Mental Health in the Workplace: Three Practical Communication Tips

How the working world thinks and talks about mental health has improved immeasurably over the past several years. Discussing mental health in the workplace was once stigmatized. Now, finally, it’s coming out into the open.

This is a good thing. Mental health issues are on the rise among American workers, taking their toll on productivity, employee satisfaction, engagement, and turnover.

“Unaddressed mental health issues, especially among employees at work, can come at a high cost to employers. Often, mental health costs are not quantified, so employers remain unaware of the risks associated with not addressing these issues,” reported Patti van Eys, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Director of Product here at Pathways At Work. 

I’m honored to be here today on the Pathways At Work blog. I run the educational content program at Flimp Communications, an HR software and services company focused on helping HR teams build digital communications programs to drive benefits awareness and enrollment. 

As Flimp reported in a recent infographic, studies show that more than three out of four employees report at least one symptom of a mental health condition. In a 2021 survey, half of the respondents said they had left a work role for mental health reasons — up from 30% in 2019.

According to the same survey (released by Harvard Business Review), 91% of workers say a company’s culture should support mental health. Many employers are taking note of this and expanding mental health resources for employees and their families while fostering a culture of openness around mental health issues.

Still — from the perspective of many employees — much work remains to be done. The difference between how employers and employees perceive their workplaces’ mental health resources and attitudes is stark.

The Workplace Mental Health Perception Gap

The same Flimp infographic referenced above summarizes some eye-opening findings from The Hartford:

  • 82% of employers say they have an open and inclusive environment that inspires dialogue about mental health. (Less than half of employees (48%) say the same.)
  • 81% of employers say their company leadership encourages conversations about mental health. (Again, only 48% of employees agree.)
  • 79% of employers say employees’ mental health has improved thanks to company resources. (Only 35% of employees say the same.)

Where does this disconnect come from? In part, it may be due to a communication problem. The mental health resources and support may be there, but employers may struggle to get the word out.

In the post-pandemic working world, where hybrid and remote work have become the norm, reaching employees with consistent messaging about anything — let alone mental health — is challenging. But it’s important for employers to try. 

“Employers are uniquely positioned to help employees with their mental health problems while simultaneously improving their bottom line.”    -  Patti van Eys, Ph.D

The following three practical communication strategies will help employers educate employees about their organizations’ mental health resources while encouraging empathy and awareness of mental health issues throughout the workforce:

1. Use Digital Communication Best Practices to Promote Mental Health Resources

About 40% of employers expanded their mental health benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of these benefits remain in place (or have seen further expansions).

It’s not just about insurance coverage. Employers have unveiled a variety of innovative benefits designed to help employees and their families manage stress and connect with qualified mental health professionals. 

Unfortunately, these programs can go underutilized not due to a lack of usefulness but a lack of awareness.

It’s important to keep in mind that the typical worker these days is buried under a mountain of messaging, most of it in email form. If your mental health benefits messaging consists of a single wordy once-a-year email, it will be difficult to rise above the noise.

As noted in a Flimp article:

“The benefits you’re offering are better than the way you’re delivering them. Gone are the days of sending a boring and generic ten-page email. Now you can use everything from videos to digital video postcards to get your message across in a way that’ll catch your employees’ eyes and is tailored to what they really care about.”

In other words, think about your mental health awareness campaign like your company would think about alerting customers to a new product or service. Generating awareness and enthusiasm may require a multi-channel approach.

Let digital communications best practices be your guide:

  • Busy employees prefer short, focused emails over long-winded ones.
  • Visual elements like charts, graphs, and pull-out quotes are attention grabbers. (This is one reason digital postcards see more engagement than text-based emails.)
  • A video is worth thousands of words (but keep them short, too).
  • When emails fail, text messaging is an excellent way to reach employees. (Most people don’t read their emails right away, but the average text message is opened within three minutes of receipt.)

2. Have Management Set the Tone

Employees may feel more at ease acknowledging their mental health struggles and using company mental health resources if they know their superiors are doing the same.

According to a survey of 1,000 employees, 62% said, “[H]aving someone in a leadership role speak openly about mental health would make them feel more comfortable talking about it themselves.”

Management acknowledging their mental health issues doesn’t have to be formal. Something as simple as an automatic reply message stating, “I will not be reading or replying to messages after work hours,” can go a long way toward letting employees know it’s ok to unplug.

Company leadership can also offer testimonials via email or video discussing their own use of mental health benefits.

And don’t overlook the value of one-on-one check-ins. Sometimes, a simple “how are you holding up?” is all employees need to hear.

3. Keep the Messaging Going Year-Round

Many companies bring up mental health resources with their employees exactly once a year: during the open enrollment period. But we know mental health struggles don’t go away simply because open enrollment is over. Stressors that trigger anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues can occur anytime.

Employees benefit from year-round reminders that your company cares about their well-being and has resources available to help manage their challenges. Plus, a steady drip of year-round messaging promotes knowledge retention more effectively than a one-time “info dump.”

Periodic messaging can be tied to annual events. For example, if your company experiences a huge rush during the holiday season, that would be a good time to share a mindfulness video. You can review your financial wellness benefits with employees as the tax deadline approaches in April.

(Mental Health Awareness Month in May is always an excellent opportunity to remind your employees of all the ways your organization supports their emotional health.)

Bridging the Mental Health Perception Gap With Digital Communications

Employers today are still learning how to talk about mental health in the workplace. At Flimp, we want to drive the conversation forward by helping put employers and employees on the same page regarding mental health benefits.

Flimp offers a full suite of digital communications tools designed to engage employees with eye-catching, unforgettable messages.

Schedule a free open enrollment readiness assessment from Flimp Communications.

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