Written by Kerry Graves, Executive Director of NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore serving Baltimore City and Baltimore County
It’s no secret that the events of the last year have set the stage for an unprecedented national mental health crisis. On top of life’s normal stressors, we’ve been dealing with a global pandemic, unrest over racial injustice, political divisiveness, and now the thread of seasonal depression and increased social isolation during the wintertime.
Needless to say, there is an urgency to not only talk about mental health in the workplace, but to create a culture centered around mental health awareness and prevention. Organizations and their leaders must understand that mental health education, advocacy, and support are “must-have” standards for employees, not “nice-to-have” benefits.
Mental health stats to note – and how they affect the workforce
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that nearly one-in-five American adults live with a mental illness. One study shoes that nearly 41% of American adults who didn’t struggle with mental health issues are now experiencing them as a result of COVID-19. The results are leading to dangerous and costly patterns from a workplace standpoint.
According to the World Health Organization, the loss of productivity due to poor mental health can be as high as $1 trillion per year, and again, that’s without taking the pandemic into account. A recent survey found that 70% of employees have admitted to experiencing burnout since the pandemic because the boundaries between work and home are more blurred than ever. In turn, productivity, motivation, and work quality are all suffering.
Furthermore, one-in-four senior-level women are highly considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers due to stress overload since the start of the pandemic, according to McKinsey’s most recent annual Women in the Workplace study. This means we are at risk of losing women in leadership, as well as future women leaders, which could undo decades of progress towards achieving workplace gender diversity.
Steps for employers to take
But just as poor mental health leads to negative workplace effects, positive mental health can translate into benefits and successes. Improving employees’ mental health can facilitate a more efficient workflow, relationships, productivity, company loyalty and employee recruitment. It’s also a smart financial move. What better time than now to create that kind of environment?
Here are some actions employers can take to improve mental health awareness.
- Lead by example. Having a leadership team that talks about mental health and promotes how they are caring for their own can not be overstated. Educate yourselves as leaders, and understand the impact COVID-19 can have on mental health.
- Empathize with and understand those living with a mental health condition. Hold training sessions so employees can both recognize the signs of mental illness and know how to respond to those who present these symptoms. Make anxiety and depression in the workplace easily identifiable. NAMI Metro Baltimore provides several training workshops as part of its workplace initiative “I Will Listen“, which is designed to raise awareness and reduce stigma.
- Facilitate open and honest discussions about racial trauma in particular, as sustained trauma has profound impact on both mental and physical health. Ensuring that your workplace addresses racial injustice as a priority is an important component of a healthy work environment.
- Provide and promote a flexible work environment so that employees can get help for themselves or their families when needed. Treat leave required for mental health care the same way you would treat leave for any other physical health condition.
- Create social opportunities for employees. Employees with the opportunity to interact casually in the workplace are more open to sharing concerns around mental health. Consider creating an employee resource group. These voluntary, employee-led groups can foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational values, goals, and business practices.
- Consider offering an employee assistance program (EAP) to help employees access mental health care. EAPs are paid for by employers and offer free confidential assessments, short-term counseling and referrals to employees facing mental health struggles, whether personal or work-related.
*This column originally ran in the Help Desk section of the Baltimore Business Journal on February 11, 2021. Click here to view the original article.
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