Actionable Ways to Support Employee Mental Health

We are heading into a time of year where increased strains on mental health come to the forefront for many people. From holiday stress and seasonal changes to end of the year or quarterly stressors, employees’ mental health can be pushed to the limit. 

The good news is that the past trends of employers not recognizing the importance of mental health are changing according to new reports. 

For example, 63% of employers say they’re focused on enhancing mental health and well-being programs for the foreseeable future, according to recent findings from Willis Towers Watson’s (WTW) 2023 Best Practices in Healthcare Survey. 

And that is despite rising health care costs. In fact, many companies and even individual departments are taking on more ways to positively impact mental health among employees. 

Simple ways the survey shows businesses taking a serious look at mental health priorities include conducting mental health parity audits, utilizing employee resource groups to address population-specific mental health issues, evaluating mental health networks from a diversity standpoint to ensure better representation, and offering mental health days off.

How To Easily Support Employees 

Utilizing those various ways to gauge employees’ needs when it comes to mental health is a great first step. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can begin to offer solutions and support to employees starting with a review of benefits offerings to ensure mental health is incorporated. These are some popular benefits or policies:

  • Inclusive health insurance plans with mental health coverage
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Paid caregiving leave
  • Mental health days

Once you have the right benefits in place, it’s time to educate employees on them and how to leverage other benefits to make mental health treatment and services more attainable. For example, funds from health savings and flexible spending accounts generally can be used to pay for mental health therapy.

These open conversations and educational sessions also help to reduce the stigma around mental health support and issues. The more HR and other departments openly discuss mental health and provide a true, trusting workplace, the more staff will utilize the offerings and become better employees overall. 

And while getting work done is the primary goal of any job, work-life balance is a real thing. Employees who feel they have a good balance between their jobs and personal lives are likely to be healthy, happy, and productive workers. 

It’s OK to promote work-life balance. There is anecdotal evidence and other case studies that show requiring employees to take the minimum vacation time, encouraging them to unplug when not in the office (or outside of working hours), and providing flexible work schedules can allow employees sufficient time to seek and obtain mental health services.

Supporting caregiver responsibilities and overall employee wellness are growing trends to easily support the mental health needs of employees. Wellness programs covering physical, emotional, and mental support are benefits that more and more companies are offering. 

Consider ADA Accommodations

Not only is supporting employee mental health a good business practice as a quality employer, but in some cases, it can be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The following mental health conditions may qualify for additional services under the ADA:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Major depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 18% of U.S. workers have a mental health condition during any given month. This means that psychiatric disability is one of the most common types of disability the ADA covers. 

Covered workers may also have workplace privacy rights and a legal right to reasonable accommodations to help them perform the essential functions of their jobs. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines “accommodations” as any change in the work environment or how things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

Accommodations vary, but the process often starts with employee input. Some common examples of reasonable accommodations for an employee with a mental disability could include additional or varied schedules for breaks, additional time for learning tasks, leaves, flexible schedules, alternative supervision, additional use of technology, and changes in work location.

There are basic ways you can make accommodations happen and supporting employees overall easier. 

  • Review workplace policies including background-check practices, pre- and post-hire personality or behavioral tests, inequitable leave policies, and unnecessary physical requirements.
  • Review compensation practices.
  • Review available support and consider an employee assistance program or employee resource group.
  • Establish a process for handling requests—and keep it simple to maintain effectiveness.
  • Set the right tone from leadership down.
  • Train managers and supervisors how to handle accommodation requests.

Reasonable accommodations can vary in cost and scope. The same is true for overall mental health support a company chooses to offer as compensation benefits. 

This Mental Health Toolkit is a good first step toward planning how you can support all employees’ mental health journeys. It’s free to download and is full of good information and ideas. Additionally, our free compliance checklists give you a solid starting point for ensuring compliance.