Mental health in the workplace is an issue that affects every industry in every market, at every level of every organization. CEOs, front-line managers, field laborers, IT specialists, and everyone in between deal with highs and lows in their mental health, and those struggles have an impact on their companies, from productivity and engagement to safety to employee retention and turnover rates.
For many company leaders, conversations about mental health and wellbeing are new territory, and it can be difficult to navigate the best ways to support employees. To that end, we surveyed workers in multiple industries to find out what mental health protections are most important to them in the workplace. Here's what they told us:
Affordable Mental Health Care
Many companies focus their efforts on providing insurance with good coverage for mental health care providers. This is an important and basic provision that many employees rely on to access the care they need. However, according to our survey, only 11% of employees said that this was the most important mental health protection for them. While companies should continue to evaluate their insurance policies to ensure they're helping employees gain affordable access to mental health care, it's important not to let this be the only protection their company offers employees.
Healthy Work-Life Balance
Nearly half (46%) of survey respondents reported that the most important mental health protection for them was prioritizing work-life balance. Creating and enabling a healthy work-life balance will look different in every industry and at every company, but there are a few steps that can apply to most companies.
First, try to keep after-hours work calls and emails in check. Sometimes they may be unavoidable, but by limiting those circumstances, you can show that you trust your employees to get their work done on the job, and give them a chance to detach and relax after work. Establish good end-of-day habits to encourage employees to “turn off” work mode, put away the day's projects, and get their desks or workspaces organized and ready to start the next day off productively. Perhaps most importantly, company leaders can model good work-life balance for their employees. If managers unplug at the end of the day, spend time with family and friends, and respond to calls or emails during work hours, their employees will be encouraged to follow suit.
Flexible Hours/PTO Policy
The second-largest group of respondents (23%) reported that having flexible work hours and a flexible PTO policy was the most important mental health protection their workplace offered. There are several reasons that flexibility is valuable to employees. First, it communicates a degree of trust, which helps make employees feel valued and appreciated at work. Managers who allow their employees to be flexible with their work hours, to work remotely when needed, and to take time off without penalty demonstrate that they trust those employees to do their jobs well, and without being micromanaged.
In addition, while the stigma surrounding mental health is on a decline, it still exists, and some employees may not be comfortable sharing details about the mental health care they need. Allowing for flexibility in their scheduling helps them make the best choices for themselves without needing to explain. Finally, this type of flexibility allows employees to have a private life outside of the office – for example, to attend a child's school play, take a much-needed mental break, or schedule a counseling session – and contributes to the healthy work-life balance that is important to so many employees.
Given how much time employees spend at work throughout their lives, it's no surprise that 20% of our respondents cited supportive managers and coworkers as the most important workplace protection for their mental health. Employees, in short, want to be around people who are on their team and who are going to support them. This doesn't mean everyone needs to be best friends, in or out of the office. However, it does mean that employees need to be around positive people who create welcoming workplaces. If an employee is struggling with their mental health, it helps to have someone on their team they can talk to or ask for additional help as they work through whatever challenge they are facing.
Companies who invest in their employees' mental health are doing the right thing for everyone involved – all employees need support in this area from time to time, and a company's success depends on happy, healthy, engaged employees. By helping employees access affordable mental health care, encouraging a healthy work-life balance, trusting employees to make wise scheduling decisions on their own, and cultivating a positive, supportive company culture, companies can help support every employee's mental health and wellbeing.