Destigmatizing Mental Health in the Workplace Requires Culture Change

Support for employees with mental health conditions is now a business imperative for C-suite executives, as the next-generation workforce urges managers to prioritize mental health and well-being. A top-down shift in workplace culture is needed to destigmatize conversations and empower employees to use mental health resources without fear of retribution.

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Companies can no longer afford to ignore mental health issues in the workplace. The reality is that up to 80 percent of employees will experience a mental health challenge at one time in their lives, affecting senior leaders and frontline employees alike.

Reactive solutions provided by human resources (HR) departments have proven insufficient in breaking down the stigma of mental health conditions and helping employees find essential resources. Each year, more than 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions. Though all populations are affected equally, treatment strategies vary by demographics, making mental health the next frontier in diversity and inclusion. To address these needs, a younger and more diverse workforce, led increasingly by millennials and generation Z, is calling on business leaders to cultivate an open and accepting workplace culture, one that prioritizes mental health and well-being.

Cultural changes like this must permeate from the top down. CEOs have a valuable opportunity to shape the future of their organizations by providing much-needed leadership and ensuring accountability across all touchpoints. Companies that demonstrate responsibility in caring about employee well-being will benefit in the long-term through improved employee engagement, stronger recruitment of talent, and higher retention rates.

All senior managers can set the tone for an atmosphere of psychological safety and inclusion by modeling appropriate behaviors. This can be as simple as saying “hello” in the hallway or as individualized as a personal disclosure. Authenticity and kindness will go a long way in promoting a healthy workplace culture.

Why Is Mental Health Still Taboo in the Workplace?

Mental health conditions exact a staggering toll on business productivity, with estimated losses at $16.8 billion, according to the World Economic Forum. And yet mental health remains a taboo topic in the workplace. Despite all we know about the prevalence and debilitating nature of mental health conditions, almost 60 percent of employees still have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status.

Some reasons for this disparity are revealed in a newly released study conducted by SAP, Qualtrics, and Mind Share Partners, which seeks to understand the prevalence of mental health challenges and stigma in U.S. workplaces. Applying new methodologies in experience management, researchers captured a nuanced snapshot of the landscape of mental health experiences, including undiagnosed conditions, episodic challenges, and symptoms that do not meet a clinical threshold.

Is the Next Generation Better Equipped?

Research indicates that people want their employers to talk openly about mental health. A majority of participants, however, said that they did not feel that mental health was prioritized at their company. They also expressed a lack of awareness about mental health resources available in their organizations. Some even said that they were afraid to use these resources for fear of retribution.

Among the optimistic findings of the study is data indicating that millennials and generation Z are more open about the topic of mental health and well-being, including diagnosis, treatment, and communication.

Increased awareness is the first step in reducing the stigma of mental health conditions. Additional investment in education is also needed to help employees recognize warning signs of psychological stress, along with better information about support resources for employees to manage their mental health before a crisis occurs. A healthy workplace culture benefits all employees alike, but it takes leadership to make it happen.

You can read the key findings of the study in the Harvard Business Review article, “Research: People Want Their Employers to Talk About Mental Health.”

World Mental Health Day: Suicide Prevention

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Suicide prevention is the main theme this year, in support of the mission by the World Federation for Mental Health to raise awareness among governments and gain higher priority on public health agendas. According to WHO, every 40 seconds someone loses their life to suicide. More than 800,000 people die by suicide a year, making it the principal cause of death among people 15- to 29-years-old.