Career Insight

How Employers Can Support Mental Health Efforts

mental health

Throughout this month, the Kenzie Fam has been proud to take part in the discussion about mental health. We’ve had some enlightening convos about tech’s relationship to it, exchanged our favorite self-care tips, and looked inward at the ways we can take better care of our minds.

As we close out this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re thinking about the ways employers can support mental health in the office — after all, we spend 1/3 of our lives at work.

Here are a few ways we love to see employers contribute to keeping the workplace (and our minds) healthy.

Embracing Job Flexibility 

First, employers can support employee mental health by being more open to job flexibility. There are a few ways embracing this concept can help nurture mental health.

In order to fight burnout, employers should consider implementing mental health day policies. As Americans, we pride ourselves on our strong work ethic and productivity. While this is usually a positive quality, sometimes we tend to overwork ourselves in the good ole USA. Two out of 5 American workers feel guilty for missing even just one day of work – not a good look in our book. You likely know (or maybe are) someone who rarely uses their vacation days or sick time. We’re here to help break the illusion: not taking time off doesn’t mean you’re working harder. Sorry, fam.

Leaders in a mental health-focused work environment are champions for understanding when workers need to take a day or two off to tend to their minds. These leaders can also demonstrate their empathy and flexibility on an ongoing basis by supporting employee time off requests for weekly therapy appointments. Of course, privacy needs to be respected in these conversations and an employee shouldn’t be asked to disclose the reason they’re attending therapy or taking a day to themselves.

Finally, employers should consider their policies around vacation time. Are employees offered adequate time off? Are they burning out easily due to a lack of time off? Vacation time exists for a reason, so not only should companies recognize it as a necessary tool for employee satisfaction and productivity, but the best employers also treat it as a time for workers to completely unplug and refresh their minds.

Offering Quality Health Insurance 

If I had a dime for every time a friend told me mental health services are still too expensive even with their employer-sponsored insurance, I’d have at least a dollar. In 2020, this isn’t cool.

Luckily, legislators are taking mental health more seriously and the laws around coverage are beginning to reflect it. In 2008, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act required coverage of mental health services to be comparable to physical health coverage.

Of course, not all plans must adhere to this parity requirement (and others find workarounds) but it’s exciting to see how much better mental health coverage has gotten over the last 12 years. Employers can help ease this burden by offering employees quality health insurance options and doing their homework to determine how well their insurance programs cover mental health services. Hopefully, these offerings will improve alongside my next topic…

Fighting Against Taboos 

Normalizing mental health in the workplace is an essential way to support employees. Instead of leaning on “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies of the past, it’s up to all of us to create an open dialogue about mental health. This can be done through mental health-focused events and addressing topics like burnout during company-wide meetings. This will make employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health issues in the office and decrease the level of shame they may feel around the subject.

According to the American Psychiatry Association, only 32% of Baby Boomers are comfortable discussing mental health at work, while 62% of Millennials are. This statistic is both encouraging and disheartening. It’s encouraging as younger workers are clearly positioned to help shape a future of work where mental health isn’t a taboo subject in the office. But, it’s also disheartening that many older workers are likely struggling and afraid to speak up about their own mental health problems. We can all do our part by examining the language we use to talk about mental health in the workplace and in our lives as we work to create a culture with less shame.

Fostering a Non-Toxic Workplace Culture 

We spend so much of our lives at work, so it’s essential for employers to foster a positive workplace culture. A negative office environment can contribute to existing mental health conditions or trigger a new mental health issue for someone. Low morale is not just a workplace issue, it’s personal as people carry the weight of their work with them as they move through their personal lives and the world. This is why employers absolutely need to focus on ways they can create a positive atmosphere for employees. They can do this by identifying and solving problem behaviors like gossip and favoritism, listening to employees’ concerns, and promoting openness and communication. Check out this article from HR Morning for more tips on how to fix a toxic workplace.

How does your workplace create open dialogue around mental health? Join our discussion on Twitter.

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