3 ways to boost productivity (by prioritising mental health)

Author :  Stephen Dunne – Chief Product Officer at Koa Health –  Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Solutions

Even as employers continue to increase their investment in employee wellbeing and workplace mental health, companies are losing billions[1] due to poor mental health. And one of the most worrisome mental-health-related problems when it comes to business success is a decline in productivity and performance.

Among the culprits behind this ongoing crisis affecting organisations everywhere are an abysmal shortage[2] of mental health care providers (and, as a result, mental health services) and limited mental health benefits that don’t address the team’s diverse needs.[3] Then there’s the stigma[4] and embarrassment associated with needing mental health support at work, companies not walking the talk or acknowledging their role as a possible source of these issues, and the existing mental healthcare system’s focus on reactive care for people in a crisis or near-crisis state.

Fortunately for employees and employers alike, companies are becoming more aware of these problems. They’re building strategies and channelling resources to resolve them. Business leaders have realised that prioritising mental wellbeing at work significantly impacts business health as a whole, protecting employee wellbeing and boosting productivity[5] by up to 12%. How to support mental health in your workplace can take time to determine. Get started with the strategies below.

Diversify your benefits

Mental health needs are never one-size-fits-all—benefits shouldn’t be either. They should be inclusive and accessible for a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds across the full continuum of mental health (from mentally well to mentally ill). Offering your workers a psychologically safe workplace means making it easy to access care without fear of stigma or consequences. One way to reduce this barrier is by rounding out your existing offerings with everyday mental wellbeing support that doesn’t require a doctor’s referral or a formal diagnosis to access.

Supporting mental health is essential to making your staff feel accepted and respected in the workplace. In an inclusive work environment[6]  where people feel free to be open and honest about their mental health struggles, they are also more likely to freely exchange ideas and seek out mental health support when needed. Furthermore, employees who feel respected at work are more resilient and cooperative, perform better and are more likely to take direction from leadership.

Set an example

A company’s management is a reflection of its priorities and culture. By maintaining an open-door mentality where employees can freely share their ideas, fears, doubts, and their mental health struggles, managers demonstrate their commitment to prioritising employee wellbeing. A perfect real-world example is when employee Madalyn Parker[7]  emailed her team to say she was taking some days off to focus on her mental health. The company’s CEO responded openly, applauding her for doing what she needed to do to ‘bring her whole self to work’. In one simple action, the CEO of Olark championed his team member and evidenced the company’s position on employee mental health.

Not all actions are as simple, and fewer still will go viral. But encouraging employees to care for their mental health is well worth the effort. What exactly that looks like at your organisation will vary. It could mean adding easily-accessed mental health resources to your private medical insurance or employee assistance program. But whatever your approach, when employees feel supported and free to take care of themselves, the outcome can mean greater productivity and talent retention.[8]

Look to line managers 

When it comes to prioritising mental health at work, line managers have a significant role. They’re ground zero when it comes to employee wellbeing and likely to be aware not just of the general mood of their team but also of individual mental health struggles and gaps in benefits that affect employees’ ability to take care of themselves. This puts them in a unique position to help the company align benefits with employees’ needs, refer employees to existing resources and perhaps most importantly, be a role model for their teams.

By openly taking care of their own mental health, a line manager ensures they have the resilience to support their team. They also become more familiar with available resources via first-hand experience. For example, a manager using a mental health app provided by the company will know how it works and who in their team might benefit from it. First-hand

experience increases empathy and competency, making managers more aware of how much time and space their staff needs to explore resources and work towards optimal mental wellbeing. But first-hand experience isn’t enough. More than half of employees[9] don’t feel supported at work, and less than a third (30%) of line managers[10] have had any mental health training.

Companies who care must enable line managers, business leaders and employees to come together and prioritise mental health. Because without it, resilience (individual and organisational) becomes impossible. Positive employee mental health is crucial to running a successful and sustainable organisation.

To learn more about how mental health may impact your workforce and what to do about it, download our free report, The State of Mental Health in the Workplace.

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