More than a year and a half since the start of the pandemic, many employees and job seekers are still struggling to find a sense of stability. And that struggle has taken a significant toll on their mental health. 

One in four US employees say they’re highly or extremely stressed on a daily basis. Add depression, anxiety, and burnout to the mix, and it’s not hard to see why addressing mental health in the workplace has gained a new urgency.

Here’s a look at why it’s important to prioritize employee mental health and how companies can increase their support. 

Why employee mental health matters

Mental health support doesn’t just benefit employees. Offering mental healthcare options helps employers, too, combating issues such as: 

  • Decreased focus and productivity: The stressors of the pandemic have made it more difficult for employees to stay focused at work — Americans had a 53% lower sustained attention in September 2021 than before the pandemic.
  • Employee turnover: Employees who feel like their company isn’t supportive of their mental wellbeing may look for a job elsewhere. More than four in 10 employees who have access to mental health benefits say they’re more likely to stay at their current company, compared to just 27% of those who don’t have such benefits.
  • Difficulty attracting job candidates: When asked what they look for most in a potential employer, job seekers listed “the organization cares about employees’ wellbeing” in their top three. Millennials and Gen Z ranked this #1.
  • Widening gaps between demographics: Employees who are women, single parents, low-income, and LGBTQ+ were more likely than other groups to experience high stress levels, loneliness, and isolation.

Improving mental health support in the workplace

Providing quality mental healthcare benefits — such as counseling, education, and support groups — is a good first step toward improving mental health. These benefits have a significant impact on whether employees view their employers as supportive. Only 44% of employees without access to mental healthcare benefits felt supported by their employers, while nearly two-thirds of those with access felt supported. 

More paid time off and flexibility also promote better mental health. The pandemic has given many employees, particularly parents and caregivers, more responsibilities at home. Paid time off, flexible scheduling, and remote work opportunities can help them achieve better work-life balance, take time to relax and recharge, and ease transitions back to fully in-office operations. 

Focusing on diversity initiatives is another way to improve workplace mental health. Women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ+ are among the groups who’ve been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, facing greater challenges and mental health issues. Understanding their unique concerns and struggles can help companies better understand how to support their wellbeing.

Encouraging use of mental health benefits 

If employees aren’t taking advantage of benefits and opportunities, it may be time for companies to reevaluate what they want and need from a mental health program. 

Perhaps some employees aren’t comfortable with in-person mental health services and would prefer telehealth, apps, or other virtual resources they can use independently. They could have a heavy workload preventing them from taking time off, and what they really need is their company to bring on a new hire to shift the burden. Companies can send anonymous surveys and polls to give employees a way to voice these concerns and preferences and build a better mental health support system.

It’s also critical for executives to lead by example. Employees may be hesitant to use their mental health benefits if they don’t see their leaders doing so. On the other hand, leaders who openly take time off and demonstrate their support of mental health initiatives will soon find their employees following suit. 

As the pandemic continues to impact daily stress levels and work performance, there’s no time like the present to create a workplace culture that invites conversation about and provides plenty of resources to improve employee mental health.