employee mental health

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh

Employee Mental Health Needs: Everyone Loses with A Reactive Approach

It’s now starkly obvious that the coronavirus pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives — not the least of which is the mental health of our employees. Rates of anxiety, stress, and depression are all up. The good news is that many companies have responded by increasing investments in their existing well-being programs.

A recent survey of 256 companies by the nonprofit National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions found that 53% now provide special emotional and mental health programs for their employees.

Some of these programs have garnered media attention:

  • Starbucks began providing access to 20 free counseling or coaching sessions, which can also be accessed by family members, at no cost.
  • Unilever launched a 14-day mental well-being resilience program for its employees.
  • Professional services firm EY now offers live daily workouts online to help reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Goldman Sachs now gives employees an extra ten days of family leave annually to take care of personal needs.

Missing the Mental Well-being Mark

Offered by four very employee-empathetic brands, those types of initiatives are valuable — as far as they go. But here’s the unfortunate reality: Most of today’s mental well-being solutions:

  • Have no underpinning in clinical psychology
  • Often focus solely on treatment
  • Fail to be proactive or treat the whole employee

In other words, the common wisdom around employee mental well-being is both backward and ineffective. In the end, these programs are band-aids. They don’t help sustain and nourish every employee’s total well-being — including their mental health. These programs also fail to help build your company culture and employer brand.

Why don’t they work?  Because they don’t empower employees to proactively identify and prevent mental distress and ill health. You see, it’s not enough to give employees the kinds of tools and programs that will support and potentially help them mend when the going gets tough, and their mental health suffers. You need to get ahead of the game.

Mental Health Needs: The Bigger Picture

Step back and consider this: Everyone has mental health all the time. Everyone, every day, is somewhere on the spectrum of mental health wellness.

Yet, our current mental health programs are nearly exclusively treatment-based. They’re designed and built to support the 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. who annually experience some form of mental health illness. Workplace mental health programs are no different.

The mental health of those 1 in 5 shouldn’t be the only ones considered during a pandemic — or at any other time.

After all, you don’t expect your employees to wait until their teeth are rotten to start brushing or getting regular cleanings, do you? To avoid developing severe problems down the road, they brush every day (you hope!). You also hope they see the dentist at least now and then.

It’s time to start treating your employees’ mental health the same as their dental health — proactively, holistically, and with tools and wisdom from trained professionals.

The Best Approach to Mental Health Needs

To fully support mental health, you, of course, first need an approach that mitigates the stress and anxiety we see today. But, going forward, you also need a proactive approach to supporting well-being. (By the way, only 6% of workers use the employee assistance programs provided to them, so there’s not much help there.)

Next, you must realize that employee health isn’t one-dimensional, and successful well-being programs can’t be one-size-fits-all. The answer is a whole-person, whole-organization approach that:

  • Applies preventive mental health strategies that affect change in any individual’s psychological, physical, and social well-being (the three spheres of the human condition)
  • Is individualized for each employee

The Wrong Approach to Mental Well-Being

Let’s face it: Perks like a limited number of coaching sessions, more flexible work schedules, and mindfulness apps can be helpful. But they assume your employees know precisely what they need at any given moment. They also believe employees understand where they are on their mental health journey.

Lastly, it’s essential to understand that most of today’s mental well-being solutions didn’t start from a clinically proven mindset. This means they don’t address the whole person — psychological, physical, social (maybe you’ve heard this as “mind, body, heart,” or similar). Neither do they address the seven aspects of daily life that nourish and support mental well-being:

  1. Happiness
  2. Sleep
  3. Coping
  4. Calmness
  5. Health
  6. Connection
  7. Fulfillment

You can take significant steps to prevent mental unwellness by nourishing those seven aspects of daily life. You’ll also improve your company culture and improve your employer brand. After all, employee mental health is out in front of everyone today.

Today’s Mental Health Reality

Compared to the start of the pandemic, a recent Qualtrics and SAP study of over 2,700 employees across more than ten industries found:

  • 75% feel more socially isolated
  • 67% report higher stress
  • 57% have greater anxiety
  • 53% feel more emotionally exhausted

The effects of 2020 will undoubtedly continue to impact the mental health of your employees. It’s cold comfort to note that the pandemic has opened employers’ eyes to what has been silently occurring below the surface for a long time: Their employees’ mental health, just like their physical health, is always in need of support. It can’t be ignored, and it certainly shouldn’t be. Unless, of course, you want to see the financial impacts of a workforce that’s left entirely to its own devices and is wholly unsupported.

Seek out a proactive, preventive, and clinically based mental health platform that addresses the whole employee. Don’t settle for one that can’t ensure the health and well-being of the whole person and your whole organization.

You can improve employee mental health. Start now by focusing on ways to help employees be healthier, more resilient, and more productive for whatever the uncertain future brings.