May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One in five people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime (Mental Health America), so it is highly likely that someone in your workforce has been impacted. Additionally, even those without diagnosed illnesses will at some point face a stressful or difficult situation that challenges them.

Traditionally workplace health awareness initiatives have focused mainly on physical health, but mental health is just as important for overall employee well-being. Addressing these issues openly and genuinely will go a long way in keeping your team engaged.   

Why is Recognizing Mental Health Important?

Lowered Productivity

Employees who struggle with their mental health are less likely to be engaged and productive. Depression and anxiety, two mental health issues that are commonly linked to the workplace, cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion annually due to lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization.

Increased Turnover  

Employees are increasingly concerned with how their employer supports their overall wellness, both physically and emotionally. In fact, mental health is a major factor in an employee's decision to leave a job, especially for younger generations in the workplace. 50% of Millennials (ages 24 to 40 in 2020) and 75% of Gen Z (ages 23 and under in 2020) have left a job because of mental health, according to a 2019 survey. Recognizing this and providing tools and support can go a long way in keeping your workforce engaged.

Higher Healthcare Costs  

Not recognizing mental health in the workplace can impact your company's bottom line due to higher healthcare costs. 70% of adults in the US reported experiencing symptoms of stress, such as feeling anxious or headache, according to the CDC. Employees who experience mental health issues in addition to physical health issues make health care costs two to three times higher.

Steps to Take to Recognize Mental Health in the Workplace:

Implement Health and Safety Policies

Stress and burnout can be exacerbated by having an unsustainable workload or an unsafe work environment. Implement health and safety policies, such as ensuring employees take breaks and are not pressured to unrealistic deadlines that make them more likely to take risky shortcuts.

Establish Zero Tolerance Policy for Workplace Bullying 

Bullying is not an issue that only affects school-aged children. Workplace bullying and harassment is a serious issue, with nearly four out of ten workers having experienced it, according to a 2019 survey. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullying, which can include everything from physical contact to purposeful ostracizing.

Communicate the Support Available to Employees

Even if your company takes employee mental health seriously, do not assume that employees realize it. It is essential to communicate the support available to employees, such as an employee assistance program contact information or other resources. In fact, only 14% of workers reported senior leadership discussing the importance of mental health, according to an Accenture survey.

What's Next?

One tip is to start small: communicate about existing resources at your next staff meeting or check in on the mental health of your direct reports at your next touch-base. Then make sure to put an overall strategy together in the future.