We recently enjoyed a mental health day at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
We scheduled the much-needed day off to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, observed in May. It was a modest but important measure to help our hard-working staff, and the benefits were significant. Like all employers, we have recognized that structural and organizational approaches to time management and stress reduction can help working adults better cope with burnout, anxiety and other challenges.
This month we encourage employers to acknowledge and respond to the needs of their employees.
The Associated Press this week reported that estimates show untreated mental illness may cost companies up to $300 billion annually, largely due to the effect on productivity, higher absenteeism and increases in medical and disability expenses. That estimate was included in a new study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
In addition, merely 32% of human resources professionals say offering mental health resources such as employee assistance programs is a high priority for their organization, according to a joint survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the SHRM Foundation and global health care company Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.
So, we can do much better to help people access treatment through programs offered at work, especially as more people return to the workplace.
There are some encouraging signs. About 94% of human resources professionals believe offering mental health resources can improve the overall health of employees, while 88% said these benefits can increase productivity and 86% said that these resources can improve employee retention, the SHRM report found.
This week, a Harvard Business Review story identified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) as the most popular program of its kind available, and Mental Health First Aid at Work is a corporate training program based on MHFA that teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health or substance use challenges among colleagues and direct reports on the job.
Studies show people trained in Mental Health First Aid are more knowledgeable and confident when it comes to identifying and helping an individual in distress. MHFA at Work focuses specifically on the workplace and can benefit businesses of all sizes and in all sectors by empowering employees with mental health awareness tools and skills.
MHFA at Work saw a huge rise in demand after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since October 2020 we’ve added more than 140 new clients, thanks in large part to our transition to virtual training. But companies also are stepping up because they want to support employees. That includes MHFA at Work clients like Delta Air Lines, Ford Motor Co., IKEA and Kate Spade.
At last, mental health training programs for employees have gone from a seldom-used benefit to a vital resource. Companies in all industries also recognize MHFA at Work as a recruitment and retention tool. If you can demonstrate that you genuinely care about the health and wellbeing of your employees – especially now, in the midst of the Great Resignation – you will find it easier to attract the right kind of people who will help your company succeed in the long run.
But there’s much more to be done.
As Harvard Business Review pointed out last October, “one silver lining amid all the disruption and trauma is the normalization of mental health challenges at work… Although employers have responded with initiatives like mental health days or weeks, four-day work weeks, and enhanced counseling benefits or apps, they’re not enough. Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.”
For younger workers and historically underrepresented groups, it’s even more important that employers step up efforts to address mental health and substance use challenges of employees. According to the Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow, millennials and Gen Zers, as well as LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents were all significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms than the rest of adult workers.
Employees do their jobs every day. It’s time employers do their jobs and give more than just a paycheck in return. Investing in employees by providing training to identify mental health and substance use challenges and then making treatment available will help all working adults, the organizations they work for and our economy.
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing