Employee Well-being: A Business Priority
Monitoring and supporting mental health is critical
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
The past 2 years have certainly turned everyone's lives upside down. Whether it was personal or business related, every person and organization was affected in some way. Layoffs, business closings, childcare issues, physical health issues, shifts in where and how work is done, and isolation from family and friends are just a few of the many issues that people have had to deal with since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Organizations have adapted, adjusted, and learned to be nimble and flexible, which has required employees to do the same. Most employees have adapted and are operating in a new normal. However, do we know the toll that all of this has taken on the mental well-being of our employees? As a laboratory owner and/or manager of people, have you paused to check on your employees? I mean, really stopped, and asked them if they are OK? If you have not, your business is at risk. The mental well-being of your employees should be of utmost concern right now.
Mental health crises have increased during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 41.5% of US adults exhibited symptoms of anxiety or depression in early 2021.1 Think about that: Four of every 10 employees at your laboratory are likely having some type of mental health issue. Mental Health America (MHA) released its annual State of Mental Health in America report,2 and some alarming statistics are included:
• Approximately 664,000 more people than last year reported serious thoughts of suicide. The national rate of suicidal ideation among adults has increased year-over-year in every report, but this is a larger increase than the previous year and is a concerning trend.
• The percentage of youth that experienced a major depressive episode in the past year increased as well: Nearly one in five people ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode.
• More than 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.
• Nearly 50 million Americans—almost 20%—are experiencing a mental illness.
• More than half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling more than 27 million adults in the US.
• 11.1% of Americans with a mental illness are uninsured.
We can see that the crisis is real, and it is impacting the workplace. What can you do to address this within your laboratory? Although it is less than in the past, a stigma remains around mental health. Often, employees are reluctant to come forward and make us aware of problems. Still, signs likely can be seen that something is wrong. An increase in absenteeism, lower productivity, and more disengagement could be signs that your employee is having a mental health issue.
Sadly, as employers, we are not necessarily equipped with the tools and resources to address these issues. Therefore, we tend to ignore, or we address through punitive methods. Neither of these responses work, so what can we do to ensure the positive well-being of our employees?
A starting point is creating awareness and building a culture wherein employees are not reluctant to ask for help or make you aware that they are struggling. As leaders in your laboratory, you can create this culture, as it starts from the top. In a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson, mental/behavioral health was the top clinical area that employers planned to target—with initiatives such as organization-wide strategies; manager training; proactive stress and anxiety activities; and a fresh look at Employee Assistance Programs.3
Here are some practical things a laboratory owner or manager can do to support the mental health well-being in their laboratory:
• Encourage open communication
• Train managers on how to address employee concerns and ensure they are checking in with their employees regularly
• Support employees through policies that support their work/life integration, such as paid time off, flexible work arrangements, and leaves of absence
• Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for employees and family members
Retaining your talent has never been as critical as it is today. Employees want to know that the company they work for cares about them. When an employee is in distress, knowing they have a work environment where they can get the support they need will certainly go a long way in ensuring that the employee stays with your laboratory. Supporting the mental well-being of your employees is, most importantly, the right thing to do, but it will also result in a positive ROI and long-term success for your laboratory.
1. Clifton J. The Next Global Pandemic. The Chairman's Blog. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/357710/next-global-pandemic-mental-health.aspx. Published December 3, 2021. Accessed April 18, 2022.
2. 2022 State of Mental Health in America. Mental Health America website. https://mhanational.org/sites/default/files/2022%20State%20of%20Mental%20Health%20in%20America.pdf. Published 2021. Accessed April 18, 2022.
3. Enhancing physical, financial, emotional and social wellbeing. WTW website. https://www.wtwco.com/en-US/Insights/2020/03/enhancing-physical-financial-emotional-and-social-wellbeing. Published April 3, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2022.
About the Author
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is the President of HR Affiliates.