It’s no secret that work can be extremely stressful. In fact, according to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), job stress is one of the leading causes of mental health problems in the United States. Not to mention, 1 in 5 American adults are struggling with their mental health every year and workplace stress can significantly exacerbate any symptoms of mental illness. Altogether, this can lead to decreased productivity, missed days at work, and the development of comorbid psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s time for us to start talking about mental health in the workplace – but we realize that can be a daunting task. This blog post is designed to help make the process easier for you. We will discuss the reality of mental health in the workplace, how you can address it with your employer, and we’ll also provide some tips on how to manage your mental health while you’re at work.
Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health is a topic that isn’t often talked about openly – especially not at work. You may be worried about how your employer will react if you bring up the topic of mental health. Will they think you’re weak? That you can’t handle the job? Will they be more likely to let you go? These are all valid concerns – but it’s important to remember that at their core, businesses want their employees to be successful and for their business to run well. A large part of that is working with you as a person, not just an employee.
You may not think of your employer as caring about your well-being, but the results of the APA’s 2022 Work and Well-Being Survey suggest that more employers are beginning to address mental health in the workplace.The survey revealed that 7 in 10 workers (71%) believe their employer is more concerned about the mental health of employees now than in the past. When survey respondents were asked to select from a list of possible supports that they would like to see employers offer, flexible work hours was the most commonly chosen support (41%), followed by a workplace culture that respects time off (34%), the ability to work remotely (33%), and a four-day work week (31%). Many reported that their employers already offer some of these supports, such as flexible work schedules (46%) and remote work options (37%).
Equally as important as employers making changes is employees voicing their needs, wants, and expectations. The majority (81%) of survey respondents said that employers who support mental health will be an important consideration when they look for work in the future—including 30% of workers who strongly agreed that employer support for mental health is a factor into their future job decisions. Given this insight, it’s likely that employers will gradually implement mental health initiatives as a way to recruit and retain talent in the future.
Still, there is a lot of room for improvement. The data reveals that mental health problems are associated with a number of workplace issues, such as compensation failing to keep up with inflation, electronic monitoring of employees, discrimination, and feeling a lack of acceptance. Employers should therefore be on the lookout for ways to improve conditions and listen to employee feedback. One-quarter of respondents (24%) felt they are not properly compensated. The two main factors cited for feeling this way were: pay has not kept up with inflation (60%) and does not reflect all of the work they do (52%). More than half of employees (53%) said their firm uses computers, software, cameras, bar-code scanners, or other monitoring technologies to keep track of them while they work, and about half of those (51%) were uncomfortable with the manner in which their employer used technology to monitor them. Employees who are monitored at work are also more likely to report that their work environment has a negative impact on their mental health (45% vs. 22% of those who are not monitored). While 13% of all workers said they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace, this number was higher for employees from marginalized populations. More than one-quarter of workers with a disability (27%) said they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace, while only 8% without a disability said the same. Discrimination was experienced by more LGBTQ+ workers than non-LGBTQ+ workers (22% vs. 12%), and Black employees were nearly twice as likely as White employees to report that they have experienced discrimination on the job (21% vs. 11%).
How to Address Mental Health with your Employer
Between deadlines, projects, and office politics, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed from time to time. But if you’re beginning to display signs of struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other form of mental illness, it’s important to talk to your employer about your situation. Though it may be difficult to open up about your mental health, doing so can help you get the accommodations and support you need to thrive at work. Not sure how to start the conversation? Here are a few tips:
- Pick the right time and place. Don’t just blurt out that you’re struggling with anxiety in the middle of a meeting. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with your boss or HR manager, and make sure they have some time set aside specifically for this discussion. This way, they can give you their undivided attention and you won’t have to worry about being interrupted.
- Be honest and direct. It’s okay to keep some details about your mental health private, but it’s important to be honest about what you’re dealing with and how it’s affecting your work. If you’re comfortable sharing more personal information, feel free to do so. But if not, that’s perfectly fine too. The most important thing is that your employer has a clear understanding of your situation and how it’s impacting your ability to do your job.
- Have a solution in mind. After you’ve explained your situation, be prepared to offer some possible solutions. For example, if you’re struggling with anxiety, you might suggest working from home one day a week or taking a 10-minute break every hour to do some deep breathing exercises. If you’re dealing with depression, you might request flexible hours or additional paid time off. Requesting specific accommodations shows that you’re serious about making things work and that you have a plan for how to do so.
- Be prepared for anything. Unfortunately, not all employers will be receptive to the idea of accommodating an employee’s mental health needs. If your employer is uncooperative or dismissive of your concerns, it might be time to look for a new job where your mental health will be taken seriously.
Managing Your Mental Health at Work
In addition to talking to your employer about your mental health, there are a few things you can do on your own to strengthen your mental health, manage symptoms, and stay healthy:
- Start your day off right. Wake up a few minutes earlier than usual and take some time for yourself heading to work. Eat a nutritious breakfast, go for a walk, read a few pages of your latest book, or practice meditation in bed. By starting the day by taking care of yourself, you can set an internal tone that fortifies you for the workday ahead.
- Make time for self-care. When you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s important to take some time for yourself. Whether it’s taking a few minutes to practice deep breathing in the restroom or going for a quick walk during your lunch break, make sure you’re taking care of yourself both physically and mentally throughout the day.
- Stay true to your boundaries. It’s important to set boundaries with your employer and co-workers so that you don’t feel like you’re always working. This might mean saying no to extra assignments or stepping away from work-related conversations after hours. Whatever it is, make sure you’re setting boundaries that work for you.
- Connect with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Most employers offer some kind of EAP as part of their benefits package – but if yours doesn’t, there are still plenty of free or low-cost programs available. An EAP can provide confidential counseling , support, and resources to help you deal with whatever challenges you’re facing – both at work and in your personal life.
- Seek professional help. If you’re struggling to manage your mental health on your own, it might be time to seek professional help. This could mean meeting with a therapist or counselor outside of work or taking medication for your mental illness. Whatever you decide, make sure you’re doing what’s best for you and your mental health.
Ideally, talking openly about mental health at work should become as commonplace as talking about physical health. Mental illness is just like any other chronic medical condition – and it deserves to be treated with compassion and understanding. If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Your employer should be an ally in your journey to better mental health, not an obstacle.