The corporate wellness industry is worth $8 billion. At most companies, workplace wellness programs promote the benefits of exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet, along with boosting mood and focus. Yet, when it comes to deeper challenges like substance abuse, depression, bi-polar disorder or anxiety, wellness initiatives are still catching up with helping employees manage their mental health better.

The reason for this discrepancy – the sheer stigma associated with mental health issues.

You might question the validity of the above statement, considering the surge in general conversations about mental health. But only a small fraction of this translates into any action within workplaces. In a study of 600 people with physical and/ or psychological issues, 25% reported receiving negative responses to their problems, including bullying. Infact, the U.S. Department of Health itself cautions people about the risks of disclosing their mental health conditions, to their employers.

As much as it is about the well-being of employees, bypassing mental health issues impacts an organization’s growth as well. Diagnosed depression alone costs companies $23 billion annually in absenteeism and plunging productivity. Where does one start, when it comes to addressing the mammoth yet latent challenge of mental health?

  1. Meet psychological needs. Though this may seem like a one-size-fits-all approach, Gallup surveys show that employees who are actively disengaged and have little emotional connect with their work, are more prone to health issues. That would be 70% of the American workforce actually. Thus, if employers can fulfil psychological needs like validation, autonomy, contribution, etc., they’d be going a long way in preventing stress related mental health disorders.
  1. Create safety across the organization. Safety can take many forms – role clarity, value alignment, freedom to express/ communicate, awareness of legal provisions, etc. The collective goal – to craft an environment that minimizes the impact of workplace risk factors.

Prudential Financial is considered a progressive organization in this regard. They hold employee forums about “ending the myth and stigma of mental health,” where senior executives speak about addiction, depression, and PTSD. They also offer a 24-hour a day referral service to help employees manage life roles like elder care, funerals, and sick pets.

  1. Implement unique practices. How would it be if you were to incentivize or acknowledge the act of seeking support to address a mental health issue? Or have peer groups that meet just to share how their work-demands are impacting them? You can even consider setting benchmarks for mental health, as part of an organization’s strategic planning.

A great example is Lyra Health, which has an app-based questionnaire that screens for mental health red flags and, then using an algorithmic matching system, recommends a doctor or course of action and offers live support. The best part – it’s all anonymous for the employee!

Mental health issues, due to their unseen nature, have the potential to derail an employee and an organization’s journey. But, if we were to take a stand and dedicate as much attention to it, as we do to physical health, we’d be creating happier, more fulfilling work-lives. Are you willing to do so?

Leave a Reply