Mental health word cloud Buildinga positive and open culture around mental health so employees feelcomfortable to speak out and address concerns must be a priority.(Photo: Shutterstock)


Awareness and activity around mental health has been growing inthe past several years, and never more so than each May duringMental Health Awareness month. This is a greattime for employers to consider whether their mental healthstrategy, benefits and support systems are fit for purpose.One in five adults in the U.S. will suffer froma mental health condition during his or her lifetime.


The impact of mental health on the workplace has real-timeeffects on every employee, from absenteeism to presenteeism to lower productivity, and hasrepercussions on their wellness and life outside of work. U.S.employers are losing an estimated $225.8 billion each year due to employeestress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.


In the last few years, there has been a positive move towardsacknowledging the need for more mental health support in theworkplace. It's now considered the next frontier for organizationsto incorporate into their benefits programs as it relates to thesignificant life events that we all experience during ourcareers. For example, Adobe provides an extensive employeeassistance program that offers a range of services includingcounseling, relationship support and CareKits during pregnancy.These benefits aim to reduce stress by supporting employees inareas outside of work from paid time off and childcare benefits toparental leave.


Each individual deals differently with stressors such as chronicinjury and illness, financial obligations or the loss of a lovedone. Organizations need to understand the importance of supportingtheir employees outside of traditional health care benefits,recognizing mental health benefits as a core element of apreventative strategy.

The modern workplace calls for advanced mental well-beingbenefits

There is great and positive momentum in normalizing the conceptof mental health but there's still work that needs to be done, andcompanies can help take the first step. We surveyed more than 2,200 employees frommultinational organizations and found that 57 percent of employeeswant help in improving their mental well-being, yet only 23 percentof employers offer to support them in doing so. It's clear thatemployees are calling out for these benefits, but their voicesaren't yet being heard.

Mental health needs to be a priority from the top-down

Supporting employees with mental health goes beyond justbenefits. Building a positive and open culture around mental healthso employees feel comfortable to speak out and address concernsmust be a priority. Creating an environment in which Executiveslead by example will help create a supportive environment acrossthe organization.


Leadership have a massive role to play in promoting mentalhealth, from large to small initiatives, such as taking time awayfrom your desk to recharge, setting work-life boundaries or usingtechniques like mindfulness and breathing exercises. AmericanExpress' award-winning mental health program, 'Healthy Minds'provides employees with access to part-time counselors and aclinical psychologist to run the employee assistance program.

Technology is key

After recognizing that mental health benefits make up anessential part of a well-being strategy, business leaders need tomake sure the benefits program they have in place is making animpact. Employee data can help businesses understand which benefitshave the largest take up, while identifying gaps and provisionsthat need to be changed or improved.


Employees may also not feel entirely comfortable discussingtheir mental health with their managers, so easily accessible andengaging technology can help plug that gap. Not only can employeesaccess accurate information to see what options they have or whereto go for help, but there are also a huge number of emerging appsthat cater specifically to promoting mental well-being.


Creating a workplace that prioritizes mental health not onlyimproves quality of life, but also contributes to a more successfuland productive organization. Mental health is a universal need,with every individual requiring differing levels of support.Organizations should and can meet their employees' needs byrecognizing that mental health is a priority and ensuring thatwide-ranging support is built into their benefits plans asstandard.


Matt Jackson is vice president ofproposition and client solutions at Thomsons OnlineBenefits.

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