As workers reassess their priorities in the wake of the pandemic, mental wellness has climbed up their lists. In fact, more than a third told the Society for Human Resource Management that they would choose mental health benefits over higher pay. Yet less than a third of HR professionals—the “common people”—say providing mental health resources is a top priority for their organization.
The specter of an economic slowdown hangs over the current economic landscape. Employers are looking for strategies to survive and thrive in the face of economic headwinds. They expect workers to be more productive and efficient.
However, there is a temptation to push employees to work harder, to “smile and bear”. This runs counter to everything we’ve learned about the importance of mental health and worker well-being.
For employees to perform at their best, they need to be mentally at their best. Sacrificing mental well-being is simply not sustainable. This may produce short-term results, but it eventually leads to diminishing returns as workers burn out and disengage. Unless we fully address mental, physical and general well-being, workers will lack the agility, stability and resilience to withstand economic instability and workplace challenges.
Our businesses are not isolated from people’s individual struggles. For years we have believed in the myth of siloing, where you come to work and leave your home life behind, as if work and life had no impact on each other. But in reality, life is part of work and work is part of life. Everything we experience in life can, and likely will, impact our work ecosystem in one way or another.
For people whose lives are turned upside down by battles with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, the line between life and work is blurred at best and sometimes non-existent. Rather than being caught off guard, we would do well to get ahead and invest in the mental well-being of our workers. As my friend Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global, told me recently, “When employers put mental health first, they’re also doing what’s best for business. »
It’s not just our workers who face mental health issues. As caregivers, the difficulties of their children and even their aging parents become their difficulties. In December 2021, the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory highlighting the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. “Mental health issues in children, teens and young adults are real and widespread,” Murthy pointed out.
These children do not deal with mental health issues in a vacuum. Undoubtedly, these mental health issues impact their families, including their parents, who care for them. Ultimately, these parents carry these burdens at work. Can we blame them for being distracted and disconnected throughout their workday?
Addressing mental health on many levels means meeting workers where they are. At a basic level, this involves offering the tools and techniques to manage stress. Workers must also have access to comprehensive resources – up to and including diagnosis and treatment coverage – to meet their mental health needs.
Investing in mental health isn’t just the right thing to do for people. It’s a good thing. According to the World Health Organization, every dollar invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety results in a $4 return in better health and ability to work.
While we avoid the negative stigma surrounding mental health, we give workers permission to preserve and protect their mental well-being. Organizations must commit to developing work cultures where mental wellbeing is a priority, where workers are empowered to take care of themselves.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Photograph by Cade Martin for HR review.
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