Mental health is overlooked by many people and stigmatized by even more. But attitudes are changing, and the pandemic has accelerated that change.
In the past year, I have been asked five times to discuss mental health as a primary principle of well-being.
being. Everywhere I went in the workplace, business leaders voiced a key question: how do we de-stigmatize self-care and mental well-being?
As a psychologist and researcher, I wondered why this question arose. Many attribute this concentration to the pandemic. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) supports this hypothesis and sheds light on how the public health crisis continues to affect people.
SHRM surveyed more than 500 American workers in 2021 as the pandemic entered its second year. These employees shared ideas about their mental health and the workplace. Overall they felt exhausted. Six in 10 respondents said they were exhausted when they left work. Four in 10 said they were exhausted at work. And 3 in 10 said their workplace culture made them irritable at home.
It was that last statistic that got me thinking. Workers’ feelings about work affected other aspects of their lives. Psychologists call this phenomenon, which usually results from prolonged periods of stress, the training effect. This is a serious problem: Behaviors linked to the ripple effect can include substance abuse, domestic violence, and criminal acts.
With the SHRM data in hand, I reflected on what employers were doing about the frayed mental health of their workers. By using the traditional employee assistance system as a primary resource, could employers really stem the tide of rising mental health needs? I knew the answer was probably no. But I’ve found that employers are finding other ways to support employees, including using:
Mandatory and incentive mental health days. Employers are mandating the use of mental health days outside of personal leave and offering incentives to use them. For example, some employers have experimented with unlocking additional paid time off if employees have used their mandatory mental health days as prescribed.
Help with mental health planning. Some employers are leveraging resources to help plan mental health services for their workforce. This eliminates the burden of finding the right provider and reduces barriers to quality care.
Mental wellness subscription services. Many employers have found that mental health issues can be alleviated with early intervention from a listening ear. Providers such as Talkspace and BetterHelp are seeing an increase in their engagements with employers, all in an effort to address mental health needs before they become serious.
This is the first time in a 20-year career that employers have engaged in this level of creativity for mental well-being. Executives discuss mental well-being as being at the heart of a healthier employee experience. It warms my heart to see such focus without stigma. One can only hope that this approach will continue well into the next era and beyond.
Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is Chief Knowledge Officer for SHRM.