A healthy mental disposition is necessary for any worker or employee to complete their tasks and succeed at their jobs. As such, recruitment firms, business owners and HR professionals need to openly discuss mental health issues in the workplace.
What is Mental Health and Illness?
For most people, the concept of mental health and illness is so abstract that it’s difficult to draw the line between the two.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” On the other hand, the American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as “health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these).”
The State of Mental Health in the Workplace
In the U.S. alone, around 20% of American adults are afflicted with a mental illness, while 60% of workers in the UK have experienced a mental health problem the past year due to work. In Asia Pacific, most employers cited stress as the leading workforce risk in the office.
Even if you refuse to acknowledge it, there is at least one person in your team who has a mental health problem. In fact, one in six employees suffer from anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress each year.
Despite the fact that one in three workers report being regularly stressed at work, almost half of employees are not comfortable talking about their mental health problems at work. Why? Most likely because 74% of people who have been suffering from a mental illness for at least a year are out of work. They’re scared to lose their job despite being sick.
The Effects of Mental Illness in the Workplace
But, when mental health issues are left unaddressed, it’s not just the employee who suffers. In 2015, 18 million days of work were lost to sickness absences due to mental health conditions. WHO predicts that by 2030, businesses around the world will lose approximately 12 billion workdays due to depression and anxiety disorders alone. That’s 50 million years of work, worth approximately $925 billion.
That’s a huge loss for businesses. Compound that with how 25% of employees consider resigning and leaving their jobs simply due to unmanageable stress. With the average cost of hiring a new employee getting higher every year, your business is losing more money if you don’t implement measures to improve the mental health and well-being of your workers.
What Can You Do?
A recent study on health treatment costs and outcomes across 36 countries provides a global estimate of the economic benefits of investing in the treatment of common mental disorders. The study concluded that every $1 invested in the improvement of anxiety and depression treatment leads to an ROI of $4 in better health and ability to work.
As a leader in your organization, you need to make sure that you have mental health policies in place to protect your employees. It will also prevent your business from losing productive hours and revenue. More importantly, it will contribute to the mental well-being of your organization as a whole.
Here’s what you need to know to create groundbreaking mental health policies that will help increase awareness and eradicate the stigma of mental illness in the workplace.
Define the Policy’s Goals and Objectives
Just like any business strategy, the goals must be defined before creation and implementation. Ask yourself who the policy is for and what you hope to achieve before you ask how. Remember that having SMART objectives is fundamental in goal setting. Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and if applicable, time-bound.
Get your key employees together, and discuss your plan to create mental health policies for your organization. Listening to their input will help you make sure that your goals, objectives, and eventual plan of action will be appreciated by everyone across the company, from the top executives down to the associates and staff members.
Research and Analyze Mental Health Issues
The employer is more likely to invest in a mental health policy when you make a strong case by explicitly demonstrating its potential cost impact to the organization. Present recent data that shows how poor mental health can result to low productivity and increased business cost.
Providing specific data about the mental health illness cases within your organization, however, may not be possible without the commitment and approval of management, especially since employees don’t usually disclose a diagnosis. In fact, a study shows that only 13% of employees feel that they can disclose their mental health illness to their managers.
However, any readily available data should be analyzed and presented to help make the case. This includes human resource data such as absenteeism rates and number of resignations, performance and productivity reports, financial data, risk assessments, and employee health data.
Conducting a survey within your organization about how employees feel about a mental health policy may also be done. The results of the survey may be presented to get buy-in from stakeholders and top executives as well.
Furthermore, it’s important for your team to do research about the common mental health issues in the workplace such as chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. You may present its effects to the business, the workflow, and overall employee productivity. Understanding the various mental health illnesses will help you come up with the appropriate policies that can benefit the entire organization.
Develop and Write the Policy
Now, you’re ready to translate your goals and objectives into actionable policies that will help increase awareness about mental illness and improve the overall well-being of your employees.
Use your company values and principles as basis for writing your policies. It will help if you create categories to help you make sure that your policies contribute to your goals and objectives. The WHO suggests the following categories: increasing employee awareness of mental health issues; supporting employees at risk; providing treatment for employees with a mental health problem; changing the organization of work; and reintegrating employees with a mental health problem into the workplace.
Consult Your HR Attorney
When you’ve come up with the policies, consult with your HR attorney or company lawyer to ensure that you’re not missing out or stepping on any corporate law.
Your attorney will also provide additional expertise and recommendations and make sure that your drafted policies are legal and aligned with existing regulations. You don’t want to waste time and money on policies that you won’t be allowed to implement legally.
Consult Mental Health Professionals and Advocates
If you don’t have one on staff, you need to consult with mental health care providers, professionals or advocates to help you refine your policy and ensure that employees across all departments will benefit. He or she will also provide guidance on the appropriate language, communication techniques, accommodation options, and creative solutions to support your policy.
Furthermore, a mental health professional will shed light on some areas of mental health that you don’t understand or never even considered. This guidance will be integral to the success of your mental health policy.
Introduce Your Policy and Disseminate Information
Disseminate information about the new mental health policy before implementing it. Provide a date of effectivity so that employees have time to go through the policy and understand its benefits. Hold an event where you can openly discuss it with them, to make sure that they understand all the policies and why they were created. You may also put up posters and distribute leaflets about your mental health policy.
Offer seminars and training to educate leaders and employees about the common mental health problems and illnesses in the workplace. This will help in the early detection and treatment. Open discussion will also contribute to decreasing and eventually eliminating the stigma of mental health in the workplace. You can invite your mental health professional or advocate back to facilitate the open discussion.
Implement and Evaluate Your Policy
Ensure that you have the necessary resources before you implement your mental health policy. Ask department heads or leaders to facilitate implementation. But, make sure that they are properly trained and educated before this phase. In case of immediate help from professionals, you may also contact mental health care providers for companies.
Generate support and collaboration with everyone in the workplace. Make sure that you properly monitor its implementation, and evaluate its effects and benefits on individual workers as well as the team. This will help you build an evidence base of the effects of mental health interventions and policies in the workplace.
Mental illness is still considered a sensitive topic, but it needs to be addressed, especially in the workplace. Your employees’ mental well-being is just as important as their physical health. But, employers and HR professionals often overlook its impact on a successful and thriving business.
Breaking the mental health stigma in the workplace should be done now. It’s time to act and confront the culture of silence surrounding mental health issues. Offer support and ensure that your employees have access to mental health care. Empower your managers to properly help employees to stay at work or be reintegrated in the workplace.
Finally, BE KIND to your employees, your workmates, and everyone around you. Kindness will go a long way in improving the mental health and well-being of your organization.