The subject of diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, has been top-of-mind for many business leaders since the pandemic. Organizations large and small are investing in DEI initiatives and are having open dialogues about misses and opportunities. However, mental health at work is often separate from the DEI banner, and leaders should be asking, “Why?”
With an estimated 15% of working adults experiencing mental health disorders, those struggling with mental health make up a decent portion of the workforce. You likely have employees who have faced mental health challenges or are facing them now, and you might not even know.
While an employee’s mental health is their business, your business can offer support, acceptance, and resources. In fact, mental health initiatives may be the key to improving employee satisfaction and organizational outcomes. And the best way to prioritize these values may just be within your organization’s DEI program.
1. Mental Health Impacts Everyone
There are very few factors that connect colleagues across job function, status, and socioeconomic background. However, the mental health of your employees means common ground. While the needs of each individual will differ, the importance of acknowledging employee mental health reaches everyone.
Organizational culture expert and kindness catalyst Marissa Andrada challenges leaders to think about diversity as more than gender or ethnicity. “Diversity and inclusion is rooted in the practice of inspiring people to feel confident in bringing exactly who they are to the table. Overlooking the potential and value of individuality defeats the purpose of building a company culture with diversity at its core.”
Mental health is a factor that surpasses statistical markers and ultimately influences company culture, brand, and collaboration. However, an investment in DEI resulting in employees feeling accepted, safe, and empowered can provide opportunities and benefits for both employees and employers equitably.
2. Workplace Productivity Hinges on Mental Health
Likely the greatest motivator behind organizational initiatives is the prospect of improving employee productivity. While we’ve shifted from some mass-manufacturing tenets like quotas and subsequent penalties, modern work takes a toll in other ways.
Western culture’s “always on” work mode and technology connectivity equates to fewer if any, boundaries between work and life. The American Psychological Association found that three out of five employees have felt the negative effects of work-related stress.
The survey respondents agreed that several employer-initiated actions could improve the psychological health of their workplaces. Flexible hours, encouragement to take time off and mid-day breaks, in addition to tangible upgrades in pay and resources, are a few examples. Speaking to the importance of these initiatives, 37% of respondents cited mental health resources as a specific desire in their workplaces.
Psychological well-being has been identified as the biggest predictor of self-identified productivity. When employees are supported and feel safe, they can focus and offer creative, innovative solutions to your team’s biggest problems. Companies refusing to change risk key talent loss and unrealized potential, and set off a negative ripple effect that’s hard to recoup.
3. A Healthy, Diverse Workforce Requires Mental Health Support
Organizations claiming to strive for a diverse workforce must pay attention to the long-term impacts of non-inclusive environments. Microaggressions, unconscious bias, and overall lack of representation find themselves completely embedded in work culture. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring with them their experiences throughout their working life, all of which compound into their careers.
Change isn’t going to happen overnight, but a commitment to learning, unpacking biases, and making measured progress will. A McKinsey & Company survey found that organizations lacking a reputation of inclusion loses up to 39% of job candidates. Ignoring the whole picture of diversity can yield devastating results long-term. This means company leadership, boards, and peers need engagement in DEI. Structured training may be the beginning, but initiating meaningful conversations followed by tactile actions and resources solidifies results.
Collaboration with your organization’s employee engagement team or a consultant can help determine where you are today. Through anonymous surveys, leadership teams can level-set their workforce’s experiences with mental health and diversity. Together, goals can be set, progress can be measured, and results can be realized. Develop checkpoints to determine your initiatives’ effectiveness and adjust as results necessitate to ensure your program meets your employees’ needs.
4. Colleagues Living with Mental Illnesses Face Challenges Deserving of DEI Support
Although the first groups that often prioritize with DEI programs and initiatives focus on race and gender, remember that mental illnesses are disabilities. While many mental illnesses may not be immediately recognizable, and often can be undetectable, they’re not to be ignored.
Aside from their protected class through the Americans With Disabilities Act, supporting those with mental illness needs is the right thing to do. Just as you’d upgrade systems and workspaces for other varying abilities, so too should your organization consider mental health needs. Individuals with disabilities are proportionately more impacted by work-related stress than their peers to the tune of 71% vs. 41%.
Life with a disability can compound the otherwise “usual” stresses of day-to-day living. And, when paired with another diversity factor, mental illness can further influence one’s stressors at work. Add in individualized treatment, appointments, and accommodations to manage their diagnosis, workloads, and flexibility needs can compress. However, with mental health wrapped in their company’s DEI program, colleagues can be confident that they’re seen, heard, and on their way to being understood.
Cultivate a Work Culture of Safety, Security, and Empowerment
Today, DEI is a program, but in the future, it can be a normal component of an organization’s structure. When employers see, hear, and acknowledge their employees, then the employees bring their best selves to their work. Lead with authenticity and always put your people first. Then, you begin a cultural transformation where every employee feels valued, respected, and able to bring their authentic selves to work.