How Virginia Workplaces Can Improve the Mental Health of Their Employees

Mental Health, Work

The restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic led to changes in our culture, especially in the workplace. We saw shifting ideas about work and home life, along with the normalization of working remotely.

While stress and anxiety levels did go up during the pandemic, job satisfaction also increased. Understanding the factors behind that increase can help you to improve your employees’ job satisfaction and, in turn, their performance.

7 Ways You Can Care for the Mental Health of Your Employees

1. Take the Time To Understand How Mental Health Impacts Your Employees

Workplace mental wellness starts with leadership. It’s important for company leaders to be trained in recognizing signs of mental health concerns. Organizations should do what they can, including identifying outcome measures and assessing impact (e.g., stress, burnout) over time, and using evaluation methods that maximize workplace and individual wellness.

Jerome Schultz, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, says that it’s important for managers “to be trained to recognize the signs of emotional distress so they can react in a supportive rather than a punitive way. Some employees need people around them to say, ‘Hey, I see you might be feeling stressed. Maybe now is a good time to try some breathing exercises or go take a walk.’” 

Some steps you can take to better understand your employees’ mental health include:

  • Require mental health training for all leadership
  • Train managers on what to do if they see signs of emotional distress or substance abuse
  • Consider surveying your employees to determine their mental wellness and stress levels and how it impacts their performance

2. Include Mental Health Services in Your Health Care Plan

Up until 2008, when the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed, it was the norm for mental health care services to have expensive co-pays or even be excluded from health insurance plans altogether. Since then, health insurance providers have been required to provide mental health care services that are comparable to their medical services. That means that your company’s health insurance plan options should already include mental health – but you want to make sure. Ensure that the plan options available to your employees cover at least basic mental health services and consider providing more options.

3. Establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a program designed to assist employees. EAP services help employees and their families to resolve issues that are impacting their wellbeing. EAPs address a “wide range of health, financial, and social issues, including mental and/or substance use disorders.” 

While employee healthcare plans should cover mental health services, an EAP offers employees other options for certain situations. For example, most EAPs offer individuals a few mental health counseling sessions for free. This is great for those employees who are experiencing grief or another potentially short-term mental health situation. Starting out with a few no-cost and no-commitment sessions can also encourage those who are hesitant to try therapy to give it a shot. EAPs also provide help with a wide range of issues that might be impacting someone’s mental health, like financial problems or struggles with weight loss or quitting smoking.

4. Offer Flexible Work Options

While working remotely was new to a lot of people when the pandemic started (before 2020, only 7% of Americans worked from home full-time), it’s not anymore. As of March 2023, 35% of U.S. workers who have jobs that can be done remotely are now working from home all the time

What’s behind this jump? It’s likely that employees who had to work from home during the pandemic realized the benefits of working remotely:

  • No commute
  • Greater control over work schedule, making it easier to combine and balance work commitments with other activities – i.e. appointments, family obligations, domestic chores, and socializing/recreation

This doesn’t mean that your company has to go fully remote. Many employees find that simply having the option to work remotely gives them the flexibility they need to achieve a better work-life balance. You might decide to go hybrid, offering employees the opportunity to work remotely two or three days a week. 

If you’re not interested in having employees who work remotely, consider offering “flex time” – an easy way for employees to “flex” their time. That might mean being able to leave early one day and making up the time later in the week. 

5.   Cultivate a Culture of Wellbeing

All of these factors are important when it comes to your employees’ mental health, but creating (and continuing to grow) a workplace culture of wellbeing is what will really allow you to foster mental wellness in your organization. Show your employees that everyone in the company matters. Get involved and actively promote wellbeing at every level of the organization.

A few ways you could do that include:

  • Sponsoring free or reduced cost of access to mental health apps
  • Offering mindfulness training, yoga classes or a quiet space for meditation
  • Encouraging employees to use their vacation time. Some organizations do this by limiting the amount of vacation employees can roll over into the next year 
  • Encouraging employees to take a leave for absence for mental health if necessary. Implementing a return-to-work process that will give returning employees any accommodations they may need and help them to feel supported
  • Create opportunities for employees to build connections with each other, like social events and groups or an online group
  • Encourage company leaders to support employees’ needs

Why Employee Mental Health Matters

Taking care of your employee’s mental health is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for your bottom line. Research from the University of Chicago found that a person experiencing mental health issues can cost their company $15,000 per year. The good news is that companies that invest in mental health programs see an average ROI of four dollars for every dollar spent. 

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D. says:

A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities. As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being.”

Employees with good mental wellness experience:

  • Less burnout
  • Less turnover
  • Higher employee satisfaction
  • Improved job performance
  • Improved productivity
  • Increased ROI

Mental health concerns can “affect a person’s confidence and identity at work, capacity to work productively, absences and the ease with which to retain or gain work.” A survey from 2023 found that more than half of professionals said they had felt anxious in the past week and 42% said they had felt depressed in the last week. 46% of those who had returned back to working on-site said that the move back to the office had a negative impact on their mental health.

Thinking of Starting a Mental Health Program at Your Company? We Can Help

The Region Five Training Center is available to clinicians and other mental health professionals, as well as their respective leadership. If you’re starting a mental health program at your company (or are looking for a way to refresh your current program), we can help. We offer in-person trainings throughout the Region Five area of Virginia and online trainings via Zoom, covering topics like adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), grief and loss, trauma, substance abuse support and more. We also provide an online library of previous training videos.

View upcoming trainings on our calendar here.

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