Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year.1 That’s about 20% of your workforce—and the reality is that number is likely to be higher because many others may currently be struggling but don’t recognize or acknowledge the symptoms. Spikes in mental health issues alongside widespread stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus have put a spotlight on workplace mental health and the proactive ways employers can help support their employees’ overall well‑being.
In 2020, 70% of employees reported feeling more stress due to the coronavirus than ever before in their professional careers.2 While vaccinations against the virus and an economic reboot may help to relieve some of the mental strain on employees, ongoing struggles are expected as workers try to cope with the effects of social isolation and uncertainty about health, safety and finances. In 2021, while 58% of employees agree that the coronavirus is still a top stressor at work, 95% of employees are feeling optimistic about life returning to “normal.”2
Employers can play a key role in addressing today’s mental health challenges by serving as an access point for support and services for working adults. Through organizations like One Mind at Work, a global coalition of leaders from diverse sectors who have joined together with the goal of transforming approaches to mental health and addiction, employers including Bank of America are helping to lead the way in raising awareness about mental health issues and creating a culture of assistance and acceptance in the workplace.
According to One Mind at Work, employers who prioritize the mental health needs of their workforce can be instrumental in helping employees reach their full potential and improve their quality of life. In addition, employers can reap benefits such as improved employee performance and productivity, increased retention, a decrease in absenteeism and lower overall health care costs.
“The workplace is a key access point for mental health support. Employers can help their employees navigate through stress and anxiety before they reach a crisis point,” says Katy Schneider Riddick, director of strategy and engagement at One Mind at Work. “In the same way employers want to help protect and strengthen their teams in terms of physical health, they are also making a commitment to focus on mental health.”
CEOs believe their companies are doing enough for employee mental health
of employees agree2
Riddick adds, “By sharing our stories from this past year, there’s an opportunity to start a conversation on mental health in the workplace and how we can support each other. Through our collective experiences, we can connect with each other in a way that is relatable and doesn’t require a deep level of disclosure and doesn’t make employees feel vulnerable.”
Addressing mental health on an organizational level means not just leaping in when there is a problem. It’s important to be proactive about mental health, helping employees be more self-aware of symptoms and providing access to a wide range of support and resources before their mental health significantly affects their daily lives. The focus is on maintaining positive mental health to help employees feel their best and bring their best to work every day.
One Mind at Work outlines four key areas that are essential to effective workplace mental health initiatives:
Know the impact, raise awareness and break the silence
Myths and stereotypes about mental health persist, and the resulting stigma and feeling of shame often prevent people from getting help. Raising awareness and sharing mental health information can help end stigma and broaden awareness.
Consider a range of approaches to educate employees on the early warning signs of mental health conditions, how to talk with a co-worker and how to connect people with support. Creating peer support networks can be helpful.
Create a mentally healthy culture
A positive culture and supportive environment can create a safe space to talk about mental health issues and contribute to employee well-being, productivity, performance and retention. Leadership involvement and support is essential in creating a positive mental health culture.
Employees are looking to executives and managers to set the tone for mental health in the workplace, so company leaders should talk openly about mental health and address challenges in an authentic way. It’s helpful if leaders in your company can share an experience when they struggled and found help that ultimately led them to be successful in their roles.
Improve access to mental health services and support
Access to effective care is essential to ensure that employees get the help they need, when they need it.
Meet employees where they are to assure you are providing support that feels comfortable for them. Employees might feel vulnerable about their jobs and don’t want to be “exposed,” so it’s important to provide a way to talk openly, but privately. For example, some employers are implementing programs where employees can access support via text. Get feedback from your employees to find a solution that works in your company.
Leadership as a catalyst
A strong commitment from leadership to workplace mental health helps produce stronger programs, greater and more rapid acceptance and better results. Communicate and demonstrate the importance of your company’s long-term health and the value you place on the people who work there.
Company leaders can serve as models of mental health, which includes investing in their own mental health. 94% of CEOs reported receiving mental health support for themselves, while focusing more on mental health at their companies.2
In fact, the responsibility for mental health in the workplace goes beyond just the HR department and requires focus and commitment at every level including the C-suite. Company leaders can play a key role in shaping a company’s mental health strategies, modeling them and ensuring there is accountability for them.
Gain additional perspective by reading Mental Health in the Workplace 2020: CHRO Insights series. The report highlights approaches that employers are taking to broaden their support of mental health and includes links to other studies and resources.
1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, September 2020.
2 Ginger, Third Annual Workforce Attitudes toward Mental Health, February 2021.