Well-Being and Retention: Making mental health a priority
If you want to build a world-class employee experience culture, make sure you don’t leave out the most important part: employee well-being. Organizations provide their employees with medical, vision, and dental insurance. But what about mental health benefits? Many companies leave this out of the package, meaning that only those who can afford to pay out of pocket for mental health issues are the only ones who get it. Mental wellness cannot be a privilege for a minor part of our population—it must be accessible for everyone.
A new leadership approach
We have seen an increasing number of high-profile athletes and entertainers speak out about their struggles with mental well-being. These awareness campaigns are a great start. However, few business leaders have done the same. Why? There’s a lingering stigma associated with revealing such seeming vulnerability at work. But burnout, anxiety, and depression among workers are hitting record levels. According to a report from mental health consultancy Mind Share Partners, three-quarters of full-time U.S. workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019. In this third year of Covid and its variants we’re seeing signs of change.
We live in a different world today. Leaders have unique responsibilities never seen before. Today’s leaders must know how to lead from a distance in our new remote economy, and recognize and support their employees’ mental well-being. They must be aware of the direct and indirect costs when employees don’t have the support they need. This doesn’t mean leaders need to turn into therapists, but organizations and their leaders must be more than just empathetic. They must build cultures that support and provide resources, both preventive and reactive, for employees struggling with their mental wellness.
The mental health of America’s younger population was a major national concern before Covid-19. Now it has reached crisis stage. In a recent survey by the CDC, 37% of people reported feeling anxious or depressed compared with 11% in 2019, pre-pandemic. What’s more, by some estimates, half of Americans will experience an issue with significant symptoms and the negative impact of mental illness over their lifetime. The need for employee assistance programs and mental health initiatives has never been greater.
Progress toward legislation
Lawmakers wrestling with how to ensure that mental health and physical health are treated equally by employers and insurers are working on mental health policy. Until recently, however, mental health has been considered a taboo topic in many workplaces. However, the Great Resignation era has taught us that now, more than ever, addressing mental health in the workplace has become a business imperative.
“As a nation, it’s past time to prioritize youth mental health and provide young people with the support they need. And employers have a significant role to play,” wrote Garen Staglin, co-founder of Mind at Work in a recent Forbes article (“It’s Time for Employers To Support Youth Mental Health”).
The mental health of our employees’ children can have a direct, sometimes negative impact on workplace environments. Think about it. The solution lies in providing appropriate mental health resources. For a truly great organization, a leader’s first priority must be helping people lead great lives. We have to be the type of company that helps employees be their best selves and have a chance at building meaningful and constructive lives. How? We must start with investing in training the whole person, not just the professional development that makes them more productive and profitable for our businesses.
We must make employee health—on all levels—a high priority, and show it by offering well-being benefits in addition to traditional health insurance.
It’s okay to not be okay!
Fast Company brought together a group of successful CEOs, entertainers, and subject matter experts to discuss what needs to be done around employee mental wellness awareness.
“It is so important that people know that it is okay not to be okay. When we’re not feeling that way, it’s important to talk about it and share that with other people,” said Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Paley pointed out that the workplace used to be where an employee would set their personal life aside during work hours, in a sense temporarily shutting down part of their humanity. This rarely led to healthy work environments. Currently, there is an evolution toward a new model where people can more fully brings themselves to work. Being human is good business.
Serial entrepreneur Paul English also participated. “Secrecy and shame are the enemy of healing,” he said. “I think the main responsibility we have as business leaders, when it comes to mental health—and really all health issues—is to let your team know that you have their back, and that you’ll be there for them when they’re struggling."
English shared that when his team sees his own vulnerability, they can feel more comfortable sharing their own issues without the worry of mental health stigma. Confidence may get people to follow, but vulnerability engenders loyalty. Employees helping employees in the workplace must start with the leaders. When employees feel that management cares about them and their families, and issues come up outside the workplace, they can function better in all areas of life.
The ROI of well-being
Supporting employee mental well-being is not only about being altruistic. Mental health investments are good for both company culture and productivity. By some estimates, for every $1 invested in supporting mental health in the workplace, there is a $4 payback. That is a powerfully positive ROI!
As we all fight to lead in the Great Retention of talented employees, mental well-being will be a leading tool for attracting and keeping employees—especially younger ones. It is no longer a perk, but a must-have that will be reflected in your company’s retention rates and employee morale. In addition, it will be a strong addition to your customer service vision statement.
I believe we will see larger organizations, such as Fortune 500 companies, start providing comprehensive, affordable, and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees and their families, including no-cost or low-cost access to mental health services, as well as implementing policies that help employees address mental health challenges, both at home and in the workplace, such as more paid family and sick leave.
Whether you recognize it or not, every company in America is affected by the mental health crisis. By taking targeted action to support mental health challenges, organizations will reap the benefits now and for decades to come. It will make you a mental health champion in your current company. Not only will it be a relationship-builder, greatly increasing employee satisfaction and employee well-being, it will help create a stronger, healthier, more compassionate society... and maybe even a customer service revolution.
Invest in Best Practices
Businesses have to make the investment to enable people to get the care that they need. There are numerous ways employers can and should invest. Here are some examples for an integrated approach.
- Create a culture that prioritizes mental health and well-being for employees and their family members
- Assess the effectiveness of employer-sponsored mental health resources on a regular basis and update them as needed to maximize their effectiveness
- Offer resources around the “Four Fs”: Family, Fitness (physical and mental), Finance, and Faith
- Address emotional distress and burnout, starting with workplace-specific mental health training for your leaders; offer mental health days to employees
- Train leaders on how to recognize and offer programs and resources to employees who may be suffering
- Provide customer service training for employees on how to recognize the impact of stress and help their family members with mental health interventions
- Enforce vacation time usage (versus monetary payouts)
- Employ best practices for promoting positive attitudes
- Provide resources to subject matter experts, apps, YouTube videos, podcasts, and books for the following:
Avoiding “doomscrolling” and other digital habits that can increase depression
Reducing “black hole” conversations
Personal time management
Living a healthier lifestyle
How to purchase a first home
Financial planning and budgeting
Building stronger relationships
Sleep and stress reduction
Yoga and meditation classes
John R. DiJulius III, author of is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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