(This column originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly one-fifth of U.S. workers rate their mental health as fair or poor. Another study of more than 9,000 workers found that 48% of them said their wellbeing declined in 2022 with 28% reporting that they are “miserable” at work.
Finding ways to support your employees’ mental health needs is not just an ethical issue for business owners. Mental health creates significant financial costs as well, with Gallup estimating that workers with fair or poor mental health incur about 12 days of unplanned absences compared to 2.5 days for all other workers.
Mental health issues have increased substantially since the pandemic, with younger workers most affected.
“A greater number of younger people have entered the workforce and we’ve seen a major growth in the number of these workers asking about mental health benefits,” said Bill Webb, a vice president at Saratoga Benefits Services, an employee benefits consulting firm based in Moorestown. “Companies need to address this in order to stay competitive.”
So as a business owner or manager, what can you be doing?
Revisit your benefits and educate your people
Your first step is to revisit the mental health benefits your insurance provider offers and make sure your employees know about them.
Webb says many people think these benefits only include things that are physical — like doctors’ appointments and hospital visits — rather than services that address mental health needs. But this is probably not the case.
“Visits to a therapist, a psychiatrist or other professionals are often covered in most employer’s health plans,” said Webb. “One of the big things we do is to educate our clients about this and then we help them educate their employees so that they can take advantage of the benefits that are available to them.”
Webb says that many providers offer telehealth services with online professionals to provide counseling for employees. And there are a number of other platforms such as Betterup and Growthspace that offer confidential therapy sessions which may also be covered by a company’s health insurance plan. Financial wellness shouldn’t be ignored either and has become a significant trend.
“When we survey our clients, we find many desire help with their finances,” he said. “People often have stress when it comes to their money. Some services can help with budgeting and cash management tools to help people live within their means. It all relates to mental health.”
Assess and train
A growing number of companies have hired outside consultants to offer assessments and training sessions for employees as well.
Patricia Burke, owner of Whole Health Co, which provides corporate wellness and vitality coaching services to employers in the Delaware Valley, says this is extremely important for helping to identify employees who could potentially benefit from therapy or other services. She’s also quick to point out that when it comes to assessing an employee’s needs, one size doesn’t fit all.
“The needs of a worker at a manufacturing or a lumber group, or someone in a rural area are going to be different than someone in Center City who works at an accounting firm,” she said. “We like to offer 90-minute training sessions to address a work group’s questions and motivate more engagement.”
Burke also stresses complete involvement from a company’s top management in these sessions because “if the leadership and C-suite executives can implement their own wellness practices, that will permeate down into the ranks.”
Have a healthy work environment
All of these actions are important, but probably the one thing that has the biggest impact on an employee’s mental health is their company’s work environment. An unfriendly, physically unappealing office with unapproachable owners and managers is not conducive to a health environment. Burke always looks for this and advises her clients to create a more friendly, open place to work where an employee can feel, according to her, “psychological safety” and be comfortable voicing complaints or letting others know if and when a problem arises.
Both Burke and Webb say that remote working can create mental health challenges for some and that having a hybrid work environment — where employees can see each other once in a while — is important.
“When it comes to mental health in the workplace it really starts with the people they see. An individual should have satisfaction in their job, be around a good team, enjoy what they do and not dread coming to work every day,” Webb said.
Webb believes that managers who genuinely care about their employees and create a pleasant workplace culture that combines both remote working and face time — even with outside activities to blow off steam — are providing the best path towards a healthy mental attitude.
“You can’t just be focusing on trying to meet the bottom line and getting more profits,” he said. “If you have a good team environment and a friendly office culture that will have a much greater impact on the mental health of your employees than just paying for an app that some of them may or may not use.”