The challenges employers face with mental health — and how to address them

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Stigma, overuse of technology and a struggle to manage work-life balance are just a few of the barriers employees face when it comes to achieving mental wellness at work.

That’s according to Sophie Cikovsky, associate vice president at the communications firm Infinite Global, who says it’s important that employers provide benefits to help workers take care of their mental health. Those employees who don’t get the help they need for conditions like depression and anxiety could end up costing companies billions of dollars in lost productivity, a Colonial Life survey finds.

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Employers are increasing their mental health benefit offerings — but selecting the best program isn’t always easy. Employee Benefit News spoke to Cikovsky about the importance of mental health benefits in the workplace and how to best roll them out.

What are some of the main challenges employers face when it comes to assisting employees with mental health issues at work?

I think the main challenge we see people facing is stigma. [Many] employees do not feel like they can open up about their feelings [and think] feeling stressed is part of the job. Another issue is technology, which is a big part of our lives. There is an always-on work culture that most companies have, whether they want it or not, and that makes it hard for everyone to prioritize habits that promote positive mental health.

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It’s] also important for employers to recognize structures that may be unique to their profession. Deadline-driven and time-sensitive projects can contribute to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

See also: Mental health first aid in the workplace is about a culture of wellness

What kinds of programs are successful in the workplace for helping employees deal with mental health issues?

It's important for companies to have benefits that allow employees to take care of their physical and mental health. A comprehensive healthcare plan with low deductives can give incentives to live a healthy life. [There’s also] employee assistance programs which can help guide employees with decisions, [allow them to] consult mental healthcare providers and navigate their mental healthcare treatment.

How do you train managers to be more in tune with workers’ mental health?

Mental health first aid courses — where you learn how to spot signs of mental health issues — are important not only for HR, but also for managers. [Employers should] establish a culture of open communication where people feel comfortable talking to their managers about things other than their day-to-day job. Managers can also ask open-ended questions to get information about how their employee is doing, and to show that they care. Establishing an open dialogue is important.

How do you ensure you are respecting workers’ privacy, while also providing programs that may be helpful to them?

Communicate what resources are available, and [then] find clever ways to overcommunicate what you offer to your employees so it will remind them. [There are] benefits programs that allow people to customize their plan, and you can remind [workers] about those benefits. It could be by profiling [an employee] who took advantage of them. Be creative about how you approach benefits.

See also: Global employers look to make progress on mental health initiatives

Are mental health benefits becoming a bigger priority for employers?

It is important for employers to acknowledge that about one in five people suffer from a mental health condition. It’s likely that someone in your company is suffering from it. Based on those numbers, it’s an important issue to take head-on and do what you can as a leader to de-stigmatize mental health issues. Implement programs that allows employees to adapt habits that build positive mental health.

When a health benefit program works well, what changes or results can you see among the employees?

I think [it’s a good sign when] you see people using [their benefits] more, like going to the doctor to get check-ups. Of course the ultimate goal is that you see less burnout and that people are feeling engaged and in control of their jobs. Overall employee happiness is measured by their engagement with their jobs and it should be high.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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