Top 4 Workplace Mental Health Strategies to Support Your Employees

By Mark Ray

4 ways to improve mental health support in your company

“The way we’re working isn’t working.”

That was the conclusion of Mind Share Partner’s 2021 report on the state of workplace mental health. According to the report, 84% of employees face workplace issues that affect their mental health, including emotionally draining work, challenges with work-life balance and lack of recognition. Some employees miss work as a result — eight days per year on average — while others quit their jobs altogether. In fact, half of full-time U.S. workers (and two-thirds of Millennials) say they’ve left a job due at least in part to mental health concerns.

Given those sobering statistics, it’s clear that how we address workplace mental health isn’t working either. To support their workers’ mental health (and their own fiscal health), companies need to do more than just offer lightly promoted employee assistance programs (EAPs).

Here are four ways to improve your company’s support for employee mental health.

1. Recognize what makes — and breaks — mental health

Before launching yet another new initiative, step back and consider what factors contribute to workplace mental health issues in the first place. According to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, workplace mental health and well-being relies on five “essentials,” all of which are centered on worker voice and equity:

  • Protection from harm, including safety and security
  • Connection and community, including social support and belonging
  • Work-life harmony, including autonomy and flexibility
  • Mattering at work, including dignity and meaning
  • Opportunity for growth, including learning and accomplishment

Failing to address these issues — which are admittedly weighty — is akin to treating symptoms while ignoring the disease that’s causing them.

2. Maximize your EAP’s value

All too often, employees hear about a company’s EAP during onboarding and never again. That’s unfortunate because EAPs benefit workers and companies alike. In fact, one study found that employees who don’t use available programs like EAPs incur about $1,400 in higher annual medical costs than those who do.

To get your money’s worth out of your EAP, promote it every chance you get — not just during onboarding. Make sure employees understand that it’s confidential and that they can get help for a broad range of issues, everything from stress to financial issues.

And the range can be wide indeed. For example, employees of the American Public Health Association can even get free help finding resources for dependent and elder care. If you’re a member of the sandwich generation, you understand the connection between those issues and your own mental health.4

3. Offer Mental Health First Aid training

Mental health issues like depression have a way of sneaking up on a person. Often, the first people to recognize someone has a problem are family, friends and coworkers. Mental Health First Aid at Work training increases the odds that your employees will recognize and react to problems. In fact, after a four-hour training (available both virtually and in-person), 67% of participants say they are better able to recognize the signs that someone is dealing with a mental health or substance use challenge, while 56% are more willing to offer support.

Deutsche Bank, which has trained hundreds of its UK employees since 2016, has enjoyed positive results from prioritizing employee mental health. According to HR magazine, the company has seen “a four-fold increase in how seriously people think it takes mental health.” As group HR director Neil Morrison told the magazine, “We want people to know it’s ok not to be okay.”

4. Lead by example

Although we’ve come a long way, mental health issues still carry a whiff of stigma. That’s a shame given that 76% of people say they’ve experienced at least one mental health symptom in the past year.

One way to break the stigma is to have company leaders share their own experiences. That’s just what Andrew Miller, COO of the Minnesota Vikings, did early in the pandemic. During an all-staff virtual meeting, he explained that he could understand employees’ mental health struggles because he’d dealt with depression for decades. As he said later, “I was surprised not only at the number of people who had experienced mental health challenges, but also at the gratitude they had for someone in my position sharing my story.”

That anecdote is a powerful reminder that improving employee mental health doesn’t mean just throwing more money at the problem (although stronger mental health benefits would be nice). Instead, it means fostering a culture where employees can talk about and find solutions to the mental health challenges they’re facing.

Learn more about how Mentavi Health helps patients take control of their lives across a spectrum of mental health needs.