The Smartest Business Decision Your Organization Can Make in 2023
This may sound counterintuitive, but helping your employees improve their mental health could be one of the smartest business decisions your organization makes this year.
Poor mental health costs organizations and employers a lot of money. It’s estimated that globally, 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.
There has always been a direct correlation between an employee’s level of happiness and satisfaction at work and their level of productivity. When employees feel safe, heard, and seen, no matter what job they do, they want to do a good job. When employees don’t trust that their needs will be met, when they don’t have flexibility, safe working conditions, or a fair wage, and they feel a general lack of control over their jobs, they struggle to stay motivated.
Historically, employees were told to compartmentalize their mental health and their work life as two separate entities. The belief was you were weak if you brought your personal problems into the workplace or if you shared your struggles with mental health issues, then you wouldn’t be seen as a leader.
The attitude towards mental health had been gradually shifting even before the pandemic. Millennials entered the workforce and were more willing to discuss their struggles with various mental health issues with their managers and openly talk about their therapy experiences. Generation Z is even more open about their experiences, and they actively seek employers and organizations who champion and provide a wide variety of mental health resources.
As the older generations retire, the younger generations (Millennials/Generation Z) will soon become the vast majority of the workforce. Generation Z makes up 30% of the population, and they’re on track to be 27% of the workforce by 2025, while Millennials are currently the largest generation in the workforce and will only get bigger. These younger generations place a tremendous amount of value on purpose, mission, and mental health when seeking employment.
Moving forward, companies will need to focus on prioritizing mental health to attract and retain top talent. Making mental health a priority isn’t just about having open dialogues. It’s about creating an environment in which having a high EQ (emotional intelligence) is just as important as a high IQ.
Allowing employees to take time off for mental health reasons just as you would if they had a physical reason. Creating learning and development programs that focus on mental health, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and other issues that actually drive real change.
Here are two strategies your organization can make that will have a big impact:
All Managers Need to Be People Managers
Everyone knows the phrase, “You don’t leave a company, you leave a manager.” Managers make all the difference in the world. You can work at the most amazing organization in the world with a mission you deeply care about, but if your manager doesn’t listen to you and doesn’t believe in your work or you feel like you have a pit in your stomach every single day, the good work your company does doesn’t matter.
Managers tend to be promoted because they know how to do the job, but they actually need to be promoted because they’re good with people. Being a people manager is about working with people, being able to listen carefully, gaining their trust, being empathetic, knowing when to push, when to pull back, and how to motivate.
The productivity that’s lost from mental health isn’t just from people who have a mental health issue that developed prior to working at an organization. Many people develop depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, and other mental health issues due to their experiences at work.
Contributing factors include toxic work environments, the stress of remote work, poor work-life balance, long hours, understaffing, a lack of support, and harassment. As a manager, you hold a lot of responsibility. How you interact with the people you manage every day is very important, which means you need to be very self-aware.
When a new manager is promoted, or your organization hires a new manager, there needs to be an aspect of their training that includes soft skills, such as active listening, patience, interpersonal skills, empathy, and adaptability. Teaching managers how to be more emotionally intelligent might be more important than teaching them anything else about the job.
You, the manager, need to be mindful and take good care of yourself because if you don’t, you won’t be able to listen attentively, help problem-solve, stay engaged, and all of the other skills needed to be a good people manager.
Provide Mental Health Resources (Make It Easy, Remind Employees Often)
Making the decision to seek help isn’t an easy one, and for some people, it takes them a long time to finally pick up the phone and call a therapist. For other people, they’ve been in therapy their entire lives. Everyone is different, which is why it’s so important for organizations to have a lot of different mental health options for employees with a simple way to access those options.
Therapy may not be what’s right for everyone. More and more companies are providing coaching services to help their employees improve performance, communication, and confidence. Many organizations provide free Calm and Headspace accounts, and others have onsite therapists. There are affinity groups run by professional group counselors, and the list goes on.
There are companies now that provide both coaching and counseling services. While both therapy and coaching help individuals gain insight and bring about behavioral change, therapy can be slower-paced and focuses on the past and present and understanding the underlying reasons for your actions. Coaching is faster-paced, action-oriented, and primarily focuses on the present and future and what needs to happen in order to achieve your goals.
While all of these resources are helpful, this can be overwhelming for employees, and they need guidance and direction on where to start or which option would work best for them. It's important for managers, HR business partners, and anyone in a leadership role to understand the benefits of each program your company offers. Gone are the days of handing out an EAP (employee assistance program) business card to the employee who is crying in your office.
What your organization provides in terms of benefits may be a deciding factor for incoming talent. Having thoughtful programs and partnerships, a simple way for employees to access the information, and strategies on how to remind employees of these benefits (because it’s very easy to forget they’re available) will make a huge difference.
Change may not happen overnight, but it has been accelerated by the events of the last three years, and with these changes, we have the chance to come out of the pandemic more resilient, more supported, and with a brighter future.