By: Ber Leary on May 3rd, 2022

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How Wellbeing Programs Can Help Build a Mentally Strong Organization

According to the CDC, American businesses lose around 200 million workdays every year due to employee mental health. The estimated cost of this problem is anywhere up to $44 billion, making it a huge issue for every employer.

Most employers recognize this problem and invest in strategies to help support employee mental health. On average, U.S. companies spend $238 per employee on benefits such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), reported the Business Group on Health (BGH).

However, many companies are following purely reactive strategies. They provide resources, but it’s up to the individual employee to recognize that they should seek out help. Often, that only happens when the employee is already in crisis.

Fortunately, there is another way. You can be more proactive about protecting your people and become a Mentally Strong Organization.

What is a Mentally Strong Organization?

Mentally Strong Organizations make employee mental well-being one of their key strategic goals. Doreen Davis of NFP shares, “this does not mean that their employees do not have mental health issues and needs. It does mean that the organization provides a supportive environment when needs arise, as well as resources to build ‘mental muscles’ so employees are more equipped to handle life’s inevitable stresses and challenges, both personally and professionally.

“They do this because they know they can’t deliver on other goals unless their team is in peak condition. Plus, meaningful programs can aid recruiting efforts to draw talent, and will assist with retention as well,” said Davis.

She adds, “employees who feel truly cared for and supported are much more likely to be engaged, and engaged employees are less likely to be successfully recruited away.”

The features of a Mentally Strong Organization include:

  • Senior-level commitment to supporting employees in all circumstances
  • Broad range of benefits that reflect the diverse needs of the team
  • Regular initiatives to promote well-being and mental health
  • Training for employees and managers to help safeguard the team’s well-being

The difference between Mental Health and Mental Wellbeing

Part of becoming a Mentally Strong Organization is moving away from a focus on mental health and toward mental well-being.

Mental health represents the baseline for each person. When someone is experiencing good mental health, they’re not currently impaired by stress, anxiety, depression, or other psychological condition.

Typically, around one in four people need mental health assistance, which you can deliver through services like your EAP. But the other three in four people don’t need that kind of help.

Mental well-being is an aspirational goal for everyone in the organization. Here, the focus is on providing people with education and resources that allow them to care for themselves.

Successful mental well-being programs reach out to all employees, including those not currently concerned about their mental health. The aim is to give everyone the tools to care for themselves if/when they experience stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges.

5 Steps to becoming a Mentally Strong Organization

Mental well-being requires a lot of hard work, focus, and cooperation between HR and your organization’s leadership. Let’s look at how you can create a Mentally Strong Organization.

1. Take a closer look at your team

The first thing is to take a closer look at your team and find out more about their needs. What do they expect from you? What would motivate them to participate? What’s their preferred method of communication?

The best mental well-being programs are built around your employees. Try to learn as much as you can about the stressors that impact employee well-being. The best way to do this is through regular surveys, where employees can feed back about work-related stress factors.

2. Get leadership buy-in

Your mental well-being program will only succeed if you have support from every part of the organization, including senior leadership. Executives need to lead by example in such programs.

They must be seen to get involved in seminars, make comments during online discussions, and send emails promoting mental well-being services. Doreen Davis adds, “when launching a new program, it can be extremely powerful to have the leader provide a video (or live) message to employees communicating endorsement of the program and even a personal message about what it means to them.”

But how do you get senior leaders to make this a priority? Try making an evidence-based argument to leadership about why this program is essential. Show them how mental well-being is a factor in productivity, engagement, and employee retention. And, of course, leaders are people too, so make sure they understand how mental wellness programs can help them deal with their own stress.

3. Communicate the available offerings

Many employers already provide a substantial package of mental well-being benefits, but employees might not always know what’s on offer. It’s a good idea to create a central resource where people can find out what’s available, and it’s even better if employees can access it on their phones in just a few clicks.

Sarah Berkley from NFP recommends employers take inventory of their benefits and categorize them into a central hub to include:

  • Core Benefits: Full information about benefit provisions, such as healthcare, dental, and vision
  • Physical well-being: Additional services to help improve well-being, which may include tobacco cessation programs, access to telemedicine, gym membership, digital fitness solutions, or health risk assessments
  • Mental well-being: Details of your Employee Assistance Program and all services available, which may include sessions with a counselor, meditation and mindfulness tools, or well-being seminars
  • Financial well-being: Tools to help employees manage their financial security, including 401K, HSA/FSA accounts, commuter discount programs, or tuition reimbursement
  • Work-life balance: Details of PTO policy, including sick leave and mental health days, as well as information about benefits for parents and caregivers
  • DE&I: Information about community involvement, including Employee Resource Groups, volunteer leave and charitable giving

Employees might not realize how much you offer until they see all the benefits bundled together in one package. Berkley adds, “Once you lay out all the benefits already available, you can see where there are gaps and fill them in with meaningful, complementary programs.”

Related reading: How to Attract and Retain with Total Rewards

4. Provide Mental Fitness Training

Mental Fitness Training is the central pillar of NFP’s internal Mentally Strong Organization strategy. Sarah Berkley, Manager Well-Being and Engagement at NFP shared:

“A resource that we have been offering internally at NFP are Mental Fitness Trainings for our employees. These are 12-week series designed to build resilience, mindfulness and compassion skills using the power of community.

Led by employees, we learn and practice mindfulness via expert-led video instruction, discuss lessons as a group, and integrate new habits and practices into the workday while strengthening the NFP community. It also serves as a “brain break” during the day and a way to heal and return to vitality. This is just one step that NFP has taken to continue building a Mentally Strong Organization.”

If you don’t have people in your organization who can help design a Mental Fitness Training program, try reaching out to your benefits vendor to see if they can help. Many providers will offer free seminars and resources that you can use as the basis of your training.

5. Listen and adapt

Your team will grow over time, and your mental well-being program needs to evolve to meet their changing needs. The best way to stay on track is to talk to your team. Get their feedback through regular surveys and find out how you can best serve them.

Mental well-being champions can help to keep the lines of communication open. These local champions can help to promote the well-being program and encourage uptake while gathering feedback directly from the team.

Next steps with mental well-being

Building a Mentally Strong Organization is a worthy goal. But if you want to make that goal a reality, you’ll need expert guidance from people who know how to support employee mental well-being.

Book a no-obligation consultation call with Helios HR today, and let's talk about how we can help you build a thriving team. 

Thank you to our colleagues who contributed to this piece: Doreen Davis, Senior Vice President of Well-Being and Engagement, Atlantic Region, and Sarah Berkley, Manager, Well-Being & Engagement, Northeast Region, at NFP, a leading insurance broker and consultant.