Did you know that one in four Americans have identified work as being a source of anxiety? Or that depressed employees lose on average 27 work days per year? And what about this statistic – depression costs employers more than any other health condition? These are sobering statistics. It’s incumbent on every responsible employer as well as those with an eye on productivity and reducing sickness and absence costs to do something about it.An employee presenting with a physical illness would be encouraged to seek medical help and take the necessary time off to recuperate and recover. Sadly, it’s usually a different story for employees with mental health issues. At best, there’s often a lack of understanding and at worse, there can be stigma or shame involved. However, attitudes are slowly changing helped by celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen who opened up about his ongoing battle with depression in his recent autobiography and Princes William and Harry who disclosed their struggles with anxiety following the sudden death of their mother. So if mental health at work is a topic you feel less than comfortable with then this article is essential reading. We outline some of the key issues and how employers can begin to tackle the problem.
Mental Health At Work: Why It’s Important
We’ve touched on this already but there’s no doubt that protecting and enhancing the mental health of your employees is not only an ethical responsibility, but it’s also a pragmatic choice too. You see, the hidden costs to the employer in terms of low productivity or absenteeism can be significant.
A recent study from the London School of Economics estimated that depression alone is costing the US economy more than $91 billion in lost productivity, while depression-related presenteeism (or attending work while unwell) costs $84.7 billion each year. Multiply these sorts of figures by other common mental illnesses such as anxiety and it’s clear that there is a significant issue here. And we haven’t even touched on employees with more complex mental health issues such as eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
What Can Employers Do In Response?
Don’t Sweep It Under The Carpet
Probably the single most important step an employer can take is to remove the stigma around mental illness by encouraging an open dialogue with employees. A mental-health friendly workplace will result in more employees feeling comfortable opening up about their struggles. And removing the stigma and shame attached to mental health will result in fewer employees investing huge amounts of energy in trying to hide their symptoms in the workplace.
Individual line managers will be critical to creating the environment of acceptance and openness. For a great many employees, the way they feel about themselves and the company is directly related to how they are treated by their line managers and other leaders in the organization. What’s more, the behavior of line managers could be a root cause of workplace stress and anxiety. For instance, a negative, abusive or even a just plain disorganized manager can induce stress-related health problems in those that have to work alongside them. On the other hand, a manager that supports and values team members can positively help employees to manage all kinds of workplace difficulties, including any mental health issues that might have otherwise impacted on their performance.
The starting point for a positive workplace culture therefore lies with managers. They need to be equipped with the understanding, knowledge and tools to deal with mental health issues at work.
Encourage A Healthy Work-life Balance
With the advent of smartphones and tablets, we’ve seen an increase in the inability of staff to switch off from work. For some individuals it can be hard to mentally switch off after hours when their phone constantly pings with an email notification. Technology has brought with it more flexibility and new ways of working and while most employees would welcome the potential opportunities, employers also need to set reasonable boundaries and expectations. You might want to consider setting a time limit for out-of-hours work-related emails or actively encourage employees to switch their phones off once they arrive home in the evening. And you may want to actively discourage staff from repeatedly working late or taking work home with them to complete over the weekend. Whatever you opt for, managers and executives need to model the right behaviour. Getting the work-life balance right is essential to the well-being of all us and it needs to start at the top.
Promote Employee Health
Promoting employee health in a general sense has a sound economic basis. Staff members that are healthy are likely to be happier and more productive and are less likely to take time off work. And so, whether it’s their physical or mental health, there is a strong argument for employers taking the initiative and actively promoting good health in the workplace.
This can take many forms – from sharing information and knowledge transfer to facilitating a lunchtime walking or running group, even to a healthy eating campaign in the staff room or office food delivery company. It’s a powerful way to encourage health and well-being across the workplace.
Utilize Your Intranet
When it comes to managing mental health at work and promoting employee wellness generally, your intranet is an important part of the toolkit. With all employees having ready access, it’s the perfect platform for sharing information and highlighting those positive key messages. Here are just a few of the practical ways in which an intranet can support a policy of openness about mental health and employee well-being in the workplace.
- Provide managers with the know-how and tools to manage mental health issues. Online roadmaps, toolkits and step-by-step processes for identifying, responding to and managing employee mental health can be made available on the intranet. There are plenty of charitable organizations that provide very useful resources, including the Center for Workplace Mental Health and the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. You can make it easy to access these resources on the intranet by using an iframe or widget.
- Develop a wellness portal on the intranet. Giving employees self-service access to information, knowledge, quizzes and surveys is important to fostering that all-important openness. What’s more, many companies already provide free eye tests for employees or ergonomic assessments of workstations as part of an employee wellness program and so why not also support employees suffering mental health problems by providing access to counselors or professional help through the intranet.
- Use the intranet to keep employees informed. The workplace can often be an exacerbating factor for employees with mental health issues. And so if, for example, your organization is undergoing a restructuring or other major change, it can be very stressful for staff who may be worried about changes to their job or whether they have a future in the company. The intranet is the perfect platform for ensuring all staff are kept informed with consistent and timely updates delivered through the company and team news pages.
- Connect employees with each other by utilizing social intranet Having a mental health issue can be very isolating for staff members. And feeling disconnected from colleagues can also contribute to workplace stress. A social intranet is one way to encourage connections among employees and develops a sense of camaraderie across the organization. User profiles and biographies, activity walls and messaging promote social connections and make for a friendlier and more people focused workplace.
These are just some of the ways an intranet can support the management of mental health at work. One thing for sure is that inaction is not an option – all organizations need to carefully think about how they can respond to this important issue. Utilizing your intranet is certainly a cost-effective and pragmatic starting point.
Get in touch with the expert team at MyHub to find out more about how intranets can support your company’s mental health program.