Employee Health / Organizational Strategy

Employers were not sent the memo: “You have a new responsibility for employee’s mental health”

A May 2022 Harris poll identified some employee perceptions on employers obligations to support their mental health. It is important that organizational leaders consider these findings as they are representative of a larger cultural shift in the American workplace. Consider the following findings:

  • 81% working adults agree that employers have an obligation to prioritize their employees’ mental health. 
  •  77% of working adults report that the topic isn’t discussed enough.
  • 58% of employees agree that they’re not comfortable discussing their mental health at work. 
  • 47% of working adults agree that their job has negatively affected their mental health; 

43% agree that their mental health has negatively affected their job performance. Again these experiences are more common among those who lack a positive relationship with their current employer.

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Reading this data from an employer perspective can be tremendously frustrating. “So you’re saying my employees expect me to address their mental health issues, they want us to talk about it more at work but are uncomfortable talking about it at work? Also the job is hurting their mental health and their mental health issues affect their job performance?” This is a tough pill to swallow. Welcome to leadership, I have been there and we can ponder this reality over coffee. I promise that the faster we internalize this reality the better it will be for everyone! This brings employers to a cross road with two  sequential necessary steps.

  1. The memo indicating that “US employers are responsible for the mental health of their employees” did get sent out. There was never a time for societal discussion on the issue and overnight this sentiment became solidified as an expectation of employers. Accept or reject it. Given the market conditions, I suggest employers embrace it. 
  2. Employers need to hire consultants, buy subscriptions to ‘wellness apps”, and create better employer recognition programs to continue forward with the status quo. Or employers can pursue meaningful and effective organizational mental health strategies.

If you made it this far in the article congratulations. You are an organizational leader that is open minded and willing to be pragmatic. Leadership is tremendously difficult but can also be tremendously rewarding. If you are committed to the development of meaningful and effective organizational mental health strategies it’s time to ask for help. Because these expectations of employers are so new you will be hard pressed to find subject matter experts.There are plenty of organizational psychologists, industrial engineers, therapists and the like that are acquainted with the topic but no clear leaders in organizational mental health as we know it today. Employer responsibility for the mental health of their human capital is a fairly new construct.

Here are some simple yet labor intensive suggestions for you to consider as you continue down the path of running a viable organization in 2022. Try this framework:

  1. Get data on your organization’s mental health/ wellness. This could be surveys, interviews, town halls, or  “departmental rounding”. This varies by industry, company size, employee demographics, and culture etc. Get some good data and if you can’t get some valid data then hire some outside help because you have cultural or operational issues that need to be addressed before you proceed.
  2. Once you have your organizational data analyze it, and share it. Crickets….. Yes, share it. How and with whom is up to you but by sharing this data you will be framing the problem and inviting conversation. Share the data in a way that is anonymous, concise and transparent.
  3. Invite collaboration. Engage your workforce in solutions and the identified problems. Get their input and be clear about the level of decision making and authority participants have around the issues and outcomes. This part takes lots of fineness and leadership. The process here matters more than the outcome at least initially. 
  4. Formulate some potential solutions and get input from your employees on preferences and expected outcomes. Be practical here. If you do it correctly your options will be cost effective, scalable, local, appealing and effective. I have worked for two separate organizations that invested thousands in employee wellness equipment that went unused.
  5. Implement, measure, assess and repeat. This is a basic process improvement methodology. Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDSA) is a reliable framework that can support your efforts.

I am pressed for time today and we are getting into content that will be content for another blog post. I’ll address this in the coming weeks in a subsequent article if there is sufficient interest. At Human Capital we provide free consultations on all things related to Human Capital management including organizational mental health program development. Good luck to you on your journey.

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