Despite being offered by 97% of large US companies, employee assistance programs (EAPs) leave a lot to be desired in supporting employee mental health and well-being. EAPs may take significant investment, and their positive impacts on productivity, wellness, and life satisfaction are well-documented. But only 5% of employees utilize them. Awareness may be part of the problem, given almost half of employees don’t think their employer offers the benefit.
But employers shouldn’t ditch their EAP—it’s a gateway to better support and help when needed. Instead, companies should supplement the benefit with tactics and programs that address employee mental health needs and hopefully prevent them. Quartz at Work talked with executive coach Jenn Toro to get four fresh solutions on how companies can invest in employee mental health.
Much like the process it takes to be certified as a B Corp, where businesses pledge a more ethical approach to business and undergo an under-the-radar soul-searching application process, Toro suggests that companies can pursue the Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health. Created by the Mental Health Association, this program assesses employers in 5 key categories:
- Workplace culture
- Health insurance and benefits
- Employee perks and programs
- Legal compliance
- Leadership and community engagement
“The framework proactively addresses mental health programming, challenges the status quo by presenting a model to think critically about how to make a meaningful impact, and recognizes employers putting their money where their mouth is,” Toro said. “Even if you don’t seek the certification, building mental health programming around the model is a best practice.” Stamps of approval like this show the company not only values well-being but also provides a mentally healthy work environment (pdf).
“We’ve been living in unprecedented times, and trauma is all around us,” Toro said. “Understanding the impact of trauma on our people and profit is a lasting way to support day-to-day decision-making about our businesses and teams.” Trauma-informed skills, she added, support common conflict resolution, prevent absenteeism, and a return to civility,” Jenn Toro said.
A trauma-informed company understands how trauma works, sees how it can impact its employees, and works to mitigate those effects. While leaders can find e-courses from resources like LinkedIn Learning, companies should prioritize scaling training up. Hosting training for all leaders can prevent the common discrepancies between the experience of having a good leader versus a bad one. Whatever the format, employers should ensure the skill-building includes the 6 principles of a trauma-informed workplace from the CDC. Those include:
- Trustworthiness and transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice, and choice
- Cultural, historical, and gender issues
Just like CPR and first aid certifications, individuals can now be official when caring for others with mental health first aid certification. “This is such an easy, practical step, and it’s hugely important. Everyone can go through it and keep up their certification,” Toro suggested. “Even if you never have to support a mental health emergency, the certification teaches you soft skills like empathy, curiosity, and communication.”
Focusing on recovery and resiliency, mental health first aid certification from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing focuses on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and substance abuse disorders. It helps the participant listen non-judgmentally, encourage others to get professional help, and how to assess for risk of suicide or harm. With plenty of in-person and virtual options available and less than $150 for an individual to be trained, it’s an accessible way to upskill leaders and others that nurture employees.
“The US mental health crisis, combined with big disruptions in the mental health industry, means psychotherapists are over capacity in supporting our national needs,” said Toro. With therapists in high demand, she believes companies can bridge the gap by offering onsite coaches. “I know many coaches with a knowledge base you’d find in a counselor, combined with great lived experience,” Toro said.
Companies and individuals will have to move past the thinking that a coach is assigned only when there’s a problem. With proper experience or training, and careful consideration for boundaries (including confidentiality), onsite coaches can impact individual well-being and work performance. Similar to an HR business partner, they can supplement busy leaders, provide clarity and stability during times of stress, and identify systemic workplace issues that could be causing or exacerbating employee mental health issues.
While nurturing employee mental health and well-being can feel overwhelming for company leadership and managers, they are uniquely positioned to address and prevent many of the causes. Companies can improve the results of their efforts by diversifying and choosing new actions that yield an even larger return on their investment. It’s time to move past offering a program to embedding the skills needed to address this mental health pandemic into the organization.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, in the US you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, for confidential support at 1-800-273-8255. For hotlines in other countries, click here.