Mental Health in the Workplace: A Manager's Guide

by Sarah Niderost, 9 minutes read
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In America, the average full-time worker spends 1,801 hours at work each year. That equates to 90,000 hours worked over a lifetime. In other words, 30% of an employee's life is consumed by employment.

Why do I point this out?

Well, employees spend a great deal of time in an organization. Shouldn't it be a place where they can feel safe and at ease? But that's not always the case. Many employees across the country are unhappy, stressed, and even depressed.

Reports show 90% of employees say workplace stress affects their mental health. And 60% of workers aren't getting adequate support from supervisors to manage stress.

Monitoring mental health in your workplace is critical to the sustainability (and success) of your business. Continue reading to find out why and what you can do to combat work-related stress.

What is workplace mental health?

Workplace mental health is the way a person feels, thinks, or behaves while in work environments. Mental health shouldn't be confused with mental illness. The former is a state of being and can be positive or negative. The latter refers to the deterioration of your mental well-being.

Unfortunately, many employees are dealing with negative mental health issues due to workplace stressors. An astounding 94% of U.S. employees report feeling stressed from work.

But why should employers worry about this within their company?

Should employers care about mental health?

When an employee develops mental health problems due to work-related stress — whose problem is it? Does an employer play a role in making things better for stressed workers?

Well, it's definitely something to consider, especially when you look at the potential effects it can have on your organization. If you choose to ignore the issue, it'll eventually grow into a problem with productivity.

And it can even lead to detrimental consequences for your staff:

Excessive workplace stress causes a stunning 120,000 deaths annually. And this costs almost $190 billion in health care per year.

That's because stress is only the beginning of deterioration. Over time, stressed employees develop physical and mental problems, like reduced immune system function and depression.

In fact, depression is one of the top three workplace problems for employees. One study shows depressive disorders make up more than half of all medical plan dollars used on mental health conditions. Sadly, this often results in spillover into personal lives — 54% of workers say work stress affects their home life.

But this isn't the only reason to take workplace mental health seriously. Here are some of the ways it directly impacts your business.

Falling retention rates among employees

When you have a happy workplace, it's easier to gain long-term loyalty. You won't have to deal with folks leaving your organization on a whim. Why is this important?

Because it costs more to acquire new talent than it is to keep them. An employee earning $8/hr costs roughly $3,500 in turnover costs (not including training expenses). And this increases the higher the salary of the worker.

So if you're looking to cut costs, then increasing employee retention is vital. But this is impossible to do when you have dissatisfied workers dealing with workplace mental health issues.

Around 63% of American employees say they're ready to quit their jobs because of stress. And another 16% already quit their jobs because of stressful work environments.

The culprit of stressful work conditions may be due to environmental factors like dangerous tasks. Or it can be a result of poor leadership.

Sixty percent of employees left (or would leave) an employer because of a bad boss. Forty-six percent are even forgoing working for others altogether by becoming their own boss in the gig economy. So by allowing poor work conditions to persist, you're contributing to a shrinking talent pool.

Reduced employee productivity (and engagement) rates

Productivity rates will diminish when the mental health of your employees diminishes. It's inevitable.

Stress chips away at the well-being of an individual. Often, it leads to other health conditions, such as mental illness, sleep disorders, and even substance abuse.

It's nearly impossible to perform at your best, especially when you're mismanaging stress due to a lack of resources and support. Reports show depression interferes with your ability to complete physical tasks around 20% of the time. And it can hurt cognitive performance 35% of the time.

Sleepy workers also don't make the best workers. Yet insufficient sleep is what 66% of stressed American workers are dealing with.

A study by ADAA shows stress and anxiety impact work productivity and coworker relations the most. And 41% agree, saying stress leads to productivity loss at work.

Trying to work through it just isn't going to cut it. This will only create a workforce of mentally checked-out employees.

Not good.

When you have employees struggling with output, meeting deadlines, or quality assurance, then it hurts your bottom line.

And if you don't do something soon, you could end up burning out your teams, further hurting their productivity. Numbers show over a quarter of employees are at risk of burning out within the next year.

Being unattractive to younger talent

Generation Z is entering the workforce, and their demands and expectations differ from prior generations. For one, they're expecting their workplace to improve their overall well-being.

So simply offering an impressive salary isn't all that enticing to younger workers. If you want to appeal to this group, you have to provide more value than a paycheck.

In other words, you have to proactively help to improve your employees' well-being if you want to attract top talent. But what exactly does this mean?

According to Gallup's chief workplace scientist, there are five areas employers can focus on to help employees thrive: career, social, financial, physical, and community. If there's stress in any one of these areas, then it'll impact the worker's mental health.

So what can you do to help your workers maintain a healthy mental state?

How to talk about mental health at work

It all begins with a conversation. If you're not discussing the mental health of your workers, then it becomes another ignored problem. By talking about mental health at work, it sheds light on the matter. And enables management to find solutions to hidden concerns.

You may have employees silently dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. So invite workers to speak up about their problems and offer resources and solutions. This way, they're more open to coming to managers about their problems.

Consider creating a culture around mental health and stress management. This may include developing policies and programs centered around these issues. Maybe offer social support networks and incentives to reinforce positive behaviors.

Whatever you decide to implement, make sure to track the progress and measure the effects. Keep what works and change what doesn't. But always get input from your employees to learn their preferences.

Next, let's dive into the various methods you can use to improve workplace mental health in your organization.

How do you address mental health in the workplace?

You had a discussion with your team members and learned employees are dealing with declining mental health. What should you do next?

Or maybe no one's admitting to any mental health issues. Should you forgo focusing on mental health? Not at all. It's something that can present itself in the future, so it's better to be prepared.

Here are several techniques to enhance your workplace and promote healthy mental well-being.

Train your leaders to be advocates of positivity

When it comes to your employees' well-being, your managers are the folks on the frontline. They see and speak with workers each workday, which allows them to identify and fix problems early on.

But only if they're properly trained to do so.

Make it an initiative to provide ongoing training and resources to empower your leaders to be positive influencers.

They should proactively engage with workers and inquire about their well-being. When they notice something is off, they should immediately seek to resolve it (or at least bring it to light).

Why are your leaders so important? Because a lot of the time, managers have a significant influence on workplace stress.

Around 35% of workers say their primary source of stress at work emanates from their boss. And it's not just an overbearing manager breathing down their neck. According to another report, 80% of American employees are stressed due to ineffective company communication.

So be sure your leaders are adequate in establishing goals and aligning teams to reach them.

Otherwise, you could lose some of your greatest talent. One study shows 60% of workers left (or would leave) an employer over a bad boss.

Build a culture around acceptance (and inclusivity)

Diversity. It's all the talk today, and for good reason. There are folks living (and working) among us who are forced to be someone else. They come to work wearing a masked identity to "fit in." But in the process, they're losing themselves.

This is why you'll find more companies embracing acceptance and inclusivity. But what does this mean? Well, it's about creating a workplace with zero tolerance for bullying (even passive-aggressively), prejudice, or exclusion for folks who are different (race, sexuality, gender, etc.).

So the goal is to instill beliefs around family and togetherness, no matter your background or walk of life. Educate your team members about this and hire new talent based on their own beliefs on these matters to ensure cultural fit.

Don't ignore this — an analysis shows companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams had a 25% higher chance of seeing above-average profits. And those that are both gender and culturally diverse are more likely to outperform those that aren't.

Design a more comfortable workspace

Try concentrating in an environment that's noisy, crowded, and filled with distractions (notifications, emails, and pop-up conversations). Unless you're one of the rare breeds who can work through rainbows or hail, odds are you're going to struggle to get things done.

This is an issue 65% of workers are battling with. One report shows they find it difficult to concentrate due to their work environment.

So take a look at your workspace. Are there changes you can make to improve organization and focus levels? Maybe having an open office space isn't the best idea for your company and should opt for rooms or closed spaces.

The goal is to design your workspace based on the needs of your workers. Get them involved to see what they think would enhance the work experience. You may be surprised to learn it's something as simple as creating a meditation room for "quiet time."

Or that having a flexible work schedule, such as working from home can boost productivity. Don't knock it until you try it. Since the pandemic, remote work helped companies stay afloat amid lockdowns. In fact, more businesses are resorting to work from anywhere models.

Build a workspace with mental health in mind

As a manager, you want to ensure you're creating a workspace that promotes positive mental health. The first step is to talk to your workers and then maintain open communication. Work together to find solutions to improve your work environment, so it reduces stress and encourages productivity.

Collaboration is easier when you have the right tools on hand. With Deputy, you can streamline task management and scheduling for your teams.

Want to learn more? Download The Employer's Guide to Workplace Wellness today.

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