How to Convince Your Company to Prioritize Mental Health

Your company probably isn’t doing enough for your mental health.

We’re not afraid to say it, because we know it’s true. We did a survey of the benefits offered by companies with the most robust mental health programs. They include things like:

  • Flexible working schedules
  • Training Programs
  • 24/hour Counseling Support
  • Employee Wellness Apps
  • Annual Therapy Sessions
  • Mental Health Workshops
  • Yoga / Gym Memberships
  • Subscription to Meditation Apps

Seems like some good things, right?

This list might appear to be pretty good. After all, who doesn’t like free stuff? But whenever something’s free, it’s a good practice to ask yourself, why? Why would companies offer these resources? 

This is the question to ask: what alternatives could they be investing in? 

Of course, the intention is to improve employee wellbeing – but the thing is – with the exception of training programs and workshops, most of these benefits place the responsibility on you, the employee, to pursue and address your own mental health. That’s not exactly the best way to make progress; especially when so often work *itself* can be a source of anxiety. It’s much harder to shift the day-to-day culture of your workplace, so offering benefits such as those above is a simple way to demonstrate your employers commitment to mental health – even if they don’t truly advocate for their employees. 

It’s simply not enough. 

We’ve seen a lot of companies take the easy way out when it comes to mental health support. They throw in a subscription to a meditation app but continue to breed a stressful and cutthroat work environment. So much so, that the benefits offered become coping mechanisms for dealing with increasing stress and pressure at work. The message to employees is clear and remains almost as harmful as ignoring mental health altogether: figure it out for yourself. When wellness is integrated into your company’s DNA, however, by implementing policies and programs that cultivate work-life balance and foster community, mental health is made a priority (and the yoga subscriptions and free apps are just extra perks – the cherry on top). 

These shortcuts? They’re not doing your company any favors.

 According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 Trillion each year. How does this happen? Well, an estimated 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, and high stress and anxiety impairs performance, lowering their level of productivity in their jobs. When staff feels happy and well cared for,  they’re more engaged, more motivated and more loyal. 

Are you shocked? We are too. 

With such an enormous negative impact on productivity, you’d think that mental health would be a higher priority for companies. Yet, many employees are silenced when it comes to admitting they’re struggling because of the fear of being seen as unfit for their job, or of not being taken seriously, since many people (yes, even today) fail to recognize, let alone understand, the challenge of mental illness in the first place. Crying at the office? Forget it. Leaving for a workout class to take a mental break when you need one? Yeah, right. 

Employees are chugging away at their desks, oftentimes 12 or more hours a day (what happened, 8 hour work day?!), and toxic work cultures impose guilt on the first one to leave or sign off. Open communication isn’t supported, and we’ll bet you’ve missed your child’s soccer game, your yoga class, or some precious family time due to company culture. The unfortunate result? Those around you feel the impact. Has your significant other, your child, or your direct reports taken some of the heat? We bet they have. 

Now is the time to do something about it.  

This is a global problem. This isn’t just your company, or your previous company you couldn’t wait to escape from (seriously – how many of us have company horror stories?)  and the more we talk about it, the higher our chances are to initiate significant, long-lasting impact that creates supportive and healthy work environments. If you don’t suffer from mental illness, chances are you know someone who does, so we challenge you to be an ally and advocate for your friends and family, as well as all future generations. 

So what do you do if you want mental health prioritized at work? 

Unfortunately, when faced with toxic work environments, many people just get up and leave, or worse, are let go. According to this study, half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers had left roles in the past for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Companies, who seek to avoid a high turnover rate, should be alarmed by those numbers. Now is the time to invest in impactful programs or game-changing practices (many of which are free) to create a more supportive environment for those struggling. But many companies are not, at least not on the scale that they could be. So the change needs to start from the bottom up; from brave employees like you speaking up about why mental health practices matter, and how they’ll increase your company’s ROI in the long-run.. 

So how do you do it?

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You stand up and (nicely) tell your company how. 

Telling someone to care is a lot less effective than actually showing them how. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of policies and practices that you can suggest.

1. Offer Flexible Working Hours

It’s been proven that employees given flexibility in their work schedule achieved more, were out sick less frequently, worked longer hours, and were happier in their work. Now that most companies are working remotely due to COVID-19, suggest providing some flexibility as to when your team needs to be online. As long as your team overlaps for necessary collaboration and communicates well, this should be an easy adjustment. 

 2. Establish a Mental Health Day Policy  

Whatever your company policy for taking time off may be, it’s important that your employee handbook explicitly indicates that mental health is a valid reason to call in sick. This lets employees know that their mental health is respected and valued. Even better?  Encourage employees to take a mental health day; whether it be in writing, or as modeled by leadership. Taking this action helps fight the guilt and stigma associated with needing to take a break from work and address personal wellness. 

3. Consistently Share Resources

It’s critical to share that mental health is something we all deal with. A great first step for making it less taboo to talk about mental health is sharing resources on the subject. This might look like creating a slack channel  (or whatever communication app you use) where your team can share articles, ask questions on the topic, remind one another to take a break, and offer encouragement. Modeling this behavior in the digital space opens up meaningful in-person conversations to take place. 

4. Organize Group Wellness Activities

You might be thinking it’s only lifestyle brands (like the infamous Goop, who host company-wide sound baths and psychic readings), who’d ever do this type of thing. Not true.  Wellness activities can be tailored to your specific work culture and be very effective. Hosting group workouts, cooking classes, even forming a band or choir, are all great ideas for investing in creating a healthy, balanced, bonded, and fun workplace. They don’t have to be costly, either. Right now, with most of us working remotely, you can get creative with activities your company can host virtually and tap into your own team to identify those with experience who can lead an activity. 

5. Bring in an expert 

Another great way to break the ice around the topic of mental health is to bring in a guest speaker who is an expert on the topic to host a lecture or workshop. Bringing in a professional, or group of experts like Mindshare Partners, to lead a company workshop will provide practical education and mental health training to your team. For a less formal, but equally impactful experience, host a notable guest speaker like vocal mental health advocate and best-selling author Ruby Wax, who will be sure to energize and inspire the audience. 

 6. Start an Anonymous Feedback Form

So you’ve been the brave one to step up and request change. Major props to you! Setting up an anonymous feedback form will ensure that employee voices can continue to be heard, without the risk of being targeted for speaking out or having to openly discuss personal medical information. Furthermore, by getting your teammates to brainstorm how the company could support them, executives can get a holistic read on what next steps need to be taken. 

Hungry for more info and ideas?

Keep an eye out for more of our posts. We are committed to speaking up on mental health policies and plan on sharing much more. We are also busy working on crafting some original resources that organizations can use to build out a robust mental health strategy. Stay tuned!

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