Advocating for Employee Mental Health to Improve ProductivityAUTHOR: Noah Rue
Mental health is a key aspect of productivity. When things are good, we often take for granted how essential our mental health is in making the progress we want and achieving the business goals that we strive for. Now, as businesses continue to adjust to the complicated needs of a post-pandemic economy, the focus on mental health is arguably more important than ever before.
Mental health concerns have increased alongside shutdowns and isolation across remote work practices. These conditions may contribute to worker safety and even productivity in some cases, but they are also a recipe for mental health concerns. Facing widespread economic uncertainties, advocating for employee mental health must be a key policy for businesses moving forward.
Fortunately, everyone within a company can act to be an advocate for mental health. Start by understanding the link between mental health and productivity, then explore the ways leaders and workers alike can support mental health solutions in the workplace.
The Link Between Mental Health and Productivity
Your journey as a mental health advocate may best begin with an understanding of just how mental health affects productivity. Despite misconceptions surrounding mental health and productivity in the workplace, mental health issues do not mean an inability to hold a job or an unrecoverable state that will forever impact workers. At the same time, mental illness is not just something that can be turned off and put aside for anyone showing up to or clocking into work.
Because of the sensitivity and complexity of the issue, business leaders tend to err on the side ignoring the problem. Sometimes, managers feel that getting involved in employee personal issues can only diminish productivity and lead to liability problems. However, supporting employees and their mental health struggles is important for maintaining smooth business practices.
Mental health can strongly correlate with work performance. Here are some ways poor mental health can impact productivity:
- Social and conflict avoidance
- Poor engagement with work
- Limits on physical and daily functioning
- Communication problems
While some workers are great at hiding the mental health problems they live with day-to-day, many others will not be capable of setting their personal and mental issues aside during working hours. Nor should they be expected to do so.
Juggling mental health is something that each of us deals with in our own ways. Everyone is human, and rather than naively expecting employees to simply turn off their brains, workplaces can help everyone maintain productivity by providing support and resources.
How Leaders Can Be Mental Health Advocates
Hoping to balance the mental health of our employees and coworkers should be a priority for every business leader. Whether you manage a large team or simply are taking the lead on a work project, considering the health and well-being of your colleagues is a practice that can lead to all kinds of productivity benefits. This even means money saved for companies.
For example, every $1 a business invests in their workers’ mental health has been found to have a return of about $4 in productivity and health benefits. Additionally, 80% of workers treated for mental Illness report greater levels of productivity and satisfaction. With these benefits in mind, workplace leaders have an obligation to support their employees.
Taking on an advocacy role means making the well-being of your team a top priority. Here are some of the ways you can advocate for mental health in the workplace:
1. Create a culture of empathy and open communication.
Everyone has worked on projects, either in school or in the workplace, in which one team member contributes less than their share or flake out of their responsibilities. But we often fail to address the compounding life circumstances that can cause problems that limit communication and the ability of all team members to contribute their maximum effort.
A culture of empathy and open communication, however, can give any team a sense of mutual trust that can help solve these problems. for example, if one worker is overwhelmed by the pressures of the job and their personal life, they may hesitate to reach out. After all, no one wants to let down their team.
However, by establishing that your workplace will help accommodate needs and provide resources, you encourage a sense of trust that will allow struggling workers to reach out sooner without worrying that they might be judged or punished. Such a culture is instrumental in the efforts to improve mental health and facilitate productivity.
2. Show employee appreciation.
Additionally, no one wants to feel as if their hard work goes unnoticed. Employee appreciation can have profound effects what mental health and job satisfaction. Team leaders can be mental health advocates by committing to employee appreciation efforts that recognize all contributions.
And the best part is, your employee appreciation efforts don’t have to be complicated or costly. You can show employee appreciation through something as simple as an intermittent email expressing awareness and gratitude for someone’s work. Alternatively, you might even go all out with an employee celebration and awards ceremony, like boss Michael Scott’s “Dundies” in the hit sitcom The Office — just make sure your employee appreciation efforts aren’t too ridiculous or offensive.
3. Provide access to mental health resources.
Finally, one of the most important ways you can be a mental health advocate for your workers is to help them track down the resources they need even if you can’t provide or partner with them yourself.
Right now, the ratio of mental health professionals to workers in some areas is about 1 to 30,000. This is one of the reasons why as many as 50% of people with psychiatric disorders do not receive treatment at all.
In the workplace, you can assemble a guide to local and virtual care resources that work with your workplace health care plan or the budgets of your colleagues. It is important to diversify these resources to accommodate as many needs as possible. Gather links, names of providers, nonprofits, grants, and any other tools should you need to direct your coworkers towards outside assistance.
By applying these advocacy components to your workplace practices, you can maximize the efficacy of your team. An empathetic culture encourages open communication. This is absolutely vital the catching problems the rise during the course of a project and it can give workers the sense of understanding they need to express their own challenges. Additionally, employee appreciation leads to a greater sense of contribution and satisfaction, inspiring harder work. But none of this can be possible if workers don’t have the resources they need. Build a hub of links, programs, and affiliates that employees can turn to for support.
Enhancing Work Performance Through Wellness
No business can be expected to provide all of the mental health resources and treatments employees might need, but simply encouraging a workplace free from stigma can be a powerful efficiency booster. Few people can work — let alone work well — when life circumstances and mental health problems are bearing down. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated existing health issues and spawned an increase in reported mental illness.
Facing this problematic environment, advocating for employee mental health is a practice that cannot be neglected. Whether your team is working remotely or in the office, supporting them with resources and communication will be key to maintaining workplace efficiency. Wellness inspires workplace satisfaction, which in turn leads to less costly turnaround, greater employee engagement, and an inspired team ready to problem-solve.
Eradicate old notions of bottling up every mental and emotional problem on the job, and instead embrace a supportive workplace they can respond to employee needs. As a result, we’ll build a happier, harder-working world more capable of taking on modern challenges.