To make mental health a workplace priority, start by changing your workplace culture

To make mental health a workplace priority, start by changing your workplace culture
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Worries about our lives don’t suddenly end when we reach the office door. Yet the societal stigma against discussing mental health issues inside and outside the office means that most mental health concerns are ignored and, as a result, made worse. As a result, companies that break down this barrier and provide mental health services for their employees support not just a more productive workforce, but also a happier world.

Here’s why the issue matters, and what your company can do to help.

The cost of ignoring mental health

Neglecting the mental health concerns of employees has significant costs for employers. U.S. companies lose up to $225.5 billion a year thanks to the lower productivity, missed days from work, and tardiness associated with employee anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Unfortunately, despite mental health being so intertwined with workplace morale and productivity, many people still aren’t comfortable bringing up these issues with their managers. In a recent survey, Mind, a British nonprofit seeking to address mental health concerns, found that, while 50% of people had experienced a mental health problem in their current job, only half had talked about these issues with their employer.

More broadly, there’s still a disconnect when it comes to people seeking treatment. A 2016 study found that, while an estimated 350 million people around the world are affected by depression, just one in 27 “received minimally adequate care for their condition.”

Creating a work culture that prioritizes whole health

Thanks in part to the “whole health” movement, more companies today realize that addressing employee well-being means focusing on their mental and physical health.

As a result, some employers are making improving the mental health of their employees a priority. One big banking firm, for example, has created a communal space for people to share stories about their mental health, creating an environment where people feel supported and where mental health is destigmatized. Likewise, one ride-sharing company provides free behavioral therapy for employees and their families. These kinds of services are important because they help increase employees’ access to mental health services, which in turn means more people are likely to take advantage of them.

Another way companies can help improve the mental health of their employees is to encourage a positive work/life balance. Burnout, for example, is a real issue for workers, particularly those in the U.S.: A 2018 Gallup survey found that 23 percent of full-time employees say they feel burned out at work “very often” or “always,” and that 44 percent reported feeling burned out “sometimes.” To reverse this, company culture should encourage employees to talk about work-induced stress and encourage those employees to take the personal, vacation, and sick time that they’ve earned.

Toward a healthier workplace

By effectively communicating the services available to employees, both within and outside formal healthcare benefits, employers can help shift how society views the relationship between mental health and the workplace. Outside of specific health services, changing workplace culture to destigmatize mental health concerns can make a significant impact in improving the mental health of employees.

To learn more about the importance of promoting health and wellness within your small business, visit Cigna.com.