Think of your traditional office environment, and it’s not hard to come up with some standard fitness initiatives employers put into play. There are step challenges to see who can log the most miles in a week, for example, or that company-wide weight loss program to combat the dreaded holiday bloat. But what about the stuff that happens “above the eyebrows?” Is mental wellness something employers should focus on?
“There’s no health without mental health,” says Rosangela Berbert, executive director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Fox Valley Inc. “The workplaces that are really concerned about employee wellness have to begin to look at mental wellness, too.”
Aside from being a kind and conscientious employer, there are numerous drivers behind emphasizing mental wellness in the workplace.
“More and more employers are realizing that productivity is impacted by mental health issues. For example, depressed workers missed an average of 4.8 workdays in a three-month period, and have over 11 days of reduced productivity,” says Rebecca Fairman, executive director of Connections for Mental Wellness, a community-wide initiative and partnership that addresses mental health needs in Brown County.
Those who subscribe to the more traditional philosophy that a job is just a job might be quick to refute the concept that it’s an employer’s duty to promote the health and happiness of employees. However, experts assert that mental wellness is something that simply can’t be ignored.
“Show me the box outside the company’s door where the employees drop their problems before they walk in. They don’t,” says Steve Baue, president and owner of ERC: Counselors and Consultants, which administers Employee Assistance Programs for some 300 companies. “If you think that outside life or even work issues aren’t impacting productivity, safety, quality, absenteeism and all of that, then you are missing a big tool for your business.”
More area employers are subscribing to that philosophy, which means employee mental wellness is becoming a growing point of emphasis among companies.
“This is absolutely on the rise,” says Ryan Good, president and CEO of Foundations Health and Wholeness and chair of Connections for Mental Wellness’ workplace wellness group.
“Through this workplace wellness group, we did a survey of Brown County employers. Eighty-eight percent of them report that mental wellness is something that they feel some ownership in.”
Ownership is just the first step. Employers who are truly invested in the mental wellness of employees need to take action. Many are.
Initiatives range from somewhat simple and straightforward to more complex and intensive. Many experts assert that evaluating any existing EAP services and verifying what they offer is the best place to start. If an EAP isn’talready in place, establishing one is an effective way to demonstrate that care and consideration to employees.
“We actively promote face-to-face counseling,” Baue says.
For that reason, ERC’s systems and offices are set up to protect and prioritize the confidentiality of the employees they work with. For example, ERC’s scheduling system does not allow for two employees from the same company to be scheduled at the same time.
Employers may also evaluate any existing policies and insurance plans to ensure they’re being inclusive of mental wellness.
“Does that insurance provide good coverage for mental wellness?” Berbert says. “Do your policies allow for personal time when employees need to address their own mental wellness?”
Additionally, for companies that want to foster a culture of support and reduce the stigma associated with mental wellness, transparency and open communication are key.
This can include honest discussions, leaders who are willing to be vulnerable about their own mental health issues and providing resources for employees who might require them.
“Training supervisory staff, human resources staff, and really anyone in the organization can be helpful, even just knowing the resources in the community and where to refer an individual within your organization who’s struggling,” Good says. “What places take the insurance provided by the organization?”
Ultimately, it all comes down to cultivating an environment where employees feel comfortable and supported in addressing mental wellness concerns that crop up when life and work getstressful.
“Mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression and other conditions are routinely listed as top concerns in employee health surveys,” Fairman says.
ERC, which puts together a top 10 list of employee stressors each year, echoes some of those concerns. “This year, No. 1 and 2 are marriage and family,” Baue says. “That’s almost 60 percent of our sessions. No. 3 and 4 are anxiety and depression.”
ERC’s counselors also see clients for issues that are more directly related to the work environment, and job stress and co-worker relationships occupy spaces on that top 10 list.
While many might still consider mental health a taboo topic for the workplace, experts say it’s something employers must not ignore.
“For most companies, their employees are the biggest asset that they have,” Berbert says. “If you don’t care for your biggest asset, your bottom line is bound to suffer.”