During his March 2022 State of the Union Address, US President Joe Biden declared that America is not doing enough to address what his administration has called an “unprecedented mental health crisis.” The president’s comments made it clear that the mental well-being of all Americans has become a serious issue that will have long-lasting consequences if not adequately addressed.
My hope is that corporate America was listening because the mental health crisis we are facing has serious ramifications for the US workforce.
The number of workers struggling with mental health issues is on the rise.
In 2021, the Standard Insurance Company revealed the findings of a study that showed how the Covid pandemic had taken a situation that was already bad and made it worse. The study found that pre-pandemic, 39 percent of those in the workforce were suffering from mental health issues. Post-pandemic, it increased to 46 percent. When Millennials are looked at separately, the number of those reporting mental health issues increased to 59 percent. For Generation Z, it was an alarming 71 percent.
Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2022 study reveals that the changes brought by Covid have been especially hard on women. Of those surveyed, almost half rated their mental health as “poor/very poor,” and 33 percent reported taking time off from work due to mental health challenges.
The numbers cannot be ignored. corporate America is facing a mental health crisis that will only worsen if not addressed quickly and properly. Consider, for instance, the flood of challenging social issues that workers in the US are facing in 2022. Now in its third year, new variants of the Covid virus continue to make headlines. With the added stress from the pandemic and social and political angst, there’s another stressor that employees are facing—rising inflation. Many remote workers are also suffering from loneliness and isolation. As companies look to revise their return-to-work policies in areas where the Covid virus is subsiding, these workers are left scrambling to adjust their living situations with regard to home health and daycare needs.
The fallout from the pandemic has also triggered unprecedented inflation, leaving many Americans challenged by rising food, fuel, and costs. The ongoing political debates caused by recent Supreme Court decisions and escalating gun violence only add further to the stress felt by millions, creating an environment that the American Psychological Association recently described as “sustained survival mode.”
From a financial perspective, the numbers are just as bad. The Standard Insurance Company survey found that, during the pandemic, mental health issues were causing 65 percent of employees to lose 10 or more hours of productivity per week. The World Health Organization has determined that depression and anxiety issues alone cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
Workers are waiting for businesses to respond.
The good news is that businesses are starting to increase the amount of attention that they are giving to mental health issues. However, it is still not receiving nearly the attention it deserves. According to a 2022 joint study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., only 32 percent of HR professionals say offering mental health resources to their company’s employees is a “high priority.”
The SHRM study revealed a number of stumbling blocks that are keeping businesses from elevating efforts to help employees in this area. It showed that 33 percent of businesses simply “haven’t thought about workplace mental health” and that 27 percent were unsure of which benefits to provide. Highlighting the role that financial considerations play in this area, the survey found that 21 percent said providing help was “too expensive.”
While the survey’s findings were indeed discouraging in terms of the action that is being taken, it did show that HR professionals believe doing more would reap benefits for their organizations. When asked about the impact of offering mental health resources, 88 percent said it could boost productivity, 86 percent said it could increase employee retention, and 72 percent said it attracts new talent. More than half of the workers surveyed agreed that providing mental health resources is an attractive benefit, saying they would leave their current job for one with significantly better mental health benefits.
Corporate leadership must take steps to address the mental health needs of its workforce.
For the sake of their employees and their bottom line, organizations must take steps to establish and maintain programs that promote mental health in the workplace. In some organizations, this must start by making the issue more of a priority, with C-Suite executives taking the lead in destigmatizing the topic of mental health and acknowledging the role it plays in the success of their business.
Another step that the C-Suite can take is to address the discrepancy between the high number of employers offering mental health care and the low number of employees who report being satisfied with that care.
According to survey findings reported by McKinsey, 65 percent of employers say they support mental health “well” or “very well.” Only 51 percent of employees agreed with that assertion. One route to fixing this disconnect is surveying employees to find out what they believe would be most helpful. Armed with feedback from their employees, employers may find it necessary to reassess policies, looking specifically at a paid time off, in-office or online resources, and the internal communications strategies that are used to address relevant issues.
Mental health underpins every aspect of employee well-being, productivity, and retention. Traditionally, we’ve seen a lack of access to quality professionals, which created structural barriers to achieving mental health parity, especially for people of color and LGBTQ+ communities.
While some mental wellness offerings have fallen far short, solutions like Meomind, the world’s first asynchronous therapy platform, can help to reduce employee turnover and burnout, increase employee productivity, and lower healthcare costs. Meomind is able to fill in the gap by providing 24×7 access to pre-recorded sessions between therapists and clients and further support employees with live events, mental health scores, journaling, coaching, exercises, and diversity focus.
Addressing the mental health crisis may also require embracing holistic well-being strategies by extending health care benefits to cover them. These can include acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga, brain spotting, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), biofeedback, and more.
It is unlikely that true progress will be made in this area until organizations accept that inoculating employees against depression and anxiety is just as important as inoculations for viruses. Avoiding the next great health crisis requires that corporations acknowledge the dangers presented by ignoring mental health in the workplace and take steps to prioritize it with appropriate solutions.
Naveen Bhateja, EVP and chief people officer at Medidata Solutions, leads all aspects of the company’s global human resources. As a member of the company’s senior leadership team, he is a business strategist and trusted advisor on how people strategies empower successful business outcomes.