Foster a work culture that values ​​mental health

The mental health of American workers has deteriorated as the global pandemic drags on. A study published by the Conference Board reveals that the vast majority of employees…nearly 80%— worry about their mental health, with more than three-quarters citing stress and burnout as the biggest challenges.

One thing is clear amid this disturbing news: organizations need to rethink their role in helping to protect the mental health of their employees. According to McKinsey & Company, the required change in understanding that is needed is nothing less than a “revolution.” As employee expectations rise for how their company will support their mental health, employers must meet this demand if they hope to retain top talent.

As a psychologist and coach, I have identified what I call the “4 Cs” that can help organizations better meet the mental health needs of their employees: engagement, culture, care and community.


To ensure leadership team commitment to supporting employee mental health, employers must first fully understand why this goal is important. Although this area may at first glance seem “tricky” to some managers, the fact is that failure to adequately address employee concerns about mental health issues can have a significant impact on talent development and retention. long term of an organization.

A study 2021 by mental health platform Ginger shows that current employees rate mental health and wellness benefits as “very important” when considering a potential job opportunity. This consideration can be especially critical for organizations with millennials or Gen Z employees, as these cohorts say their mental health is their highest priority, according to a researcher. report of PwC.

If your organization needs a financial imperative, consider that business losses due to employee mental health issues are significant and that failure to provide mental health and wellness benefits can be expensive. Sapien Labs reports that in the United States:

  • Major depressive disorders alone cost businesses between $31 billion and $51 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • An employee with depression costs an organization $10,000 in annual health insurance, compared to an average of $4,584.
  • An employee suffering from major depression is absent on average 27 days per year.
  • For every dollar invested annually in prevention and intervention programs to support mental health, employers can save $2-4 on other expenses.
  • Recruitment and rehiring cost an average of $4,000 per employee.

When considering how much capital your organization is willing to invest to improve its employee mental health support, keep in mind that implementing mental health strategies and providing mental health supports and services -be may require not only financial resources, but also organizational or personnel changes. allowance and training.


Employers need to create an organizational culture that de-stigmatizes mental health issues, while normalizing and encouraging help-seeking behaviors. Changing the culture of any organization requires commitment, strategy and consistent effort over a long period of time. To understand how to effectively address cultural change, start by assessing the current culture by asking the following questions:

  • What are the most pressing employee mental health issues?
  • How comfortable are employees in expressing their mental health concerns to co-workers and managers?
  • What do employees know about company mental health benefits and services?
  • Do employees feel that their managers are able to understand and support their mental health concerns within the work team?
  • What mental health resources do employees use the most? What services and benefits do they find most useful?

The assessment should create a baseline for management to understand the level of mental health issues among their employees. These results can then inform decisions about changes or additions to employee mental health offerings and benefits, keeping in mind that mental health support is not unique and the attitudes and behaviors of seeking mental health help vary by gender, age, and industry.


Next, an organization must consider what types of support would be most effective in prevention and response.

Preventive care measures should include talent management, which requires an understanding of job design, team experience and work climate, as well as how employees are managed. As Jen Fisher points out in harvard business reviewmanagers can have a positive impact on employee mental health if they are trained to set professional expectations and use supervisory styles that can prevent employee burnout.

Evaluate current offerings and their effectiveness or usage before adding new services. For example, a company may provide on-site mental health staff or dedicate a facility to wellness practices such as yoga or meditation, but understanding the feasibility, cost, and estimated usage of these services. By doing a basic assessment of the organization’s culture as described above, data can guide these decisions.

Also, be sure to review your mental health benefits and leadership support. What does company support look like for employees who have taken time off due to mental health issues and are returning to work? Widely offered benefits such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), mental health insurance benefits, and medical leave and return policies are in place for most organizations, but employees may not be well informed about them. The HR technologist indicated that while EAPs are effective, their use by employees has been very slow. With this in mind, organizations should regularly evaluate their care tools and continue to adjust and optimize their financial investment in their mental health offerings accordingly.


As Lori Goler and her co-authors note in harvard business review, one of the key factors in helping employees alleviate stress is ensuring they have a sense of community and connection in the workplace. So how can an organization best strengthen its community environment and become a place where members of the organization experience compassion, care and concern? It starts with leadership.

Gallup research shows that managers have a direct and daily impact on creating a sense of community for their team. Leaders have a responsibility to model genuine caring and provide a psychologically safe space for team members to share their professional or personal concerns. When an organization goes beyond simply expressing care and concern, but implements practices aligned with this message, it builds a sense of community in the workplace. A recent example that made the news is when LinkedIn provided all of its employees a week off so that they can recover from the burnout caused by the pandemic.

Is it worth defending the mental health of your employees? If your vision for the future includes retaining your workforce, the answer is clearly yes. With the pandemic not yet over, employees continue to struggle with their work engagement, their relationship with their organization, and what it takes to maintain their professional and personal balance. At this turning point in our collective well-being, employers who embrace and support the mental health of their employees will emerge victorious in the war for talent.

Julie Lee, a clinical psychologist, associate dean at Brown University, and a behavioral health consultant to startups and other organizations.

James C. Tibbs