Employee mental wellness as important as physical health, professionals say
As the national conversation around mental wellness progresses, employers can help prioritize mental health as equally as physical health by bringing in professionals and reducing the stigma surrounding openly addressing these issues.Posted — Updated
Every day, Americans of all backgrounds head to work while dealing with a problem. It could be financial or it could be family related; regardless of the source of frustration, many may not be able to take time off, and instead bring that baggage into the office.
Depression and anxiety can be amplified in these conditions, and can lead to unhappy workers and lost productivity.
"Four hundred million lost workdays per year are due to depression. I think that is pretty scary," said Sandy Kuntz, director of business management with Triangle Springs. "In the workplace, addiction problems cost $197 billion per year. Seventy five percent of adult drug users are in the workforce."
Some managers may like to think of work as a second family, but the reality is we all have lives outside of the office. Instead of brushing these issues under the rug and hoping for the best, even just acknowledging that something may be going on at home can be a way to help employees.
"I think one thing that [for] employers is important is to always recognize and understand your employees have lives outside of their work life," said Carla Hollis, chief executive officer at Triangle Springs Hospital. "They can be dealing with an emotional crisis or a financial emergency. It's important to be in tune with your employees and what may be impacting their work."
The mental well being of an employee can be just as important to their output as their physical health.
Workplaces around the country regularly sponsor physical health initiatives like step-counting competitions or weight loss challenges. As the national conversation around mental wellness progresses, employers can help prioritize mental health as equally as physical health by bringing in professionals and reducing the stigma surrounding openly addressing these issues.
"At the crux of all of this is -- as a society -- we have to normalize mental health the same way we normalize physical health," Hollis said. "We think nothing of doing glucose screens or doing blood pressure tests and making sure people have flu shots. We feel like, as employers, that's part of our responsibility to our employees."
Hollis continued, "Your mental health is important too. We have to feel just as willing to have to bring on an expert on depression or drug use. We have to be able to talk about those things the same way we talk to employees about managing weight or diabetes."
Just being open and acknowledging that mental wellness is important can help those suffering.
"Most people are going to want to do a good job and hang in there," Kuntz said. "The misconception is, I can fake it 'til I make it, but there are things I'm going to drop the ball on because I'm preoccupied with my depression."
Employee awareness by managers and superiors can be an easy way to not only let employees know you care, but show that work is a safe place. Acknowledging the necessity of something like a mental health day or what an employee is going through in their personal lives can help prevent further issues developing.
"As a supervisor or a leader, you have to be in tune to your employees or you have to expect that from your leadership team," Hollis said. "If you have an employee who had a death or a child that has a drug addiction, talk about it or just listen. We spend more time at work than we do at home. Wouldn't that be a good place to share and -- as the employee -- to feel like you're supported?"
When creating a healthy atmosphere for employees isn't enough, providing benefits that include mental health treatment can be an easy next step. By offering an Employee Assistance Program, employers can show that mental wellness is a priority.
"Most employers need -- if they don't have one -- an EAP. That's a great benefit to provide to employees," Kuntz said. "If I utilize my EAP, [human resources] is not going to get a report. It's going to say the EAP services were utilized. It really is confidential. I think part of the time, that's why an employee doesn't want to disclose something, they're worried about losing their job."
Crafting an employee-first approach to mental health awareness can provide tangible benefits in the form of increased production, but it can also create a more welcoming workplace for employees.
The benefits may not be as immediately visible as providing an annual flu shot, but the outcome can be ten times as beneficial.
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