When a professional runner sprains their ankle, no one expects them to shrug it off and pretend that it’s nothing. They’re expected to rest, to heal, to get to 100% before they get back out on the track.
For some reason, however, this same courtesy is not extended to employees struggling with mental health issues.
They are mostly encouraged to shrug off their depression or their anxiety and to show up for work regardless of their mental acuity on that particular day. They’re expected to be engaged, productive, courteous, and approachable, otherwise, they’re accused of having an “attitude”.
This just goes to show that organisations have a long way to go when it comes to understanding mental health difficulties, or how to support employees who are struggling with them (and that’s one out of every seven employees, according to the latest studies).
If you’re serious about employee engagement, you need to take a hard, long look at how you handle (or fail to handle) mental health awareness at your company. It’s time to tear down the wall of silence we’ve built around these pervasive issues and to see what you as an employer can do to ensure the mental wellbeing of your people.
Check out Ambassify’s Ultimate Guide to Employee Engagement and learn how to grow healthy, motivated and productive teams by focusing on the essential cornerstones of workplace engagement.
How Does Employee Mental Health Affect the Bottom Line?
Mental health is one of those rare issues where doing the right thing for the employees aligns perfectly with what’s good for the bottom line. Companies have a strong financial incentive to address the mental health epidemic in the workplace, and here are the numbers that back that up:
- 47% of people claim work is the most stressful part of their day - this is in part fuelled by work environments that are dismissive of mental health issues, or that don’t have a system of support in place.
- 50% of employees with anxiety can’t sustain close relationships - good interpersonal relations are the cornerstone of high employee engagement; mental health issues throw a wrench in that, making it difficult for employees to connect with their colleagues.
- Depression costs companies $31 billion annually - on average, depressed employees lose 27 workdays per year, and depression costs companies more than arthritis, back and neck pain, obesity, and anxiety combined.
- Globally, poor mental health results in $1 trillion in lost productivity - this is more than productivity losses contributed to miscommunication and absenteeism combined.
Burn-out - Not a Mental Health Condition but Still a Burning Workplace Issue
Although not classified as a medical condition but rather as an occupational phenomenon, burn-out is something that can’t be skipped over when discussing workplace mental health, (or employee engagement in general).
Burn-out is a bigger issue for companies than diagnosable mental health conditions - according to Gallup, 23% of employees report feeling burnout at work very often or always, and 44% report feeling it sometimes.
Managing burn-out is extremely important because a) it results in lower productivity and loss of revenue, and b) it can trigger more serious health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
Most organisations are now treating this syndrome as if it actually is a mental health problem. Since it has a detrimental impact on engagement levels, it makes sense for companies to help employees manage burn-out before it spins out of control and evolves into something that’s more difficult (and more expensive) to deal with.
These numbers may look intimidating, but there’s hope for savvy businesses yet.
Those companies that focus on supporting their employees through difficult mental health patches come out on top. For every $1 invested in mental health awareness, they get $4 back through improved health and productivity. Also, 80% of employees who are treated for mental illness report increased levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.
3 Ways You Can Promote Mental Health & Boost Employee Engagement
If you want to work on mental health awareness inside your organisation, the first thing that you need to realise is that these types of conversations are profoundly affected by company culture.
No matter how robust your mental health benefits are, nothing will change if employees are too afraid or too ashamed to take advantage of them. Changing these attitudes requires a top-down approach that costs close to nothing, but asks of managers to be more involved and to lead by example.
Our research found that, when it comes to mental health, employees need a more accepting and open culture, additional training, and a personal approach. Here are three things that you can implement today that will be immensely valuable to employees who are struggling with mental health problems.
1 - Create Awareness by Involving Leadership
Even in close-knit work environments, employees are often terrified if they need to discuss their mental health challenges. However, this changes when their seniors lead by example. When executive team members, managers and even the CEO all start openly talking about mental health issues, it breaks down barriers and reduces the stigma.
Going from being a company that sweeps mental health issues under the rug to a company that openly discusses them and provides a support system for employees is not easy, but it can be achieved if you commit to it.
Here are some things that you’ll want to consider implementing in your organisation:
- Publicise your company’s commitment to mental well-being - use your company’s training materials, social media posts, and PR to talk about what you’re doing to support mental health awareness initiatives. Clearly outline policies and benefits that deal with mental health issues, and tell employees who they can talk to if they’re struggling.
- Ask executives to share their experiences openly - every single one of us has a poor mental health story, including top managers and CEOs. Ask those top-performing people in your organisation to share their stories publicly so that your line employees know they’re not alone, and to encourage them to ask for help if they need it.
- Empower mental health champions - you probably have employees in your company who are not afraid to speak up about their struggles. Shine a spotlight on them and, if they’re willing, ask them to share their stories both internally and externally.
The goal here is to normalise mental health conversations. When it becomes perfectly normal for employees to say that they have a bad mental health day and need support - and get that support - then you can say that the company is truly focused on employee wellbeing.
Many organisations - including Barclay’s, the UK’s leading bank - are now creating awareness videos featuring employees who are coping with mental health issues but still excelling at their work. These types of campaigns, more than anything else, show how pervasive mental health issues are - and how successfully they can be managed when you have a support system for your employees in place.
2 - Emphasise Importance of Mental Health Sick Days
In recent years, employees have been more ready to take sick days due to mental health issues. However, most are still uncomfortable to say that they’re staying home to focus on their mental wellbeing.
In 2018, in the UK, 17.5 million sick days were attributed to mental health conditions - 19.4 million to other reasons, and 38.5 million to minor illnesses. While it’s logical for the flu to be the most common reason why employees tend to stay home from work, it makes you wonder how many times “other reasons” or “minor illnesses” have been used to cover up depression and anxiety. After all, it’s often much simpler to email the boss and say that you’re feeling a bit under the weather than to say that you’re going through a full-blown panic attack and need to take the day off to recover from it.
If an employee feels that they’ll be ridiculed or reprimanded for taking a mental health sick day, they’ll just make up a different reason for it. This deprives you of the opportunity to offer concrete help, and contributes to the employee’s ongoing low engagement and reduced productivity.
To avoid this, make sure that you communicate in no uncertain terms that taking mental health sick days as needed is valid and important. Encourage employees to tell their colleagues about the reason they’re staying home because that helps to decrease the stigma. The CEO of Olark, Ben Congleton, did a great job of this recently by responding to an employee’s automated email and thanking them for loudly and unapologetically reminding everyone just how important mental health in the workplace is.
3 - Educate & Train Managers On Mental Health Issues
In addition to shining a spotlight on mental health issues and providing a safe space for employees to talk about them, your most important job is educating managers on the subject.
The goal here is not for managers to become therapists - they cannot, and should not, give mental health advice to employees. However, they should know how to recognise common symptoms, how to navigate difficult conversations, and how to emphatically and inclusively talk about mental health.
What they should not do is brush aside or ignore an employee’s mental health concern because that’s tantamount to workplace mobbing and can cause struggling employees to feel unsupported and their problems to spiral out of control.
Dilbert Credit: Scott Adams Inc
When it comes to mental health training, there are a few activities that managers find extremely useful:
- Role-playing exercises - provide managers with an opportunity to practice difficult mental health conversations in a safe environment.
- Exposure to real-life stories (videos) - watching interviews with employees who had experienced mental health problems can help sensitise managers to their issues and challenges.
- Mental health workshops - group or one-on-one training with mental health professionals will give managers insight into the most common symptoms, as well as the tools to deal with them.
Just remember - you shouldn’t put off mental health training because of the costs associated with it. Studies have shown that for every $1 invested in training, companies get $10 back in recouped productivity. Additionally, teams managed by people who’ve undergone mental health training report 18% fewer sick days annually.
Make 2020 the Year to Focus on Employee Mental Health
A lot of the factors that contribute to high employee engagement rates are rooted in mental health and wellbeing. If you want your employees to be productive, motivated, and successful, you need to support them through their rough patches.
This includes providing them with the support they need to overcome mental health challenges, and reducing the systematic stigma that prevents them from asking for help.
At Ambassify, we take employee engagement seriously, which is precisely why we encourage all our team members to talk openly about mental health, train our managers to react empathically to these challenges, and design our internal HR processes to give employees time and resources they need to recover. In return, our employees reward us by coming into work ready and willing to give it their 110%!
Mental well-being is an important stepping stone on the road to higher employee engagement rates but it’s not the only thing companies need to focus on. Read Ambassify’s comprehensive guide and learn how to motivate and inspire your employees to perform at their peak!