By Leslie Sheffield and Philip Swayze

Even in “normal” times, the mental health of Americans has been a standing concern, affecting one in five of us, or some 18% of working adults. But the coronavirus pandemic’s repercussions have only served to aggravate a troubling trend: An emergency survey of U.S. households by the Census Bureau in late April found a third of Americans are experiencing clinical anxiety and depression.

It may be difficult to assess the extent of mental health support needed for your employees given the continuing upheaval in workplaces and work schedules. But the pressure will show itself, and employers should address the problem head-on or productivity may suffer greatly. Unfortunately, 65% of workers don’t believe they’re offered benefits or programs that help them address their personal well-being; 17% of employers say they offer no resources at all. And that was before we became even more unsettled with ongoing protests over systemic racial and social inequities.

Based on that turmoil, there’s no time like the present to support employees’ mental health. Here are five ways to start supporting mental health in the workplace:

  1. Generate Awareness to help Reduce Stigma
    It is important to train and educate employees and leaders on the topic of mental health (MH) and help to reduce its stigma in the workplace. Consider providing manager training that focuses on identifying and addressing key mental health issues in your workplace. Turn to companies such as an EAP or other stand-alone mental health vendors that offer educational seminars or training on the topics you need to address. No EAP? Check with your broker or behavior health providers for assistance.
  2. Secure Visible and Active Leadership Support
    Genuine leadership support is critically important. Leaders should set the tone and clearly communicate the objective of the initiative with expectations for managers and employees. Use the traditional means of reaching employees and be sure that people feel they have permission to discuss mental health concerns with managers or supervisors. They must also provide visible support for inclusive policy changes.
  3. Develop and Implement Mental Health
    Workplace Policies Focus on including/acknowledging mental health in current policies, such as including mental health days off as part of the PTO guidelines, or giving permission for 15-minute ‘wellness breaks’ during work hours. Mental health is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act so any form of harassment or anti-bullying polices should include terms and labels – “burnout,” “stress,” or “trauma,” for example – to help advocate for employees dealing with emotional and mental health concerns.
  4. Implement Evidence-Based Resources
    Creating awareness is a good first step but it is insufficient in creating real change. It is important to offer tangible mental health resources. Promote your EAP resources and if it does not offer one-on-one counseling, look for one that does or turn to other companies that offer on-site, tele-health or digital therapy and educational services. Forming employee resource groups (ERGs) and allowing them to meet during work hours can create a structure that supports the needs of its workforce who deal with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or even caregiver fatigue, as topics arise such as blending in work responsibilities with those of personal care.
  5. Don’t Forget about Assessment and Evaluation
    Any organization that is serious about creating change must first understand the scope of the problem and then measure the impact of the intervention. Consider offering a pulse survey that could include the PHQ9 or GAD7 to help to assess the current emotional wellbeing of employees. Explore medical and pharmacy claims data for anxiety, depression or substance abuse. Additionally, you could consider examining workers comp claims, and leave of absences to establish trends and optimize a data dashboard for tracking progress.

HUB International’s employee benefit specialists consult with employers of all sizes and in all industries on every aspect of employee benefits program planning and management.