“I need to rest”. We understand when this message arrives in our inbox from a colleague, after a surgery or a flu spell; we know a team member needs time off to process the death of a loved one; but why do we companies fail to understand the mind needs rest and attention?
We’re living in a knowledge economy, where our brains produce capital. To accelerate technical and economical growth, we engage in long periods of brain-intensive work. Though, like professional athletes or scientists, we need a break, a sabbatical, or maybe therapy. When we don’t offer employees time to rest, mental health disorders and symptoms begin affecting the workplace.
Managers may wish to help, but how?
Doctors understand their patients’ difficulties, but how do they consult on what their patients should navigate the workplace?
Sadly, the dichotomy leaves sufferers without adequate recognition by an employer or doctor. The problem, compounded, continues in deteriorating health and career. For companies, the consequence is obvious: lost productivity. In the US, lost productivity due to mental illness and substance abuse (a common byproduct of a mental disorder) costs companies $225.8 billion each year.
What about small to medium businesses?
They don’t typically have the deep pockets of larger corporations. Large companies can “afford” to implement an employee mental health program. It would simply be too expensive for small business owners, right? Remember, for every amount of “downtime” an employee needs or takes, that’s lost revenue and growth for a company—that’s any company, billions of dollars in revenue or not.
Losing employees are especially important as margins are smaller. Lost employees cost SME owners over $42,000 per year. The cost is calculated from recruitment and lost productive from employees leaving their companies. Business owners in the UK are taking action in focusing on employee well-being. Two areas owners are prioritizing: flexible work practices and better work/life balance—both sectors fundamentally impact mental health.
Director of Psychological Services at Axa PPP Healthcare, Dr. Mark Winwood states “Organisations are increasingly focusing on mental wellbeing and appreciate that there is a moral and financial advantage of doing this.” Struggles with mental health disorders remain one of the leading causes of absenteeism in the workplace.
“But our company already has an employee mental health program in place already”.
Great! You’re creating strategies in retaining top talent and stabilizing the company’s productivity. Here are a few questions to consider ascertain the effectiveness of your program.
- Have you or do you regularly organize awareness sessions for managers and staff?
- Do these sessions include how the program operates and clearly communicate how the program benefits employees, especially on the topic of mental health?
- Do these sessions communicate how employee dependents can benefit from the program?
Often employees will not seek help for their own sake; if they understand how being mentally healthy can positively impact their loved ones, these employees may consider utilizing company resources.
If you’re an owner of a SME or human resources manager, here are a few key points in a supportive employee mental health program:
1. Consider group risk financial protection for staff
What is group risk insurance?
“Group life, critical illness, and income protection fall under what ‘Group risk’ insurance offers. It offers insurance protection in case employees fall ill or pass away unexpectedly. Larger corporations typically possess this insurance as part of their employees benefits package. Many SMEs fail to recognize this kind of insurance as they set up mental health programs. It supports sick or injured employees, offering vocational rehabilitation as they work. It’s a true value-add in giving peace of mind to both employees and employers. Concerned it will be too expensive? SMEs tend to overestimate the cost, says Lee Lovett, CEO of Ellipse, a group risk insurer. It will cost less than you think.
2. Communicate employee benefits
It seems like a no-brainer, but research shows that mental health programs are not utilized because employees are unaware how the program can help them. That, or they feel their workplace is not accommodating nor accepting of mental health disorders. Start spreading the news.
3. Create a culture and/or atmosphere of acceptance
Work gets stressful. Emails zooming into your inbox at lightening speed. Annoying colleagues. What makes the difference in keeping employees healthy: feeling supported. According to a report by Deloitte on mental health in the workplace, “86% would think twice before offering to help a colleague whose mental health they were concerned about”. Once the benefits of program have been communicated, make it acceptable for employees to focus on their mental health, by attending therapy or encouraging mediation practice. Build a place where a healthy mind is a company value.