OCTOBER 7TH, 2021
Living and working through a pandemic has exposed some of the vulnerabilities in everything from our healthcare system, to how employers are able to support the health and wellbeing of their employees from a distance. We’ve collectively suffered through instability, uncertainty, and loss for over a year, and it has taken a toll on our mental health.
We’ve come a long way as a country in how we discuss mental health in these 18+ months, but we have a long way to go — and the need to evolve is urgent. The need for employers to support the mental health of their employees has always been there, but it’s arguably better than ever.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression alone is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year — costing U.S. employers anywhere from $17 to $44 billion. Plus, employees who stay at work when they’re not fully productive — called ‘presenteeism’ — can cost double what they would if they had simply stayed home.
It is absolutely imperative that employers do everything they can to support the mental health of their employees. But what does that mean exactly? Let’s break it down.
The measures that employers can take to support the mental health of their employees can be organized into three main categories: Structural, environmental, and cultural.
Structural measures include creating and evolving policies to enable employees to take care of their mental health. In most workplaces, it’s completely acceptable to take a day off of work if you have a cough, are running a fever, or otherwise feel “under the weather”. It’s the cultural norm to call or message your manager, explain your symptoms, and get the no-questions-asked permission to stay offline or out of the office for the day.
However, there isn’t the same cultural or structural norm for taking a mental health day, which might have symptoms that employees don’t feel as comfortable disclosing.
Some structural ways that employers can combat this include making it company policy that employees can use their sick days or paid time-off days without the social pressure of having to explain why. This will allow employees to take the necessary days to recover when feeling unwell, whether physically or mentally.
Another structural way employers can support employee mental health is to make a policy that allows employees to schedule therapy sessions during work hours. With the availability of virtual therapy and the prevalence of remote work, it’s easier than ever to squeeze in 50 minutes to get professional help. As long as employees can afford this care (more on that later), all they need is the ability to schedule during clinical hours, which tend to coincide with business hours.
Leaders within the company can support this structural change by setting the example: Blocking off time in their schedules for regular therapy appointments, taking mental health days, and speaking openly about how mental health can impact their ability to work.
Having a flexible work-from-home policy is a structural measure that can also allow employees to choose a working environment that supports their mental health.
Unsurprisingly, environmental factors can make a big difference in a person’s mental health. Working at a spacious desk with a big window and a view of the outside is much more pleasant than working in a cramped dark corner, isolated from the world.
However, there are many environmental factors that are much more nuanced or personal that can impact employee mental health. For example, while an open office environment with clusters of desks might be ideal for an extroverted employee, it might make it impossible for an introvert to focus. Over time, this type of environmental mismatch can start to have a seriously negative impact on a person’s mental health: Because when they can’t focus, they feel bad at their job. They might take their work home with them, which affects their ability to separate work and home, and can lead to unnecessary anxiety and stress.
It’s important for employers to not make assumptions about what kinds of environments might be best suited for their employees, and instead, to simply ask. By regularly surveying team members about their working environment, employers can glean important information about how to create working environments that best support their mental health.
The most impactful, but perhaps most difficult way that employers can support their employees’ mental health is to evolve the culture of the company to reflect that support.
Fundamentally, employers need to view their employees as people first and employees second. Managers should check in with their employees regularly, in one on one sessions when possible, to make sure that employees have what they need to be successful and feel supported. They should encourage employees to take time off when they recognize signs of burnout, and check in when they return to work to make sure they have the support they need.
The cost of mental health care can be high, and even prevent employees from getting the care they need. Many mental health care providers do not accept insurance, and out-of-pocket rates can be difficult to afford.
Paytient gives employers a way to help. Offered as a benefit to employees, Paytient gives employees access to the cash they need now to afford their healthcare, including mental care. Paytient can be used to pay for therapy visits, psychiatrist appointments, and other mental health care costs. Employees can use their Paytient card at the time of service, and then pay the bill off over time -- giving them the peace of mind to get the care they need now.
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