Making the case for incorporating mental wellness into your company’s wellness program
Olivia Curtis, the wellness specialist for G&A Partners, recently shared her thoughts on the impact of incorporating mental wellness into a corporate wellness program as a guest on Utah Business’ UB Insider podcast.
An employee’s mental and emotional health can factor tremendously into their performance, but workplace wellness programs and other means of boosting health seldom address mental health.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that many of today’s workplace trends (increasingly competitive job market, more demanding workloads, longer hours, less work-life balance) are really challenging the mental and emotional health of employees.
Why is mental wellness so important?
About 40 million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders—which are often accompanied by depression. (National Institute for Mental Health)
Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion per year. (National Institute for Mental Health)
One in four people in the world will be affected by mental disorders at one point in their life. (World Health Organization)
44% of Americans report feeling more stressed out today than they did five years ago, with one in five Americans reporting experiencing extreme stress. (American Psychological Association Stress in America)
Why don’t more workplace wellness programs incorporate mental wellness?
Emotional and mental wellness is often overlooked simply because it’s internal – you can’t see it with your eyes and a lot of times it can’t be diagnosed with a simple medical test. We can see obesity, we can test for high cholesterol, but emotional and mental health issues are not so cut and dry. They’re a lot more complex and for some people, are embarrassing to talk about.
Another reason why mental wellness is overlooked is that physical health also seems to be easier to grasp because many of us were raised knowing the basics. We know we need to eat our vegetables and fruit. We know we need to sleep well, to get our water, to move enough. But we weren’t raised being able to recognize the symptoms and the consequences of stress and anxiety and depression and how to handle those symptoms in a healthy way.
What can people do to gauge, monitor and improve their own mental wellness?
Education is a huge piece, especially in worksite wellness. Employers can work to educate their employees through things like lunch and learns designed to teach them how to recognize symptoms of poor emotional or mental wellness, through educational handouts, through emails that outline resources and even videos to teach them how to recognize that and what to do. Stress is really tough because it’s very personal. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone.
How does investing in mental wellness benefit employers?
While there is an amount of “good stress” (called eustress) that can help to motivate employees to be more productive and perform better, there’s also a point where too much stress becomes chronic stress or distress. And that chronic stress is unhealthy and is what causes employees to burnout and actually break down both physically and mentally.
These emotionally unwell employees have a higher risk of workplace injury, chronic illness, heart attacks and stroke, thus representing a bigger cost burden on an employer’s benefit plan. They are also more error prone, less productive and more short-tempered with their coworkers and customers, which also costs the company money as well.
On the flip side, emotionally well employees exhibit increased decision-making and communication skills, are more productive and more likely to be physically healthy, thus saving the company money. So by ensuring that their employees are emotionally well, employers can have a very positive effect not only on their company culture but on the quality of service that their company provides and their insurance costs.