In the Office & Off the Clock, Mental Health Matters

Everyone Has Mental Health

It would be rare to meet someone who believes that people don’t have medical needs. Or that investing in one’s own physical wellness isn’t a worthy endeavor. Medical and physical needs are obvious priorities. But what about mental health needs?

We all have those too. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that approximately 1 in 5 (that’s 20%!) of adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition.

People everywhere struggle with untreated or undertreated mental health conditions, and the unfortunate truth is that many employers – across industries – overlook or underestimate the extent of the mental health needs of their employees. When employees feel forced to sideline their mental wellness in the name of workplace productivity, they may be perpetuating the situation.

Being There vs. Your Wellness

Often times, individuals find themselves choosing between their mental wellness and a feeling of obligation to their workplace responsibilities. The United States Department of Health and Human Services notes that approximately 81% percent of lost productivity related to mental health is specifically attributable to presenteeism––aka being there but not really there. Even with “mental health days” becoming more openly discussed and accepted, many employees find themselves grinding through a day at work when they might be better off taking a personal day to rest and recuperate.

Looking to the diagnostic criteria for depressive disorder – difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, persistent fatigue, and anhedonia (loss of interest or pleasure in doing activities one typically enjoys) – offers more insight into how an employer, or employees themselves, could conflate serious mental health symptoms with an “off day” at the office. Each of these symptoms proves a barrier to engaged, efficient, and enthusiastic worker productivity, but more importantly, is a sign of a larger issue that deserves to be addressed. It’s time that all of us start prioritizing mental wellness.

Mental Health: Educate, Encourage, Repeat

Studies have shown that we are better workers when we’re happy. As an employer, offering at minimum, introductory levels of mental health care, such as self-care promotion and wellness programming, are an easy and accessible way to create a pro-mental-health workplace environment. A number of companies have already implemented such programming and resilience support for their employees.

Stanford University offers wellness programming, aptly named WellMD, to their hospital physicians. Unilever took it a step further and launched Wellbeing Zones within their corporate offices. These Zones promote rest, recovery and sleep for employees, and includes spaces dedicated to interpersonal connectivity among colleagues (the Connection Bridge), physical movement like yoga (the Movement Zone), and meditation and sleep (the Quiet Zone). SAS provides weekly farmers markets while Happster leverages the power of peer encouragement via their open channels for positive peer recognition.

Many companies have even more targeted mental wellness programs, working closely with teams to provide education and advice around mental health and the workplace. For example, BetterHelp, and EaseCentral offer telemental health options to their employees, while other companies offer comprehensive employee assistance programs. The HR Company educates employees at the managerial level about how to spot and support employees who may express mental health concerns.

Mental Health Care for a Healthy Career

We need to acknowledge and implement mental health wellness programming whenever and wherever possible, including within the office. Including additional education on understanding and recognizing mental health concerns, as well as acknowledgements of mental health related movements such as Suicide Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day, can also be helpful in showing employees that mental health issues are pervasive, and that if they are struggling, they are not alone, and should feel supported.

While not a cure-all combination, promoting adequate self-care, offering wellness programming, and prioritizing employee resilience can help scaffold employees toward mental health awareness and action, as well as help poise them for workplace productivity. Employers have been doing a better job at encouraging employees and supporting their mental health in recent years, but this is just the beginning. When proactive steps are taken to support mental health, employees have an opportunity to thrive––and employers and organizations may even benefit in turn.