Mental Wellness in the Workplace: Assigning Responsibility

5 min | Louisa Benedicto | Article | Managing a team Workforce management

A man holds his head in frustration in front of his computer, behind him sits a woman working on a desk.

The Hays Barometer Report reveals a concerning statistic: fewer than 50% of professionals consider their mental health and well-being to be positive. A disconnect exists between the support employers claim to provide and what employees feel they receive. While 72% of employers assert that their organization has heightened its focus on mental health and well-being, only 26% of professionals concur.

This discrepancy highlights the urgent need for action to address the escalating mental health issues. The critical question arises: who should be accountable for the mental health and well-being of employees?

Understanding Mental Health in Today’s Work Environment

The economic landscape in the United States, characterized by rising inflation and geopolitical tensions, significantly influences employee health and well-being. High inflation rates, reaching a four-decade peak at 9.1%, have intensified financial stress and uncertainty. This economic strain is reflected in the mental health of American workers, with a study revealing that 87% of Americans are anxious about inflation.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to more flexible work models, it’s no surprise that many employees are experiencing heightened stress levels. The pandemic’s disruption has not only affected job security but also increased the cost of living, making it challenging for individuals to cope with the financial pressures. According to the Hays Salary Guide and Hiring Trends, in 2024, 55% employees feel more stress this year than 2023 and 44% are unmotivated.

Making the Case for Employer Involvement

In today’s climate, there is an expectation for leaders to actively support and assume responsibility for their team’s mental health. According to a survey, 91% of participants believe it’s the employer’s duty to support their employees’ mental well-being.

Echoing this sentiment, 94% of employers in our Barometer study recognize their role, with the majority acknowledging a ‘significant’ or ‘moderate’ level of responsibility for their employees’ well-being.

The Benefits of a Supported Workforce

It’s evident that employers play a pivotal role in promoting and sustaining mental health in the workplace. The advantages for employers are clear: employees who feel supported and content are more likely to:

  • Remain in their position longer
  • Take fewer unscheduled absences
  • Exhibit higher productivity and creativity

A workforce that is resilient and capable of managing stress can consistently deliver their best performance, regardless of circumstances.

The Ethical Commitment to Employee Mental Health

Recent statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that more than one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. This underscores the ethical imperative for employers to foster a supportive environment that addresses mental health issues in the workplace. It is a moral duty for employers to create a culture that supports all employees’ mental well-being.

Legal Mandates for Employers to Uphold Mental Health

Legally, U.S. employers are bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to support employees with mental health conditions, which may qualify as disabilities. This includes providing a work environment that does not exacerbate mental health issues through work-related stress. Employers are required to engage in an interactive process to accommodate employees’ needs and to provide reasonable adjustments to ensure a mentally safe workplace.

Well-being Initiatives as a Magnet for Top Talent

What’s more, mental health and wellbeing support remains an important benefit consideration that will resonate with employees.

Therefore, attracting and retaining top talent will involve more than a traditional benefits package. Professionals have reassessed what’s really important in their personal life. Now, physical and mental health priorities have come to the fore. Being honest about the mental health support you offer is crucial if you are to attract and retain your staff.

The Role of Employees in Workplace Well-being

Employees hold a significant share in creating a positive and healthy work environment. It is essential for employees to prioritize their own physical and mental well-being, as work is a substantial part of life. However, work can sometimes be a source of stress and disrupt the delicate equilibrium of work-life balance.

To complement the mental health efforts put forth by employers, it is crucial for employees to:

  • Understand and implement strategies for maintaining mental health at work
  • Engage in regular stress-reduction activities
  • Communicate with supervisors when feeling stressed or overwhelmed

Moreover, employees are expected to adhere to the health and safety protocols established by their employers. This includes taking regular breaks, engaging in physical activities like ‘walk-and-talk’ meetings, and embracing workplace practices designed to mitigate stress and enhance mental well-being.

Proactively managing one’s mental health at work is not only beneficial for personal well-being but also instrumental in fostering career growth and achieving a harmonious work-life balance.

Collaborative Strategies for Mental Health at work

Both employers and employees have a joint role in fostering a supportive environment for mental health and well-being at work. Employers are tasked with creating and implementing comprehensive policies and initiatives that promote mental wellness. Conversely, employees should actively participate in these available programs.

For employers, prioritizing the mental health and well-being of their workforce is imperative. They must take proactive measures to enhance mental wellness and actively promote employee participation in wellness initiatives.

Employees, on their part, should work in tandem with their employers’ efforts by engaging in self-care practices for their mental health within the workplace.

This collaborative approach ensures that mental health management is an integral part of the organizational culture, benefiting all members of the workplace.

Read more guidance for promoting wellness at work

The Hays Salary Guide offers insights into the key drivers shaping the world of work, including where employees’ mental health and well-being currently stands. Download your copy here

Alternatively, further guidance from our experts include how to deal with burnout in the workplace and the importance of work-life balance over salary.

About this author

Louisa Benedicto
SVP, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Americas

Louisa is Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), Corporate Social Responsibility, and Sustainability at Hays – covering the Americas region including Canada, the U.S., and Latin American Countries. She specializes in DE&I, enabling our clients to implement best practices that ensure everyone gets a fair opportunity in the recruitment process.

Connect with Louisa.

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