about the people and coworkers who surround us, to what we do when it comes to decision-making. By fostering positive mental health practices at work, you can give your employees the opportunity to improve not only their job performance but also their lives as a whole.
How Mental Health Affects Job Performance
Mental health care is just as important as physical health care — but it's only in recent years that companies have begun to give it the attention it needs. Here are the most recent numbers on how mental health affects job performance:
- Who is stressed? Job-related stress is on the rise. In 2023, 67% of surveyed Americans felt stressed by their job, compared to 55% in 2022. (Jobsage)
- Do workers feel supported? Less than half — 45% — of employees said their employers supported them during the critical events of 2022. (Lyra Health)
- What is the cost? Annually, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost due to depression and anxiety, costing companies $1 trillion. (World Health Organization)
- Who is getting help? Despite having health insurance in 2022, 40% of those with anxiety and depression didn't get help and 28% with complex mental health needs such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, or ADHD didn't get care. (Lyra Health)
- Who is talking about it? Conversation is on the rise. In 2023, 55% of employees say mental health is discussed at work, up from just 28% in 2021. (Lyra Health)
Signs of Employee Stress You Shouldn't Ignore
Managers should lead with empathy and stay alert to the telltale signs of stress and burnout within their team. Quickly identify and address the following indicators of stress and burnout:
- Disengagement, like regularly skipping meetings or never participating in company activities
- Tardiness that affects the broader team by either arriving to work late or logging in late on a consistent basis
- Missing deadlines without a warning or clear communication, causing a bottleneck for the team
- Problem-oriented thinking instead of solution-oriented thinking
How to Support Employee Mental Health
It doesn't matter if your team is a powerhouse of part-timers or a force of full-time experts. Everyone benefits from mental health support, and as an employer, it's your responsibility to ensure you provide it. Here are some options for every budget:
Offer Mental Health Days, No Questions Asked
Most PTO plans include sick days for physical health, but the same is rarely offered for mental health. Include a set amount of mental health days or extend them without parameters if you follow an unlimited PTO plan.
Encourage your management and leadership team to take regular mental health days, which will nudge the rest of your team to follow their lead. When employees see that mental health support doesn't stop at a well-intended email — but results in real action starting from the top — they'll feel safe to take full advantage of the benefit.
Sponsor a Meditation App Subscription for All Employees
Meditation before, after, or even during a workday can significantly improve employee motivation — and, ultimately, your business's bottom line. And if you think you don't have the budget for an app subscription, think again. A Detroit chemical plant that implanted a meditation program saw absenteeism fall by 85%, while productivity rose by 120% and profits rose by 520%. You may find that you can't afford to not invest in meditation for all.
There are many meditation apps on the marketplace, but the two most popular are Calm and Headspace. Both offer plans for the workplace.
Ingrain the Pillars of DEI Into Your Everyday Operations
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives ensure everyone in your workforce feels seen, represented, respected, and supported. DEI is crucial for a healthy workplace culture.
The problem many companies face with DEI is that, while well-intentioned, many plans fail to follow through. The HSPR Workplace Culture Survey found that 40% of participants perceived DEI initiatives as "tokenistic." Too much time was spent "planning" and less time was spent "implementing."
To ensure your business follows through with its actions, form an accountability committee. Create mentorship and networking programs. Support DEI mission-driven brands. Follow a diverse calendar. But don't stop there — use these seven pillars of DEI to pioneer new ways to support your team:
Include Therapy Coverage in Your Benefits Package
While many therapists accept health insurance, many don't. Employees seeking therapy and counseling to help deal with stress and burnout can be frustrated by the cost, which is a huge inhibitor in getting help. In fact, one study from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing found that 42% of Americans who needed mental health care didn't get it because of cost and other barriers.
Consider offering your staff a monthly mental health stipend that can go towards the costs of accessible care. An app like BetterHelp can be an affordable, convenient option, and it has the world's largest network of licensed, accredited therapists. Their experienced professionals can help your team with anxiety, depression, relationship issues, trauma, grief, and more. All your employees have to do is answer a few questions to be matched with a licensed therapist they can chat with via video, phone, or text — any time, anywhere.
Consider a Four-Day Workweek or Early Release Fridays
A 40+ hour, five-day workweek may soon be a thing of the past. Implementing a four-day workweek has proven to have mental health benefits. A recent study by Scientific American showed 71% of those with a four-day workweek reported lower levels of burnout, and 39% reported feeling less stressed.
If this sounds like a hard sell, it's not. More and more members of leadership are getting on board. The latest 2023 data from Robert Half shows that 93% of managers support a four-day workweek, and 64% expect their companies to implement one within the next five years.
Reduce Tech Stress By Cutting After-Hours Communication
Tech stress refers to the burnout caused by an over-dependence on screens and devices like laptops and phones. This is extremely common among entrepreneurs and employees, given it's typically impossible to go screen-free in a modern office setting. It's often hard for workers to feel like they can separate themselves from tech, which infringes on their work-life balance.
As an employer, set clear boundaries to help combat tech stress. Make an official statement discouraging any work-related communication after (or before) business hours, including emails, instant messages, calls, and more. If your employees know they won't get pinged after hours, they won't be as tempted to keep these devices on them at all times.
Common Questions About Mental Health in the Workplace
What Can Trigger Poor Mental Health at Work?
Everyone has different triggers that may exacerbate mental health struggles, but there are some common triggers present in nearly every company that should be squashed as soon as they're identified:
- Work-related communication that demands a response after hours
- Fear-based leadership tactics and overbearing bosses
- Micromanagement rather than coaching
- Lack of diversity and representation in the workforce
- Unclear growth opportunities and lack of employee appreciation
- Non-competitive pay
- No raises after inflation or increased cost of living
How Do I Manage an Employee Struggling With Mental Health?
Managing an employee who is struggling with mental health is a complex and nuanced feat that requires empathy and sensitivity. Remember the following when providing support:
- Prioritize listening and giving your full attention instead of talking or sharing
- Ask open-ended questions that make the employee feel safe and seen
- Resist the urge to input your own opinions, advice, or biases
- Educate yourself on their situation or condition
- Work closely with your HR team to provide further assistance
How Do I Avoid Burnout Myself, as an Entrepreneur?
With all the effort spent on taking care of your workforce, it's very common for entrepreneurs to feel the effects of burnout themselves. Remember to put yourself first so you can bring your best self to work every day.
Avoiding burnout as an entrepreneur starts with being proactive. Take vacation time. Turn off your devices to avoid tech stress. Create and set boundaries. Remember that your company will keep operating even if you don't attend that one meeting or answer that one email.
What if I Don't Have the Budget to Offer Mental Health Benefits?
Many small businesses feel they can't afford to offer mental health care to employees — but the hard truth is, if you can't afford to support your employees, it may be time to revisit your budget and business priorities. The health and well-being of your team is priceless.
That being said, as a small budding business, funds are usually tight. But there are many ways you can start implementing better mental health at your workplace right now — for free or at a very low cost:
- Encourage mental health days
- Lead with empathy and model self-care by taking mental health days regularly
- Hire a diverse workforce
- Acknowledge diversity in your holiday calendar
- Offer educational sessions on DEI initiatives
- Provide employees with regular mental health care tips
No matter your business's size or budget, you must prioritize the mental health of your staff (and yourself). Healthy employees do better work — and that will have a ripple effect in your company and your community.
For free resources that help take the stress off running a small business, check out Bizee's small business resource library.
Karlie Kramer has over 6 years of experience in content marketing, from technical SEO and blog writing to team management and client success. She enjoys pouring over an obscene amount of cookbooks, tending to her veggie garden, and snuggling with her cat, Percy.
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