Mental health in the workplace is crucial to the success of your business.
There has been an undeniable shift in the need to address mental health in the workplace. Employees more universally expect mental health benefits from their jobs, and employers increasingly recognize that offering high-quality mental health programs is the right thing to do—both for their people and their business. Today, supporting mental health at work is a business necessity.
The number of people seeking mental health support is on the rise. Almost half of American workers are coping with a mental health issue, yet getting care is difficult. Long wait times, a shortage of mental health providers, high out-of-pocket fees, and poor care quality are just a few roadblocks along the path to care.
When employees lack access to needed mental health care, they’re less likely to work effectively and more likely to seek pricey medical care that may not address their needs. Employers bear the financial weight of under-treated mental health conditions, often without realizing it.
people worldwide experiences a diagnosable mental health disorder each year
One in five people worldwide experiences a diagnosable mental health disorder each year. In the United States alone, over 51 million adults are struggling. Even more people—76 percent, according to one study—reported at least one symptom of a mental disorder in the past year.
Millennials and Gen Zers, along with LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx employees, face unique mental health challenges. BIPOC communities have been forced to live in survival mode to endure systemic oppression. They have also had less access and ability to afford mental health services. These groups may be impacted disproportionately by stigma against discussing mental health at work as well as factors like discrimination and harassment.
The most common mental illnesses in the U.S. are anxiety and depression, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dual diagnosis (having more than one mental health disorder), and bipolar disorder. Additionally, burnout—a form of chronic workplace stress—has affected workers on a global scale. More than 32 percent of employees say they’ve experienced burnout over the past year, according to our survey.
Despite mental illness being so widespread, more than half of those affected go without the care they need.
While being employed promotes well-being, a negative working environment can lead to mental health issues. Employee mental health in the workplace can be impacted by many things, including work environment and company culture. Here are some of the factors that can negatively impact workforce mental health:
Unreasonable expectations are a major cause of work-related stress. A heavy workload, intense pressure to perform, long work hours, and excessive travel can leave employees physically and mentally exhausted.
Unclear expectations and lack of transparency can lead to higher worry, stress, anxiety, and loneliness. In one study, employees reported “unclear expectations from supervisors” as the number-one most stressful part of work.
Discrimination can also negatively impact mental health in the workplace. A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that people who experience discrimination report higher levels of stress, poor physical health, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety, lost productivity, and fatigue have all been linked to bullying in the workplace. Examples of bullying include spreading gossip, ignoring someone’s opinions, persistently criticizing someone’s work, or hinting to someone that they should quit their job.
When people feel unsafe at work—either physically or emotionally—their mental health can suffer. For example, inadequate safety equipment and workplace injuries are linked to a higher risk of mental illness. Similarly, strong workplace mental health relies on psychological safety, a hallmark of work environments that allow for risk-taking, mistakes, and speaking up.
Unclear instructions, pointless meanings, and ineffective communication can all chip away at mental health in the workforce. In one study, 52 percent of employees reported feeling stressed at work due to poor communication.
More than half of American workers report having toxic managers. These leaders engage in unhealthy management practices such as belittling co-workers, taking credit for other people’s work, or taking out their anger on others.
Having a bad boss is a common reason for employee turnover. According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, one in two employees has left their job to get away from their manager.
As social beings, a sense of community is important to our mental health. In this era of remote and hybrid work, many employees say they feel isolated from their co-workers, another contributing factor to burnout.
When workers lack a sense of control over job-related decisions, they’re at higher risk of exhaustion, low morale, and anxiety and depression. Conversely, when given more control, they have less stress and are 43 percent less likely to experience burnout.
Employees need the right tools and resources to do their jobs effectively. According to a survey by Mental Health America, 36 percent of employees feel they can’t rely on their supervisors or colleagues for support, and this perceived lack of support leads to job dissatisfaction and higher workplace stress.
The number of hours people work has been steadily rising since 2000. As working hours increase, the risk of stress, depression, and suicidal thinking increases. Many people report engaging in harmful coping behaviors like substance use in response to a culture of overwork.
Stigma—an attitude of fear or disapproval toward people with different characteristics—negatively affects workplace mental health in several ways. It fuels misconceptions about mental illness, such as the false idea that people with mental health conditions are weak, flawed, or incapable of being productive employees.
It also prevents people from getting the support they need. Despite the prevalence of mental health issues at work, eight out of 10 workers won’t reach out for support because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Additionally, 42 percent of employees said they’re uncomfortable talking about their mental health with their manager, according to our survey.
Mental health conditions can present differently in different people. Some employees may show several signs that they are struggling while others may show few, making it hard to identify that they have a problem. Stigma keeps many people silent even if they know they need support.
This is why it’s important for managers to know how to spot mental health issues at work, be proactive about identifying the need for support, and create an environment where employees feel safe to discuss their mental health and workplace concerns. Managers aren’t expected to be therapists, but being able to identify potential issues is a critical first step in supporting workplace mental health.
Here are a few signs of anxiety and depression that may be observable at work:
Employees may be struggling with a wide range of other mental health issues – from stress to schizophrenia – and each of these issues has unique symptoms. Generally speaking, signs of distress can include:
If you notice signs of distress in your employee, avoid jumping to the conclusion that mental illness is the cause. Many mental health symptoms can also be signs of other issues, such as physical illnesses or even medication side effects. The most helpful approach is a private, empathetic conversation about what you’re seeing and asking how you can help.
Mental health is an essential part of overall health. Most people will face some type of mental health challenge in their lifetime—either directly or indirectly—that may make it difficult to function their best at work.
Mental health conditions can have far-reaching effects on employees, including:
Mental illness is associated with several health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Yet medical professionals often have difficulty recognizing and treating mental conditions. Stigma and cost also prevent people from getting the right treatment. As a result, health care costs are higher for people with depression and other mental illnesses.
In addition to poorer physical health, suicides and accidents contribute to a higher death rate in people with mental health disorders.
People with depression, for example, are five times more likely to become unemployed than those without depression.
Depression can interfere with people’s ability to complete physical job tasks and reduces cognitive performance.
Largely due to stigma, people with mental illness are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and have less social support, which affects their overall sense of well-being.
Your people are your greatest asset, and their mental health impacts every aspect of their lives, including their work. Many are struggling, and employers can help. Plus, the cost of mental health to your organization is too high to ignore.
Untreated mental illness impacts companies through:
The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that mental health affects work performance, with lost productivity due to depression and anxiety alone costing the global economy $1 trillion each year.
So, how does mental health affect work performance? Those with depressive symptoms are seven times as likely to experience “decreased effectiveness” at work than peers without depression. They’re also more likely to struggle with time management, mental functioning, and interpersonal communication, resulting in less work output overall.
Employees with untreated mental illnesses are six times as likely to visit the ER compared to the general population. There are significant gaps in access to in-network mental health care providers, meaning that employees must either forego treatment or turn to pricey out-of-network care or medical visits that fail to address underlying needs.
Without effective treatment, working can become too difficult for people with mental health disorders, and they may need to leave their job. In fact, over one-third of disability claims are tied to mental health conditions.
Fifty percent of millennial and 75 percent of Generation Z workers reported having left a job in 2019 due at least in part to mental health reasons. In an increasingly competitive labor market, businesses that aren’t addressing mental health in the workforce risk getting left behind. Most employees (71 percent) today say that, when considering a new job, it’s at least somewhat important to them that the prospective employer offers mental health benefits.
Employers are ideally situated to help address employee mental health in the workplace. Many businesses already have programs, policies, and support networks in place that can be tailored to promote employee well-being. And employers can track progress and measure the effects of these efforts.
This is, in part, because treatment works. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the treatment efficacy for mental illness exceeds the rates for heart disease.
Treatment is also cost-effective. According to the WHO, every U.S. dollar invested in treatment yields a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. Employers that invest in a comprehensive mental health benefit see significant cost savings in the following areas:
Organizations that offer Lyra spend significantly less on medical claims for members who use Lyra than those who get care through their health plans, according to a report from professional services firm Aon.
High-quality mental health benefits drive employee retention, which translates into savings for hiring and training new employees. Employees who use a comprehensive mental health benefit like Lyra are almost twice as likely to stay with the company as those who don’t use it.
Both absenteeism (unplanned absence) and presenteeism (being on the job but not fully functional due to an underlying health condition) are detrimental to employee productivity.
Therapy and medication have been shown to be effective at addressing mental health symptoms and helping people regain their footing at work, thereby reducing absenteeism and presenteeism. Almost 86 percent of employees treated for depression report improved work performance.
Lyra’s research echoes these findings—70 percent of members in the clinical range who seek care with Lyra show improved productivity levels on the Work Limitation Questionnaire (WLQ) index measure.
One of managers’ most important roles is to support their team members—including their mental health. Since people spend about one-third of their lives at work, even small changes at the company level can make a big difference.
Here are a few ways employers can help promote mental health in the workplace:
Employers play an important role in destigmatizing mental illness and nurturing a positive work environment. Take proactive steps to combat stigma, such as encouraging open discussion around mental health at work, doing regular check-ins and surveys, and developing anti-stigma programs.
Take care of yourself and be transparent about the ways you’re doing so. When managers and company leaders talk openly about their mental health, they send a message to employees that they are welcome to discuss their own challenges as well.
Social connection enhances people’s resilience to stress. Create a culture of connection by implementing peer support groups and employee resource groups (ERGs). Just as isolation and feeling “other” can be enemies of mental health, nurturing casual interactions where teammates get to know one another as people helps build trust.
Create ongoing workplace mental health awareness campaigns, trainings, or workshops that educate employees about mental illness and encourage them to seek help when they need it.
Burnout is a workplace issue, and employees are increasingly looking to their employers for solutions. Designing your workplace in a way that provides role clarity, realistic job demands, recognition, career development opportunities, and adequate resources is a good place to start. Also, encourage employees to take PTO, including for mental health reasons, as well as short breaks throughout the day.
In a Mental Health America survey, 56 percent of workers said having flexibility in their workday is the number-one way their employer could better support them. Allow employees to decide how to structure their day. When they’re feeling overwhelmed, consider making changes in work assignments, hours, deadlines, or working conditions, if possible.
A diverse and inclusive work environment can help prevent mental health problems. A few key steps include hiring a culturally diverse workforce, launching training programs to build cultural competency, and creating resource groups and community spaces that provide an outlet for connection.
The number-one way to improve mental health in the workplace is to invest in comprehensive benefits that meet your employees’ diverse needs. Most employees (84 percent) today say that when considering a new job, it’s at least somewhat important that the prospective employer offer mental health benefits.
When employees feel their companies support their mental health, they’re less likely to experience symptoms of mental illness, miss work, or underperform. They’re also more likely to talk about mental health and workplace concerns, feel satisfied with their job, and feel proud to work at their company.
In our new world of work, a baseline investment in an EAP, health plan, or mental health app isn’t enough. With these approaches, low utilization, long wait times, and other barriers keep people from accessing care that has a positive impact on their lives and ability to work.
To truly promote mental health in the workplace, the mental health benefits you offer should include:
The health of your organization relies on your commitment to workforce mental health. You have the power to change the conversation around mental health in the workplace by offering a truly comprehensive benefit that makes it easy for employees to access high-quality care when they need it.
It’s the right thing to do for your employees’ well-being. And it pays off in the long run.