Want to Win the Great Retention? Prioritize Employee Mental Well-Being

For a truly great organization, a leader’s first priority needs to be helping people lead great lives…we need to be the type of company that helps employees be their best selves and have a chance at building meaningful and constructive lives.

If you want to build a world-class employee experience culture, make sure you don’t leave out the most important part, employee well-being. Organizations provide their employees with medical, vision, and dental insurance. But what about mental health benefits? Many companies leave this out of the package. Meaning only the wealthy, who can afford to pay out of pocket for mental health issues, are the only ones who get it. Mental wellness cannot be a privilege for a minor part of our population, it must be accessible for everyone.

A New Leadership Approach to Modern Health in the Workplace

We have seen an increasing number of high-profile athletes and entertainers speak out about their struggles with mental well-being. These awareness campaigns are a great start. However, few business leaders have done the same. Why? There’s a lingering stigma associated with revealing such seeming vulnerability at work. But with burnout, anxiety, and depression among workers hitting record levels—according to a report from mental health consultancy Mind Share Partners, three-quarters of full-time U.S. workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019—we’re seeing signs of change.

We live in a different world today; leaders have a set of unique responsibilities never before seen. Today’s leaders need to know how to lead from a distance, in our new remote economy, and recognize and support their employees’ mental well-being. They need to be aware of the direct, and indirect costs when employees don’t have the support they need. This doesn’t mean leaders need to turn into therapists. But organizations and their leaders had better be more than just empathetic, they must build cultures that support and provide resources, both preventative and reactive, for employees struggling with their mental wellness.

The mental health of America’s younger population was a major national concern before COVID-19. Now it has reached the crisis stage. In a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37% of people reported feeling anxious or depressed compared to 11% in 2019, pre-pandemic. What’s more, by some estimates, half of Americans will experience an issue with significant symptoms and the negative impact of mental illness over their lifetime. The need for employee assistance programs and mental health initiatives has never been greater.

*Related – Build the Culture Employees Love and Never Want to Leave

Progress Toward Mental Health Legislation for Employees and Their Families

Lawmakers are wrestling with how to ensure that mental health and physical health are treated equally by employers and insurers. They are working on mental health policy. Up until recently, mental health has long been considered a taboo topic in many workplaces. However, the great resignation era taught us that now, more than ever, addressing mental health in the workplace has become a business imperative. “As a nation, it’s past time to …provide people with the support they need. And employers have a significant role to play,” wrote Garen Staglin, in a recent Forbes article, titled It’s Time For Employers To Support Youth Mental Health. “For starters, young people…(are) the sons and daughters of current employees.”

IStock 1215726502 Scaled, The DiJulius Group

The mental health of our employees’ children can have a direct, sometimes negative impact on our workplace environments. The answer lies in providing appropriate mental health resources. For a truly great organization, a leader’s first priority needs to be helping people lead great lives. We need to be the type of company that helps employees be their best selves and have a chance at building meaningful and constructive lives. How? We must start with investing and training the whole person, not just the professional development which makes them more productive and profitable for our businesses.

We must make employee health, on all levels, a high priority and show it by offering well-being benefits in addition to traditional health insurance.

*Related – How to solve the Work From Home Quandary

Fast Company brought together a group of successful CEOs, entertainers, and subject matter experts to discuss what needs to be done around employee mental wellness awareness. “It is so important that people know that it is okay not to be okay. When we’re not feeling that way, it’s important to talk about it and share that with other people,” said Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Paley points out that the workplace used to be where an employee would set their personal life aside during work hours. In a sense, temporarily shutting down part of their humanity. This rarely led to healthy work environments. Currently, there is an evolution toward a new model where people can more fully bring themselves to work. Being human is good business.

Serial entrepreneur Paul English added, “Secrecy and shame are the (enemies) of healing. I think the main responsibility we have as business leaders when it comes to mental health—and really all health issues—is to let your team know…that you’ll be there for them when they’re struggling.”

English shared that when his team sees his own vulnerability, they can feel more comfortable sharing their own issues without the worry of mental health stigma. Confidence may get people to follow, but vulnerability engenders loyalty. Employees helping employees in the workplace needs to start with the leaders. When employees feel that management cares about them and their families, and issues come up outside the workplace, they can function better in all areas of life.

Invest in Best Company Practices for Employee Well-Being

IStock 1340290526 Scaled, The DiJulius Group

Businesses have to make investments to enable people to get the care that they need. There are numerous ways employers can and should invest; here are some examples of an integrated approach:

  • Creating a culture that prioritizes mental health and well-being for both employees and their family members
  • Assessing the effectiveness of employer-sponsored mental health resources on a regular basis and updating them as needed to maximize effectiveness
  • Offering resources around the ‘Four F’s’: Family, Fitness (physical & mental), Finance, & Faith
  • Addressing emotional distress and burnout, starting with workplace-specific mental health training for your leaders; offering mental health days to employees
  • Training leaders on how to recognize and offer programs and resources to employees who may be suffering
  • Customer service training for employees on recognizing the impact of stress and helping their family members with mental health interventions
  • Enforcing vacation time usage versus payouts
  • Best practices for a positive attitude
  • Providing resources to subject matter experts, Apps, YouTube videos, podcasts, and books for the following:
    • Avoiding “doom-scrolling” and other digital habits that can increase depression
    • Blackhole conversations
    • Goal setting
    • Personal time management
    • Curing procrastination
    • Living a healthier lifestyle
    • How to purchase their first home
    • Financial planning and budgeting
    • Parenting
    • Building stronger relationships
    • Sleep and stress reduction
    • Yoga & meditation classes

I believe you will see larger organizations such as Fortune 500 companies start providing comprehensive, affordable and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees and their families–including no- or low-cost access to mental health services as well as implementing policies that help employees address mental health challenges, both at home and in the workplace, such as more paid family and sick leave.

*Related – How to Find Employees Who Fit Your Company’s Culture

A Key Criterion for Happier, Healthier Employees Who Stick Around

Supporting employee mental well-being is not only about being altruistic. Mental health investments are good for company culture and for productivity; by some estimates, for every one dollar invested in supporting mental health in the workplace, there is a four-dollar payback. That is a powerfully positive ROI! With improvements over time as we all fight to lead in the great employee retention of a talented workforce, mental well-being will be a leading tool for attracting and keeping employees. Especially younger employees. It is no longer a perk, but rather, a must-have and will be reflected in your company’s retention rates and employee morale. In addition, it would be a strong addition to your customer service vision statement

Whether you recognize it or not, every company in America is impacted by the mental health crisis. By taking targeted action to support mental health challenges, organizations will reap the benefits now and for decades to come. It will make you a mental health champion in your current company. Not only will it be a relationship builder, greatly increasing employee satisfaction and employee well-being, but it will also help create a stronger, healthier, more compassionate society…and maybe even a customer service revolution.

*Episode 82 of the CSRevolution PodcastWhat has a Better ROI: Advertising or CX Training?

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About The Author

John DiJulius

John R. DiJulius is a best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on Customer experience trends and best practices.