Mental health

Shifting from reactive to proactive mental health in the workplace

Employers sit at the perfect position to create a culture of change collectively as a workforce.

Credit: Yossakorn/Adobe Stock

American workers’ relationship with mental health has undergone drastic changes in the past several years, heavily impacted by external stressors including COVID-19 and the tumultuous economy. In an effort to decompress, trends have emerged such as “quiet quitting” and “bare minimum Mondays,” which reflect employees holding back their full effort because their maximum output is not being recognized by employers. Yet, these trends are merely a footnote to the larger issue at hand. From an employer standpoint, it’s tempting to view these trends as a movement that’s illustrative of a lazier workforce that is no longer conditioned to produce the same workload they once were.

However, the larger forces at play, and the existence of heightened overall stress, must be factored in. Acknowledging the higher stress levels and additional adversity employees face today, it’s more important than ever that we equip them with skills and tools to proactively navigate these challenges. Rather than a stopgap initiative like a four-day workweek, which will present the same adversity just in a condensed timeframe, we must find ways to help employees better cope with challenging situations.

Addressing mental health shouldn’t be a perk or a lifestyle benefit. Employers should want to ensure the mental safety of employees in the same way they do their physical safety. Mental health needs to be top of mind for employers because according to the American Psychological Association (APA), 81% of workers agree that how employers support mental health will be an important consideration for them when looking for future work.

In addition to a desire to keep employees safe and support their health on all levels, employers need to prioritize mental wellbeing for economic reasons; mental health-related issues can ultimately cost a company three to five times more than absentee-related costs. This is because the distraction associated with anxiety and depression can amass over 50 days a year, which far outweighs the impact of an employee being absent for a handful of days. Addressing these issues as early as possible is not only beneficial for employee wellbeing but also for the company’s bottom line.

So, what are employers doing to address this prominent issue? According to Mental Health America, nearly all (98%) of mid to large companies in the U.S. offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a voluntary benefits program that helps employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, and mental and emotional wellbeing. The problems with EAPs are extensive, but primarily include low awareness and engagement, difficulty for employees to get timely support, and their reactive focus.

Despite the growing numbers of the workforce being affected by mental health, EAP adoption has remained at a miniscule 4% of employees using it each year. Of the people that do use EAPs, there are significant challenges to get connected to the right person at the right time. Additionally, the EAP resources themselves are designed for crisis intervention as the basis of a fulsome mental health strategy. In other words, these tools are only applicable to individuals at high risk of disability and are unapplicable and irrelevant to the vast majority of the workforce. Thus, the EAP model is no longer conducive to the growing employee needs and does not solve the root cause of the issue that lies further upstream. Instead, mental health initiatives must exist earlier, and be embedded within the company culture, to help employees navigate challenges before they arise. For employees to take full advantage of mental health tools, and for organizations to properly implement them, they need to be engrained in a company’s processes and become as normalized as submitting an expense form. More importantly, support needs to come before the point of need.

This is where a Preventative Assistance Platform, aptly called the “PRE.A.P.”, comes into play. Offering integrated, proactive, on-the-job mental health and resilience training tools, a PRE.A.P. can prevent costly behavioral outcomes for organizations by helping the workforce to get ahead of adversity. A PRE.A.P. can drastically decrease the need for employees to seek out the support of an EAP, providing the tools needed to build resilience, learn healthy upskilling practices and be proactive with their mental health. With a focus on prevention, the tool helps employees build the skills needed to handle the everyday stressors of work and life, even before they arise.

Related: 67% of employees want their employer to provide mental health support

According to SHRM’s 2022-2023 State of the Workplace Report, mental health was the third greatest external challenge for organizations in 2022, with 72% of HR professionals citing it. However, only 38% of HR professionals believed they had effectively supported employees with mental health challenges in 2022. Another pamphlet or perk geared towards mental health is not going to move the needle. In just five minutes each day, a PRE.A.P. can help employers build a psychologically safe work culture that will support employees before and beyond the point of crisis. The fight against the impending mental health crisis is not one that can be fought individually, and employers sit at the perfect position to create a culture of change collectively as a workforce.

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