In today’s fractured, post-pandemic world, workforce mental health has emerged as a critical concern for business and HR leaders — and with good reason. The urgency of this issue is reflected in staggering statistics from multiple sources. For instance:
- Last year, 56% of global employees told Gallup they struggle with stress and wellbeing, while another 9% said they were suffering.
- That same Gallup research reveals particularly troubling trends in the U.S. Since 2021, the proportion of those who are struggling increased from 38% to 45%, while suffering rose from 2% to 4%. At the same time, those are thriving dropped from 60% to 52%.
- The business consequences of this malaise are significant. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays a year, at a cost to employers of $17 to $44 billion.
No wonder workforce mental health has become a pressing concern among business leaders. For instance, when Willis Towers Watson asked U.S. employers to identify their top priorities for the next three years, a whopping 67% replied, “Enhancing mental health and emotional wellbeing programs and solutions.” This means leaders are just as concerned about this as they are about the cost of managing their company’s healthcare plan!
Unfortunately, despite widespread interest in addressing this challenge, many organizations are operating on tighter budgets these days. As a result, it’s difficult for employers to offer effective workforce wellbeing solutions.
However, cost issues aren’t stopping resourceful HR teams from moving forward. In my role at HealthFitness, I work with a variety of companies that have developed budget-friendly strategies to address employee mental health challenges. To learn about some of the most successful approaches I’ve seen, read on…
5 Low-Cost Ways to Support Workforce Mental Health
1. Innovate to Avoid a High Price Tag
Some companies are relying on their creativity to support mental wellbeing without breaking the bank. For instance: One tech firm has introduced a “Days for Me” program that lets every employee choose four days a year to focus on self-care.
Another company in the biopharmaceutical industry has implemented a “Mental Health Ally Program.” The program features Mental Health First Aid training that helps employees recognize and respond to colleagues’ needs. Specficially, through scenarios and videos, this skills-based certification course teaches employees a 5-step action plan, so they can identify and address signs of mental health and substance use issues. The certification is valid for three years and can be renewed online. This makes it easy for people to develop important knowledge and skills they can continue to apply as they move forward in their careers.
2. Optimize Employee Assistance Programs
I also see organizations expanding existing employee assistance program (EAP) benefits so they can improve access to valuable mental health support. For example, some employers are shifting to on-site EAP services so access to help is more convenient.
Others are increasing the number of covered EAP appointments they offer each year. One energy company we work with has increased covered EAP appointments from 5 to 8 per year, per household. This simple step gives employees more options at a minimal additional cost to the company.
3. Sponsor Company-Wide Time Off for Wellness
Dedicating paid time off for all employees to focus on mental health is a particularly powerful way to encourage workforce wellbeing. Plus, when everyone is out of the office at the same time, people are less likely to become anxious about work piling up in their absence.
You may be familiar with some tech industry companies that have implemented variations on this concept, such as Global Wellness Days, Global Shutdowns, or No Meeting Fridays. The options are endless, but the point is to provide the entire workforce with designated opportunities to recharge and prioritize self-care. By encouraging this kind of behavior across the organization, employers are cultivating a culture that values work-life balance and mental wellbeing.
4. Design Stress-Reducing Spaces
Another low-cost idea — establish special areas in the workplace that help employees decompress and mitigate stress. For instance, some employers are setting up de-stress stations in common areas with puzzles, games, and mindfulness activities. These spaces offer employees a convenient place to relax and unwind when they need a break.
One company provides an on-site dog park for employees, so their trusty companions have room to roam during the workday. Other organizations offer designated meditation areas with comfortable seating, restful lighting, and minimal distractions, so people can take some time to calm their minds when they feel anxious or overwhelmed.
These simple measures are effective at enhancing employee wellbeing and productivity. Yet they don’t require a significant financial investment.
5. Lead by Example
Finally, it probably goes without saying, but HR and business leaders play a crucial role in championing workforce mental health. Of course, offering mental health benefits is important. But the most compelling way to advocate for wellbeing is to lead by example.
Increasingly, leaders are engaging people in honest discussions about mental health at work. By sharing their own stories, they can inspire employees to prevent, detect, manage, and resolve work-related stress, anxiety, burnout, and other challenges. And by making mental resilience and self-care a personal priority, they help others recognize how important these issues are.
Ultimately, by demonstrating a genuine commitment to wellbeing and fostering a supportive work environment, leaders can set the tone for the entire organization.
A Final Note on Workforce Mental Health
Addressing mental and emotional wellbeing on a limited budget is an ongoing challenge — there’s no doubt about it. However, smart organizations are seeing results by making the most of the resources they already have. It may involve something as simple as establishing spaces for stress reduction, adding a new course to educate employees about mental health support, or offering designated time off for self-care. Regardless, even small steps can help organizations make big strides.
Mental health challenges may be on the rise. But many organizations are discovering that it’s possible to develop a healthier, happier, more productive workplace, even when budgets are tight. Real progress starts when HR and business decision-makers take the lead in demonstrating a commitment to workforce mental health and building a supportive culture. How is your organization responding to this need?