Twenty (or even ten) years ago, mental health was a taboo subject. While it was fine to talk about your deviated septum or a root canal, mental health was something to be endured quietly, behind closed doors. A mixture of shame, stigma and stoicism kept everyone suffering from mental health problems from sharing their troubles with the world.
However, studies have shown that even while we weren’t talking about mental health problems, we were having them. In fact, in a study conducted between 1980 and 2013, between 17.6% and 29.2% of adults had some kind of mental health problem.
Things have changed a bit since then, but let’s take a closer look at how mental health workplace policies and standards have changed, and why, and what we might expect next.
The Changing Face of Mental Health
One of the biggest barriers to helping people cope with mental health problems has always been the stigma. It was never acceptable to talk about depression or anxiety and being on medication for a mental health condition was something you had to hide.
These days, we have big name celebrities stepping up, sharing their mental health struggles with the world. We haven’t eliminated mental health problems (and we probably never will) but we’ve made it okay to admit that we’re not superhuman. It’s okay to be struggling. It’s okay to see a therapist. It’s even okay to be open about it.
We’re still learning how to make mental wellness part of the health narrative, but we’ve come a long way in a relatively short while.
Mental Health Workplace Trends
Of course, as we’ve all become more comfortable with the idea that mental health is health, and that we need to take as much care of our minds as we do our bodies, there have been societal changes to match.
Since most of us spend around a third of our adult lives at work, and the rest asleep or enjoying down time, it only makes sense that mental health workplace trends and regulations would have to keep up with that shift.
In some cases, like “right to disconnect” laws in various parts of the world, workplaces themselves, and their ability to contribute to stress related conditions have been recognised and somewhat neutralised. In others, laws protecting people from discrimination based on their mental health status have emerged.
Mental health is now seen as much a part of employee health and wellness as a safe workplace, and if you aren’t already taking steps to address it, it’s time to start.
Mental Health Trends in the Business World
As more and more companies embrace the idea that you can’t have happy, healthy, productive workplaces without mentally healthy employees, there are some clear trends emerging. These include:
- Allowing employees to take time off for mental health reasons when they need to, without delving into their reasons for being away from the office
- Tailoring employee benefit packages to include coverage for mental health and psychology treatments
- Providing enough support and training for employees, to ensure that their workload does not compound mental health problems
- Implementing zero tolerance policies for office bullying
- Providing information about mental health services
- Incorporating mental health resources and information in employee manuals
- Recognising the connection between substance abuse and mental health, and assisting employees in getting treatment for both
- Building stronger, more supportive teams where collaboration instead of competition is rewarded
- Investing more time and effort into team building
- Setting specific times during the day where no meetings are allowed to be scheduled
- Having emails sent after a certain time to be held until the next workday starts
Company culture used to be about the office softball league and annual picnics. However, as mental health workplace connections come to the fore, more companies are recognising that there’s more to it than that. Human resources departments need to build strategies for dealing with mental health into their operating procedures, from recruiting, throughout the employee relationship and beyond.
We now know that you can’t compartmentalise people into work and outside work. When people have problems, they will bring them to the office, and vice versa. So, we must make sure that we’re equipped to help them cope.
Benefits for Companies That Prioritise Mental Health
Research has shown that companies that have proactive and positive mental health policies and programs in place retain more staff. There’s a growing link between people leaving companies and being unable to cope in their roles. In other words, people are more likely than ever to quit because their job is bad for their mental health.
Even if the job is not the cause of the mental health problem, if it’s not helping (or making it worse) you are far more likely to lose good people.
There’s also a link between well managed mental health and productivity. When people feel happier and have greater levels of positive emotion, this translates into more energy, greater interest and focus, higher motivation, and thus productivity. In fact, productivity is boosted by approximately 12% when wellbeing is addressed at work, according to the Mental Health Foundation in the UK.
So, while there are certainly moral, ethical and societal reasons to take a closer look at mental health workplace policies and processes, there’s a strong business case too. If you make mental health part of your human resources strategy, you will attract better people, retain more of them, and have people who do a better job.
That, as they say, is a no brainer.
Whether it’s making it easier to get a mental health day or gifting your employees Return of the Panda’s Coping Cards, every step you can take to better mental health in your office is a step in the right direction.