Few employers would dream of not addressing an employees’ health who has just suffered a heart attack; everyone understands the seriousness of a physical health condition.
Unfortunately, mental health isn’t given the same attention – even though it’s much more common than physical health conditions. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The Center of Prevention for Health states that on average, mental health and drug abuse costs American businesses between $79 billion and $105 billion every year! Even after incurring such huge losses due to poor mental health of employees, American businesses chronically fail to adequately tackle the problem.
Here are 5 suggestions that employers can do to facilitate better mental health in the workplace:
1. Create a healthy environment
First and foremost, employers need to make a conscious effort to ensure that their employees have a healthy, supportive environment at work. Many employers aren’t aware of the emotional and physical problems their employees may be undergoing due to the demands of their jobs.
Expecting employees to be hunched around the desk for 8 hours a day under fluorescent lighting with no breaks is unhealthy and takes a toll on employees’ physical and mental well being. The same applies to mandating that employees work overtime.
Employers need to understand that there are limits to how far employees should be pushed and give them time to blow off steam. Breaks and PTO/vacation time are vital to employees’ physical and mental health.
Employees spend one third of their time at work. Companies would be wise to make efforts to ensure that the work environment is one they enjoy coming to. Aside from the mental health benefits for the employees, studies have proven that a balanced work environment is better for the success of the company. If employees are cared for and respected, their job becomes something they look forward to, something they gain satisfaction from and, in turn, are ultimately more successful.
2. Help employees identify mental health risks
Employees too have a tendency to ignore their own mental health, and those of their colleagues. Identifying mental health risks early on helps nip them in the bud before they grow into severe illnesses like chronic anxiety and depression.
Employers can help employees identify mental health risks by hiring a mental health professional that can screen employees. They can also offer employees to take online tests and fill in specific questionnaires that gauge their emotional wellbeing.
3. Employee Assistance Programs
Recognize that declining mental health in employees is a growing problem. Suicide rates have dramatically increased across the country the past few years, and ignoring this issue is not going to make it better. Many companies have chosen to work with healthcare professionals to introduce employee assistance programs. These programs are designed to address problems such as stress, drug addiction, personal issues, family problems, and other variables that may impact emotional well being.
4. Create Opportunities to Exercise During the Workday
There are health and wellness experts that design and run employee well being programs. These health care professionals devise customized healthcare programs for employees of the organization to improve their physical and emotional health. This can include everything from therapy sessions to yoga classes.
Research shows that companies that provide their workforce the ability to exercise during breaks benefit from dramatically lower absentee rates, as well as substantially better overall job satisfaction, higher overall production, and lower mental health issues.
5. Show Compassion but Maintain Professional Standards
When you see someone that appears to be struggling at work, often times managers and co-workers struggle with wanting to reach out a helping hand, but worry about crossing over that invisible albeit critical line between being compassionate, but not wanting to intrude into someone’s personal space.
Mental Healthcare professionals advise in situations such as these, it is best to ask the employee how she or he is doing, and carve out time to truly listen. If it appears that there are serious issues, have a ready list of resources that you can direct the employee to.
Make sure you post the following phone numbers of mental health hotlines around the office:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide & Crisis Hotline: 1-800-999-9999
Sexual Abuse – Stop It Now!: 1-888-PREVENT
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC
Victim Center: 1-800-394-2255
Until we all start to be more comfortable in addressing mental health issues, and put compassion above broaching subjects that make many people uncomfortable, the US is going to continue to suffer from increasingly high suicide rates. We would all benefit from making a point to reaching out to co-workers that seem to be struggling, and learning to become more comfortable in addressing mental health issues.
Sometimes simply listening with a kind heart and non-judgmental attitude can quite literally save someone’s life.
Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is President of International Search Consultants. Since 1999, ISC has been a leader in executive search. You can reach Ann directly at 888-866-7276 or via email at