Mental health: the next frontier in employee experience

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Mental health: the next frontier in employee experience

During one of the most historically stressful periods in recent memory, only 30% of employees have access to mental health benefits. That needs to change.

Colette Des Georges

December 21, 2021 | 4 min read

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During one of the most historically stressful periods in recent memory, only 30% of employees have access to mental health benefits. 

Mental health is an aspect of diversity, equity, and inclusion because people who are struggling with mental health tend to get marginalized. Yet unlike other lenses that we use to talk about diversity—race, gender identity, age group, etc.—mental health affects everyone. It is always intersectional. 

That said, it still has an outsized impact on marginalized groups. People from these communities have almost certainly faced racism or sexism, been ostracized because of their religion, sexuality, or gender identity, or experienced other trauma because of who they are.

It isn’t surprising that people who have lived through those experiences might need extra support, but it’s still sobering to read statistics that show that only 31% of people of color with mental illness are getting support. Whether it’s race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious minority, almost every diverse community faces disproportionate mental health challenges.

Mental health support falls clearly into the “I” category of DEI, but that also tends to be among the most overlooked. It shouldn’t be.

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Why mental health should be a business priority

It’s the most important factor associated with losing employees.

Almost every industry is experiencing turnover and talent shortages in the wake of the pandemic—a phenomenon that’s being called “The Great Resignation.” Companies are desperate to hire and retain people, but they might not realize just how important mental health is in employee decision-making.

A Momentive study found that stress was the number one reason that people are quitting their jobs—it was a bigger motivator for change than career growth opportunities, remote work, or even compensation. Another reason (listed by 22% of people planning to quit) was an even more explicit “need to focus on mental health.”

46% of people who are planning to quit their job are doing so because of stress.

Yet while every company has strategies in place to use financial incentives and marketing to keep a stable workforce, very few have invested seriously in mental health. That’s probably because they don’t understand how influential mental health really is.

Companies aren’t aware of how universal mental health concerns really are.

Most of the population copes with mental health concerns in one form or another, but those concerns are rarely, if ever, brought up at work. Taboos prevent people from speaking up about their challenges or needs, even if those needs are interfering with their ability to work productively.

Eight out of 10 employees believe that the stigma against mental health concerns at work is a barrier to getting treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

There’s simply a disconnect between what employers think about their employees’ experiences and what employees really feel. McKinsey put a number to it, with research finding that while 71% of frontline employers believe they support employee’s mental health, only 27% of those workers agree.

Without context, it’s impossible to know how much of a toll lack of support options is taking on people in your workforce—or how much of an impact a few changes might make.

Ways to support mental health at work

There are many ways that you can start to step up to support mental health for your employees—some cultural, and some practical. Here are a few examples.

  • Include mental health coverage in your healthcare plan. This is one of the most directly impactful changes you can make, and it might encourage those who would otherwise try to go without care to get the support they need.
  • Look into virtual wellness services. For example, Momentive uses the mental health support service Ginger and offers meditation subscriptions to Headspace to make support accessible anywhere and build employee toolsets.
  • Host educational events related to mental health, including inviting guest speakers.
  • Build flexibility into your workflow whenever possible to enable people to take time when they need it. That might mean empowering people to work more asynchronously, having flexible work schedules, or having policies that recommend a certain number of mental health days per quarter.
  • Encourage leadership to be open about mental health and create a culture that goes against the stigma.
  • Offer anti-stigma training.

There was a time when offering healthcare was a novel benefit for companies to offer their employees. Now, it’s the standard. We can only hope that support for mental health will follow the same trajectory.

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