Setting Up a Workplace Mental Health Initiative

As employers, we have a major responsibility regarding the health and well-being of our personnel. Mental well-being is an integral aspect that should not be overlooked. Making meaningful improvements in this area can provide considerable advantages such as improved productivity, better recruitment outcomes, and lower healthcare costs. Moreover, creating an environment where mental health is valued helps promote safety and inclusion within the workplace.

Mental health issues are pervasive and affect close to 47 million adults in the U.S., while 20 million battle substance use disorders. Fortunately, help is available. However, merely a small fraction of those who require it receive assistance due to inadequate access or other barriers that prevent them from doing so. Employers have the means to support workers struggling with mental health disorders, and everyone can play their part in improving outcomes for individuals seeking treatment.

Enhancing employee mental health must start with top-level engagement, but there are also simple steps employees themselves can take to benefit their own well-being too. However, the stigma surrounding mental health is a major roadblock keeping people from receiving the assistance they need. To break down this barrier, it’s important to spread knowledge and understanding about mental illness while sharing personal accounts that demonstrate its realities. Doing so will create an atmosphere of safety in which individuals feel more comfortable asking for help.


Factors That Contribute to The Success of Workplace Mental Health Initiatives

Achieving successful workplace mental health initiatives requires considering four main elements:

  • Securing Leadership Support. When CEOs, business owners, and leaders prioritize mental health within their organizations by displaying ongoing support and sharing their personal connection to it, the result is a measurable win.
  • Getting Employees Involved. Across the United States, almost 47 million individuals have mental health problems, and millions more are affected by these issues, thus creating a steady source of employees who possess direct experience and can contribute substantially in order for workplace mental health initiatives to be successful.
  • Communicating Often about Mental Health. Champion the mental health awareness initiative. Incorporate discussion on mental wellness into conversations about employee health and well-being. Leverage multiple platforms to communicate that prioritizing mental health is crucial in your organization while also regularly providing pathways to access services or support.
  • Measuring Impact. When striving to accomplish objectives such as amplifying awareness, refining access to mental health services, transforming the culture of your workplace, and decreasing turnover rates or disability claims, begin by defining what success will look like for your organization.


Carefully select the metrics that will determine success. Start by deciding on the desired result, and then ensure it aligns with your action plan and data. Don’t forget to gather baseline data so you can measure where you are when starting out. To track performance effectively, be sure to create a timeline for collecting information. Whether it’s monthly or annually is up to you, but make sure both pre-action and post-action measures are taken into consideration.

Improving Access to Services and Supports

It is essential for organizations to actively raise awareness and educate their workforce about the importance of mental health programs, as well as to create a healthier culture that encourages employees to take care of themselves, seek help when needed, and lend support to co-workers. However, it is just as crucial for organizations to evaluate what services and supports are available if an employee requires assistance, how easy it is for someone in need of aid to access the necessary resources, and whether or not they know where they can find such aid. These are all key components required in order to ensure everyone has proper access to any potential means of relief.

As the demand for mental health and substance use coverage increases, many employers are now offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide such assistance. Furthermore, a growing number of businesses have begun integrating apps and other digital tools, as well as encouraging mindfulness practices like meditation and sleep. This is all done with the intention of providing reliable guidance to those facing common issues such as depression or anxiety.

Employers face a difficult decision when it comes to selecting digital tools or apps for their employees in the areas of mental health, wellness, stress management, sleep, and more. They must consider factors such as privacy, confidentiality, reliability, and effectiveness before choosing an app that will best serve their team. The ever-changing marketplace offers countless options but consulting with a professional is recommended if employers wish to make sure they are making the safest choice possible when it comes to tackling these important issues. A knowledgeable counselor from your EAP or local mental health agency can help ensure you carefully consider all relevant matters before deciding on any particular tool or application.

With Employee Assistance Programs, many employers are concerned with the fact that utilization is usually quite low. The average engagement rate nationally ranges from 3-6%. However, research has revealed that mental health initiatives can help increase EAP participation. As such, when designing a workplace mental health initiative, ensure to link it up with your EAP plans so as to maximize success and reach more people.


Working with your EAP

Reach out to your EAP team and analyze the existing aggregate data together to evaluate whether employees are taking full advantage of EAP services for their mental health challenges. Inquire about how they measure employee engagement with their programs, as well as tracking outcomes from counseling appointments. Before starting a mental health initiative in the workplace, it’s essential to collect baseline EAP data and compare self-reported and manager referrals before and after its implementation. Doing so will help you measure the success of this important program.

All employees need to understand the worth of EAP services and that they are available. It is essential to keep reminding staff members about this invaluable resource well beyond their initial introduction to it. Leaders should emphasize how advantageous these programs can be in order for them to reap positive results.

Before taking any action, it is important to understand why employees may be hesitant to utilize EAP services for mental health and substance use conditions. – these are all common worries among individuals who might benefit from professional services but hesitate to take advantage of them.

Here are a few common explanations among individuals who might benefit from these professional services but hesitate to take advantage of them.:

  • Not knowing that help is available
  • Feeling anxious about protecting their privacy and confidentiality
  • Fear of the stigma associated with seeking assistance
  • Concern about potential repercussions at work for accessing such resources


Uncover how many counseling sessions your workers and their families are provided with and what comes afterward once those appointments have concluded. Does the EAP recommend employees to mental health specialists? Do they follow up to make sure that everyone has connected with a reputable provider of mental health care services?

Working with your health insurers

Employers have an obligation to recognize the barriers that employees often face in locating timely, quality mental health and substance use treatment. It is essential for employers to work towards eliminating these obstacles free of any stigma or judgment, allowing their staff access to secure, beneficial care.

The medical costs for those with both mental health and physical health disorders are two to three times higher when treating the underlying physical ailment. Further, individuals suffering from chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer may be more prone to depression, thus emphasizing just how critical it is to have expeditious access to appropriate mental healthcare services.

Employers can gain immense value by addressing access to care and providing timely mental health and substance use services for their employees. Doing so will result in a healthier, more productive, engaged, and higher-performing workforce.

Overcoming the following obstacles can be a struggle for employees seeking mental health care:

  • Having difficulty finding a mental health provider that is accepting new patients, accepts your insurance plan, and offers timely appointments
  • Costly co-payments when psychiatrists and other mental health professionals do not accept insurance due to minimal reimbursement rates and administrative duties associated with providing in-network care becoming more difficult
  • Dealing with the extensive hold-ups for mental health appointments due to a lack of providers
  • Accessing mental health providers from a variety of backgrounds in order to better understand and serve the unique needs of culturally and racially diverse communities, such as the LGBTQI community


Strong Leadership is Essential to Overcoming Mental Health Challenges

With the pandemic, racial and political turmoil, and economic instability in our nation today, now is the time to prioritize workplace mental health. A growing number of individuals are struggling with mental health conditions – making it essential that companies proactively address this issue. People increasingly expect their employers to provide resources for psychological well-being due to these current circumstances.

As employers, we are in a position of great power to make a positive impact on our employee’s mental health and well-being. Strong leadership is essential to cultivating and maintaining a healthy work culture. Doing so is not only the right thing to do, but it will also have numerous benefits for your business by increasing productivity and performance, attracting top talent, reducing overall healthcare costs, and creating an atmosphere that is both safe and inclusive.


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The Union Workforce Initiative is for educational, training, and awareness purposes only. This is not an Employee Assistance Program. We help build awareness within the workforces of employer/employee assistance professionals, substance abuse professionals, nurses, doctors, and other educational professionals.