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How To Support Employee Mental Health and Wellness

Mental health can impact employee productivity every bit as much as physical well-being. However, due to the stigma, many workers hesitate to mention emotional concerns to employers and colleagues alike. But mental health isn’t something we should ignore in the office — it’s something we should talk about, because certain working conditions can either foster more positive outcomes or contribute to employee stressors.

If you’re a manager or business owner, what can you do to bolster employee mental health? How do common conditions and stressors affect your staff on the job? Most importantly, how can you make your workplace more supportive and inclusive for all, including those with mental health concerns?

How Does Mental Health Affect Work?

Mental health destroys productivity like nothing else — including external distractions. It’s a constant disturbance — you can’t escape the thoughts inside your head.

Absenteeism is a big part of the impact of mental health conditions at work. An estimated one million workers call in sick every day due to stress alone. While it’s no crime to need respite on occasion, this scenario doesn’t come free of economic costs. Lost days of work cost employers billions of dollars annually.

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Many people stigmatize low-wage workers as having the most mental health needs, and long-term financial insecurity can indeed cause PTSD in some individuals. However, psychological disorders know no limits on income. Indeed, many white-collar workers may be more prone to struggle with addiction to substances like opioids because they can readily access prescription drugs, while those lacking coverage through work cannot.

Regardless of socioeconomic factors impacting affected individuals, disorders like depression and anxiety have a significant impact on a business’s bottom line. According to the World Health Organization, these two conditions alone cost the global economy $1 trillion per year. If employers want to decrease costs, investing in employee wellness is a must.

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Everyday Stressors Impacting Employee Mental Health

Multiple factors contribute to workplace stress and have potentially adverse effects on employee mental health.

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Long Hours

Workers are human beings, not robots, and putting in too many hours takes away from their time to care for their personal needs — including self-care and seeking therapy.

Lack of Autonomy

Staff members who feel they need to watch their backs due to overbearing micromanagers may understandably grow frazzled, even paranoid.

Financial Insecurity

In 2017, nearly 40% of Americans struggled to pay for at least one basic need, like food, shelter or health care, and both income inequality and wage stagnation remain severe problems in the U.S. If a worker, despite their hard labor, struggles with making basic ends meet, it will adversely affect their mental state.

Poor Conditions

Some workers don’t get along with their colleagues or bosses. Others experience outright harassment or discrimination. If they live paycheck to paycheck, however, they hesitate to report issues or quit. Plus, conditions like lack of adequate break time and unhealthy buildings take a toll.

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How to Recognize Mental Health Concerns in the Workplace

If you’re a business owner or a manager, how can you distinguish whether it’s work ethic or mental health affecting your employees’ work? Look at the following clues:

  • Changes in work habits: Often, managers mistake lack of motivation or difficulty concentrating as performance issues, but it’s critical to avoid this assumption. A discussion with the affected employee works better than jumping to conclusions and enacting punitive measures.
  • Increased tardiness and absenteeism: Disorders like depression make getting out of bed in the morning challenging. The worker may feel too overwhelmed by stress to manage the day, or they may sink into a downward spiral of wondering what the point is.
  • Mood swings or withdrawn behavior: The employee who previously had a smile and cheerful anecdote now does her job and goes home. Alternatively, a formerly calm colleague might suddenly become irritable and prone to moody outbursts.
  • Changes in personal appearance: Patients with depression and other mental health disorders often neglect grooming. If your formerly fashionable receptionist now wears the same outfit day in and day out, ask what’s going on with them.

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Tips for Making Your Workplace More Mental-Health Friendly

The overall atmosphere of your workplace impacts mental health significantly. One change you can make is instituting strict anti-harassment and anti-bullying rules and holding routine training to decrease these behaviors. Go further than the law requires. Even though many jurisdictions don’t consider sexual or gender identity to be protected classes, make it clear that you will not tolerate the mistreatment of these individuals.

If you have the budget, implement an employee wellness program, and encourage participation. Offer health insurance benefits to your staff members so that they can seek care when they need it. Sadly, in America, many individuals go without the help they need due to a lack of coverage. Less than half of all employers with fewer than 50 employees provide benefits, and the government doesn’t pick up the slack.

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Even if your bottom line doesn’t allow for a comprehensive benefits package for all, you can take measures to reduce micromanagement in your workplace. Address concerns on an individual basis with team leaders. You can offer perks like telecommuting and flextime options to reduce employee stress and turnover without spending a dime. Offering paid leave is an indirect cost.  You already budgeted for that day’s labor, anyway — so give struggling employees time to deal with personal health matters.

Improve Employee Mental Health by Addressing Concerns and Creating a Positive Environment

You can do plenty as a business owner or manager to promote positive mental health in the workplace. The most critical factor is respecting the humanity and needs of your staff, proving to them that you care, and creating an atmosphere as free from unnecessary stress as possible.

This guest post was authored by Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel is a college and career writer who offers advice on strategies to success. Read more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.

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