Bloomberg Law
Feb. 23, 2023, 9:00 AM

Workplace Mental Wellness Leads to Innovation and Productivity

Sara Begley
Sara Begley
Holland & Knight
Dana Feinstein
Dana Feinstein
Holland & Knight
Maddie Fenton
Maddie Fenton
Holland & Knight

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of addressing and protecting mental health in and out of the workplace.

The negative stigma that previously surrounded discussions of mental health at work is thankfully becoming outdated. Employers are increasingly making tangible changes in favor of the current trend of bringing one’s whole self to work.

Good Business

This is not just a trend—it’s good business. Studies show employee mental wellness is directly related to creativity and innovation at work. Comprehensive mental health and employee wellness benefits increase productivity, performance, and retention, and reduce the costs associated with losing talent and potential.

Employers that offer mental health benefits are twice as likely to report a greater than 50% return to work rate after mental health-related disability leave. This is no small savings, as mental health-related leave is believed to comprise approximately 70% of workplace disability costs.

In addition, in a tight labor market, employers that focus on mental wellness initiatives will likely attract and retain top talent. McKinsey found that 60% of Gen Z respondents consider mental health resources to be important when selecting an employer.

Roughly the same number said they consider mental health initiatives when deciding whether or not to remain with an employer. And 91% of respondents to a 2021 Harvard Business Review survey said they believed that workplace culture should support mental health.

But despite employers’ increasing efforts in this area, research finds that most employees still feel that there is a mental health stigma in the workplace. Employers should consider taking steps to demonstrate a commitment to increasing employee wellness and satisfaction at work.

Provide Mental Wellness Benefits

From employee assistance programs to standalone apps that allow confidential access to therapy for employees and their family members, it’s important to provide a menu of resources and clearly and effectively communicate the organization’s offerings.

Employers should invest in a communications strategy that ensures employees know that mental wellness resources are available, and that they are enthusiastically encouraged to take advantage of these valuable benefits.

Create a Culture of Support

Recognizing employees’ whole selves, employers should offer initiatives that allow employees to unplug, rest, and recharge when not at work.

This might take the form of encouraging employees to actually remain logged off while on paid time off. Unplugging from work and taking time to rest has been shown to positively impact work performance.

But simply supporting use of PTO is not enough. To the extent that an employer can offer benefits that reduce stressors outside of work—such as subsidized transportation, parking, and backup child or elder care —such efforts also go a long way toward reducing employee stress and promoting wellness.

It is important to ensure buy-in from the entire organization to create a top-down culture of support. If the organization’s leaders do not support employee wellness initiatives, positive benefits will not translate to the employees.

However, when an organization’s leaders clearly encourage employees to make full use of the organization’s wellness benefits, employees will feel empowered to use those resources to thrive personally and at work.

To that end, some employers are appointing leaders responsible for directing mental health initiatives to communicate a clear organizational priority and ensure goals are being met.

First-Level Management

While top-down leadership is critical, one of the clearest determinants of employee satisfaction and wellness is first-level management. Managers have the clearest and most direct avenue to supporting direct reports.

Managers should promote a positive team culture of autonomy and respect and create norms about responsiveness and urgency that allow employees to unplug and de-stress when they are not required to be working.

Managers should also model healthy behaviors for their team—for example, truly logging off when on PTO, or sharing some of their own methods of reducing stress during the workday.

But most critically, managers should connect with direct reports through frequent check-ins to discuss their progress, provide positive and constructive feedback, and explore how they can work toward and meet their professional goals. This is important for all teams, but especially those that are hybrid or remote.

Simple changes to management style can go a long way toward supporting employee wellness and can make a monumental impact in a way that organization-wide measures cannot.

Any effort to improve employee mental wellness, however small, can have a big impact on employee satisfaction and workplace culture. Employers and managers at all levels should consider how they can best promote a positive, productive workplace that gives employees the support to thrive.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Sara A. Begley is am employment attorney at Holland & Knight, focused on complex, high-stakes matters for corporate employers.

Dana E. Feinstein is an employment attorney at Holland & Knight and member of the labor, employment, and benefits group.

Maddie F. Fenton is a litigation attorney at Holland & Knight whose practice focuses on the education and employment industries.