From the Blog:

Mental Health Survey Data Shows What Employee Well-Being Misses

Managers may know that employee well-being is a vital component of corporate culture and productivity, but a new workplace mental health survey shows that many companies are still falling short in assessing employee mental health and providing the necessary supports for improving workers’ quality of life.

Employee well-being is the top factor affecting a company’s success, and recognizing every facet of a person’s well-being — their emotional, physical, financial and professional selves — has become an even bigger priority during the pandemic, when boundaries between work and personal lives have blurred and even collapsed. Yet according to Forrester, what employers say about their employees’ mental health diverges dramatically from how employees are feeling about their work lives. The vast majority of the CEOs surveyed — 96% — said they were adequately taking care of their workforce’s mental health, but only 69% of employees felt the same way.

This same disconnect was evident when it came to concrete actions and policies. While 94% of corporate leaders said their employees’ mental health was important to them, only 31% had assessed the value of their well-being benefits in the last year. And 57% identified mental health as a priority at the board level, but only 14% treated it as a strategic goal with a measurable ROI. With such a gap between rhetoric and action, especially during the last year, it’s no wonder that 72% of employees said they were currently burned out, up from 42% since before the pandemic.

How Do You Measure Employee Mental Health?

The Limeade Institute has conducted research on “experience activators,” or mindsets that can improve a person’s quality of life. These markers of well-being include resilience, optimism, purpose and emotional regulation. Limeade created an Activator Index Score as part of its Well-Being Assessment, which drew responses from more than 500,000 participants. The research showed that people with high levels of experience activators have less stress and better well-being, engagement and productivity. In fact, 97% of people with a high AIS (Activator Index Score) were engaged at work, compared with 55% of people with a low AIS.

Capturing these more intangible markers of mental health may seem like a daunting task, but it’s clearer than ever that traditional corporate wellness programs are simply not working — for employees or for companies. These programs tend to be focused on lowering the costs of healthcare and capturing biometric data, such as weight and step counts. They fail to take mental and emotional well-being into account.

Moreover, in an era where remote or flexible work is now the norm, traditional wellness assessments that rely on in-person screenings at a central location no longer make sense. Managers should consider digital self-assessment tools that are flexible enough to fit into employees’ lives and are modeled after user-friendly consumer apps. If completing a mental health check-in is as easy as checking a social media feed and can be done at any time that’s convenient for the person, both the employee and the company will benefit from having more robust and actionable well-being information.

Can You Ask Employees About Mental Health?

A modern approach to employee mental health requires knowing what warning signs to look out for — and addressing them before they escalate into a larger crisis for an individual. Limeade research shows that 59% of managers report working more hours since the start of the pandemic. Metrics such as sleep (or lack of it) and use of alcohol or substances are also key for understanding “silent disengagement,” which can lead to burnout.

According to the Forrester mental health awareness survey, only 26% of companies said they had a program for helping “silent sufferers” who are struggling with anxiety and depression. And only 34% of companies said managers received training on how to identify those silent sufferers. It’s important for managers to be engaged in this work because they’re often the ones who most consistently interact with employees. Providing resources for both managers and employees to identify what they’re feeling can be an effective way to remove the stigma around mental health conversations and give people the vocabulary to talk about these difficult topics in a workplace setting.

The normalization of mental well-being topics, coupled with a thoughtful method for identifying and assessing burnout risk, means that employees have a better chance of getting the organizational support they need before reaching a crisis point. And when employees feel like their whole selves are recognized in the workplace, they are more engaged and productive.

What’s the ROI of Employee Mental Health?

Employees with high levels of experience activators like mindfulness, openness and gratitude are more productive and engaged at work, with lower amounts of stress. That means lower rates of burnout and turnover. It’s clear that companies understand this connection: 83% of participants in the Forrester survey said senior leaders tout the importance of mental well-being to their business. But a much smaller number — 23% — say mental health actually factors into decision-making.

To bridge this gap, corporate leaders should prioritize assessing their employees’ mental and emotional health by understanding what factors to measure and how to capture them. Digital tools and compassionate, de-stigmatizing communication strategies are an important part of this assessment process. Understanding how to best reach employees is also key for designing modern, accessible and effective well-being programs that treat the whole person and lead to better outcomes — for people and for business.