Human Resources and Benefits

Supporting Mental Wellness in the Workplace

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What You Should Know About Mental Health

It is estimated only 17 percent of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health.

Optimal mental health is described as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Nearly 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. Depression is the most common type of mental illness and generally affects more women than men.

Depression is a leading cause of workplace productivity losses and increased absenteeism and presenteeism (attending work while sick). As the number of people dealing with depression increases, there is a corresponding increase in medical, prescription, and disability costs.

The Connection Between Stress and Depression

To a certain degree, stress is good for you. It can keep you alert and motivated and prepare you to respond to dangerous situations. It can even improve your performance in certain situations. However, for those who are susceptible, prolonged stress or too much stress can lead to depression.

Chronic stress causes an increase in certain hormones, including cortisol, and a reduction in serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain. These changes have been found to be associated with depression. When these chemical systems are out of balance, biological processes such as sleep, appetite, and energy levels are affected as well as mood and emotions.

There is a cyclical effect associated with stress and depression. When people are stressed, they tend to set aside healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise and a healthy diet, and even avoid contact with friends and family who generally act as a buffer against stress and depression. They may also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or drinking, which can increase their existing stress level and result in depression.

Mental Health and the Workplace

Stress can have a significant impact on productivity and performance among your employees. The impact may be a decrease in focus, mental engagement, job satisfaction, or motivation. This could lead to employee presenteeism, which means the employee is at work but not fully functioning. In other cases, stress and depression may manifest themselves physically in symptoms such as back pain or gastrointestinal disorders, which may lead to an increase in employee absenteeism.

Causes of Stress in the Workplace

There are a variety of factors that cause stress in the workplace, including:

  • Culture of your organization
  • Changes within the organization or management
  • Bad management practices
  • Changes to job responsibilities
  • Discrimination or harassment
  • Long hours
  • Heavy workload
  • Tight deadlines
  • Insufficient skills for the job
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Lack of proper resources or equipment
  • Job insecurity
  • Exposure or involvement in critical incidents, such as threats, assault, severe injury, death, or fire

The causes of stress in your workplace will depend on different factors, including the type of industry you serve. In addition, every employee is an individual with a work and personal life combining to influence their reactions to conditions in the workplace. Conduct a confidential survey among employees to identify the stressors that are specific to your organization. This will help you build a stress-reduction program that addresses the real problems your teams are facing.

Helping Employees Manage Stress

Whether the cause of stress is work-related or not, providing support for your employees to deal with stress appropriately will benefit your organization. Here are some suggestions for helping employees manage stress:

  • Incorporate resources and tools into your wellness program that give employees the opportunity to practice and adopt stress management strategies.
  • Implement an employee assistance program (EAP). This can be helpful in providing counseling services designed to address significant life problems for your employees. 
  • Create and enforce a return-to-work policy and program. This can be effective in reducing stress and keeping employees engaged if they are on leave due to an injury or a mental illness. Click here to learn more about return-to-work programs.
  • Implement a work-life balance strategy that protects and encourages work-life balance among employees. This can help reduce illness, absenteeism, and presenteeism.
  • Encourage your employees to engage in healthy lifestyle activities that help reduce stress and increase resilience to life’s challenges. These activities may include a regular exercise program, a healthy diet, moderation in alcohol consumption, adequate sleep, strong relationships, appropriate use of vacation time, and making time for one’s self.

Make sure to promote the resources you are providing on a regular basis so employees are aware of what is available and are more apt to use the services when needed.

Investing in resources geared towards both the mental and physical health of your employees can result in increased productivity, stronger employee morale, and lower turnover among your workforce. For support in implementing these resources, contact your Leavitt Group insurance advisor.


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