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Employee Experience

Mental Health in the Workplace: 5 Ways Employers Can Make a Difference

The effect of mental health on workers—and the workplace—is staggering. Just consider the statistics:

The results are stark: 200 million work days are lost per year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), while the World Health Organization estimate the cost to the global economy at $2.5tn—that’s trillion—annually.

And the situation is only getting more serious. Depressive symptoms among US workers rose 18% between 2014 and 2018, according to Happify. Meanwhile, the costs of employees’ mental health expenses are rising at twice the rate as those of all other medical expenses (Aetna Behavioral Health).

woman comforting man having mental breakdown

Mental Illness – A Taboo Topic

And yet, talking about mental health in the workplace can be uncomfortable—for everybody. Employees worry that that disclosing a condition could bring stigma or even result in them losing their job. And while bosses may want to be supportive, often it may feel safer to ignore the topic rather than risk uncomfortable conversations or—worse—compliance issues.

The result is lower productivity, decreased employee engagement and higher staff turnover. It’s in everyone’s best interests to end the taboo but, ultimately, it’s an employer’s responsibility to create an open and stigma-free workplace environment regarding mental health issues.

Avoid Discriminating Against Mentally Ill Employees

Here are five ways to help ensure that your company doesn’t discriminate against those with mental illness, encourages better mental health for everybody and helps employees reach their full potential.

stressed woman working on computer
  1.   Know the Laws on Mental Health Conditions

    The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) increased legal protections to employees with conditions—like depression, bipolar disorder and PTSD—where symptoms are not necessarily continuously present. This means that legally most mental health conditions are treated as disabilities, and so it’s illegal for employers to discriminate based on mental health. It’s not permitted to ask about mental health during the hiring process and—importantly—employees are not legally required to disclose mental health conditions. To learn more about hiring people with disabilities, read our FAQ.

    As a rule, employees are only required to disclose a condition when requesting a specific accommodation due to that condition. If you fear that an employee is unable to complete their tasks, or poses a safety risk, because of a mental health issue, you must be able to provide objective evidence to back up the claim.
    vulnerable woman disclosing a mental health condition
  2. Support Employees Who Disclose

    It’s important that employees know that if they disclose a mental health condition not only will their job be safe, but that they will receive all the support necessary for them to thrive in their role.

    The ADAAA requires that employers offer reasonable accommodations to disabled employees. Possible accommodations could include allowing food or beverages at a workstation to counter the effects of medication or offering longer work breaks during which an employee can receive professional support.

    An employee with a mental health condition may also require periods of sick leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid time to deal with a mental health crisis. After any such absence is over, work with the employee on a ‘Return to Work’ plan, to help ease their transition back into the workplace.

    colleagues standing smiling at work
  3. Be Adaptable

    While responding to requests for reasonable accommodation is required, your company may choose to go further. For example, there are many simple adjustments to working life that can lower stress, reduce the risk of burnout and generally empower employees, such as:

    • Telecommuting
    • Flexible hours
    • Time off for medical appointments
    • More control choosing tasks

      When employees who may not have disclosed any mental health condition request adjustments like these, try to be accommodating. Don’t just presume that someone is lazy; anyone can suffer from stress, and a little more control over their time could be exactly what they need.

      woman laughing with coworkers
  4. Create a Positive Workplace Culture 

    For a long time, workplaces operated a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy when it came to mental health—it just seemed easier not to talk about it. But fighting that taboo, and promoting open talk about mental health in the workplace, offers benefits to you and your employees.

    The feeling that employees can talk openly about their mental health actually leads to them taking fewer days off, according to a recent study. And, even better, being “authentic and open” at work, like feeling free to discuss your mental health, leads to higher performance, increased engagement and lower staff turnover (Journal of Happiness Studies).

    If you are managing a multigenerational workforce, it may take older staff more time to open up about mental health issues. While the majority (62%) of Millennials feel comfortable discussing their mental health, this is true for only for 32% of Baby Boomers, say the American Psychiatric Association.

    concerned female manager
  5. Proactively Encourage Good Mental Health

    While a positive culture makes a big difference, a little investment can go a long way. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer many great suggestions for actions that employers can take to improve mental health in the workplace. These include:

    • Providing free mental health self-assessment tools
    • Offering health insurance with no or low co-pays for mental health treatment
    • Creating and maintaining office quiet spaces
    • Training managers to recognize symptoms of stress and depression
    • Increasing awareness of issues with brochures, seminars and trainings

How Paycor Can Help

More than 30,000 companies nationwide trust Paycor to help them manage and develop their people. Our HCM platform modernizes people management, from the way you recruit, onboard and develop talent to the way you pay and retain them, and build a company culture. Whatever your people management goals are, we’ll help you accomplish them with the right technology and the best service and thought leadership.