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December 15, 2021

3 ways employers can improve mental health support in the workplace

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on June 2, 2022.

    A new survey from Lighthouse Research & Advisory and LifeSpeak suggests that there is a sizable gap between employers' and employees' perception of workplace mental health support—a "misalignment" that has a clear correlation with recruiting and retention challenges. Writing for Inc., Marcel Schwantes offers three strategies for employers who want to align with their employees on mental health in the workplace.

    Schwantes is the founder and chief human officer for Leadership from the Core.

    Our take: Three strategies to build baseline emotional support

    Employers fall short on mental health support, survey finds

    Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, many employers expanded their mental health benefit offerings—but most employees don't take advantage of these expanded benefits, Schwantes writes. "Instead, more people than ever are choosing to voluntarily leave a company to take their chances somewhere else, driving unprecedented levels of disengagement and turnover," he adds.

    Evincing this trend, Schwantes writes, is LifeSpeak's 2021 Employer Mental Health Report Card, which surveyed more than 1,000 large employers and 1,000 employees across all sectors. According to Schwantes, the report card found that employees, when asked to rate their organization on a scale of one to 10 for the mental health support they received, gave their organization an average score of 4.4. In comparison, when employers were asked to rate the mental health support they provide, they gave themselves an average rating of 7.6.

    "In the 10 years I've been doing research on employer priorities, this is the first time I've seen this big of a gap between the reality that workers and employers perceive," said Ben Eubanks, primary author of the study and chief research officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory.

    However, despite the low ratings from employees and the lukewarm ratings from employers themselves, the research suggests "that employers are making an effort to address mental health challenges," Schwantes writes. In fact, of the employers surveyed, 58% said they made significant improvements to their mental health and wellbeing support over the past 18 months.

    But, according to Eubanks, the research suggests "these efforts aren't being seen, felt, and received by many of the workers they are meant to support."

    How to address the gap, in 3 steps

    By letting these efforts get sidelined, Schwantes writes, employers are doing themselves a great disservice. "Nearly half of the surveyed workforce indicated the presence of a relevant mental health program would make them more inclined to remain at their current job and recommend one to a friend," Schwantes writes.

    So how can employers improve this perception gap? Schwantes has three recommendations:

    1. Give your employees access to qualified experts

    According to Schwantes, a "critical component" of perceived mental health support among workers is the ability to access experts who can provide education, guidance, and advice on the subjects employees care about.

    2. Leaders need to openly support mental health conversations

    "Fostering a strong culture of mental health support starts at the top," Schwantes writes. In fact, he argues that the most effective leaders are open, honest, and authentic—and Schwantes says these behaviors should extend to mental health discussions.

    3. Provide relevant training and education

    When creating mental health training and education protocols, companies should compile "high-quality, carefully curated, and relevant content that enables employees to get support in a flexible manner," Schwantes writes.

    Ultimately, Schwantes writes, "Business leaders must embrace mental health as an organizational priority and meet employee expectations to have a meaningful impact on workplace culture and business results." (Schwantes, Inc., 12/13)

    Three strategies to build baseline emotional support

    Breaking down health care's "I’m fine" culture

    workforce emotional supportIn the wake of Covid-19, health care organizations must commit to providing targeted baseline emotional support for the three types of emotionally charged scenarios that health care employees are likely to encounter in their careers: trauma and grief, moral distress, and compassion fatigue.

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