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On Employee Appreciation Day 2022, Focus on Mental Health

More than 33 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs since Spring 2021, and this wave, dubbed the “Great Resignation,” has focused the attention of workers and employers on mental wellbeing at work.

And for good reason! Research indicates that the American worker — employed or not — is feeling burned out, stressed and unappreciated, and reevaluating their work-life balance as a result. So this Employee Appreciation Day, March 4, employers are considering new ways to show appreciation by identifying and demonstrating support for employee needs.

Consulting firm WTW asked 322 employers about their concerns for 2022. While nearly 90% said mental health, stress, and burnout are a priority, most had not yet identified strategies to promoting mental health.

It all starts with empathy, building connection and listening, said Rosanna Durruthy, LinkedIn’s vice president of Global Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, in an article for Forbes. “It’s important to move from transactional conversations to ones that are inclusive of how employees are feeling on top of all that’s happening with work.”

Prevalence data suggest this is good for employees’ mental health. One in five Americans experiences a mental health or substance use disorder in any given year, and over the course of our lifespan, half of us will experience mental illness. Mental health challenges can be experienced by our co-workers, our supervisees, our management — all needing the same support, reassurance and resources that we routinely provide to colleagues with physical health concerns like COVID-19, asthma, a broken leg or cancer. Most people seek professional help for physical ailments, but in any given year, less than half of those with a mental health or substance use challenge receive professional care.

Mental wellbeing has been compromised by the pandemic: A Recovery Village survey of 2,000 U.S. workers found that 74% experienced mental health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, in January 2021. Less than six months later — May 2021 — the rate had increased to 87%. And while most reported being vaguely aware of company resources to support mental health, few made use of them, often resulting in persistent or worsening symptoms that impacted productivity and wellbeing. The good news is that people with mental health challenges are more likely to seek help if encouraged by individuals they trust, like co-workers, friends and family. As a result, many organizations are offering trainings to increase mental health literacy, increase empathy, and foster supportive conversations about mental health resources.

One option is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), introduced to the U.S. in 2008 by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. To date, there are over 2.5 million Americans trained as Mental Health First Aiders. MHFA training increases awareness of the signs of possible mental health challenges among colleagues, increases confidence in reaching out to start a conversation, boosts awareness and use of company and community resources, and adds to an overall sense of mental wellbeing.

Workplace trainings have been held across all sectors of American society, empowering workers to recognize signs of a possible mental health challenge, to interact with empathy, and to encourage resources as appropriate:

  1. A telecommunications manager said they’ll, “work harder to find ways to have informal one-on-one check-ins when our interactions are increasingly virtual.”
  2. A dental hygienist came to MHFA training to help clients fearful of dental work and left “recognizing my son’s depression for the first time.”
  3. A transit worker joined a union-sponsored training “to help my coworker with an alcohol addiction,” and left saying, “I feel more comfortable talking with my colleague, but I also know I’ll never look at the people who step onto my bus the same way again.”

“Using these tools doesn’t take more time out of my day,” said a manufacturing line supervisor, “It makes me more effective and our team more productive by showing appreciation for my staff every day.”

Turnover contagion describes the ripple effect of resignations. When one employee quits because they feel burned out, stressed and isolated, their resignation can trigger a wave of resignations. But empowering workers with tools to support mental health can lead to wellness contagion, the ripple effect of employees feeling supported and supporting one another. When one worker reaches out to a co-worker who is facing a mental health challenge, others will too. Over the past two years, we’ve learned much about viral infections and how to protect physical health. Employee Appreciation Day 2022 marks an imperative to include greater focus on mental wellbeing, helping all employees — and businesses — thrive.

For a MHFA training tailored to your workplace, check out MHFA At Work, a mental health training program that teaches participants how to notice and support an individual who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use concern or crisis in a work environment and connect them with appropriate employee and community resources. MHFA at Work is a skills-based, experiential and evidence-based practice. To bring MHFA at Work to your organization, visit MHFA.org or email MHFAatWork@thenationalcouncil.org.

Find an MHFA Instructor to bring to your organization.

 

References

Perna, M.C. (2022, February 22). Employee Appreciation Day is March 4. Here’s how people want to be thanked. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/02/22/employee-appreciation-day-is-march-4-heres-how-people-want-to-be-thanked

The Recovery Village. (2021, June 21). Workers’ mental health is getting worse, not better, in 2021. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/professionals/blog/workers-mental-health-getting-worse-2021/

Valerie English Cooper is a biochemist with a long career in medical communications. A National Trainer for the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, she trains and certifies Mental Health First Aid Instructors throughout the U.S. She is also a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, certifying First Aiders for businesses, schools, and organizations primarily in Northeastern U.S.

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