By Alison Nelson, Employee Benefits Account Manager
In case you couldn’t tell from this article I wrote last year, mental health is something I am very passionate about. I aspire to contribute to the destigmatization of mental health, especially in the workplace, in whatever capacity I can. When I recently read this article stating that only 19% of employees used their mental health benefits in 2022, I was saddened, but not shocked by that statistic. The article goes on to say:
“A new report by One Medical and Workplace Intelligence, which surveyed 800 employees and 800 human resources (HR) professionals, found that, not only did over nine in 10 (91%) employees tell surveyors mental health was negatively impacting their productivity, but the usage of benefit offerings already in place by employees was extremely low. Less than a fifth (19%) of employees said they used their mental health care benefits in 2022.”
Why don’t employees utilize their mental health benefits? According to Business Wire, it may be because employees undervalue their mental health and tend to reserve benefits for more urgent needs. In other words, people tend to prioritize their physical health over their mental health. I hypothesize that this is, in part, due to the differentiation between physical healthcare and mental healthcare. They are often discussed as two completely different disciplines, but, in truth, mental health IS health.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, “one in three people with a long-term physical health condition also has a mental health problem, most often depression or anxiety.” Physical health and mental health are two sides of the same coin and should be treated as such. If an employee can call out sick when they have the flu, they should also be able to call out sick due to an anxiety attack.
Employees should be able to take mental health days, and one way an employer can encourage that is by implementing a separate mental health policy. Having a separate bucket of mental health days can help encourage employees to recharge without forcing them to choose between taking a day or powering through a panic attack, just in case they spike a fever and need a sick day down the road.
This survey conducted by Breeze in 2022 indicates a number of interesting things, but most notably:
- 63% of employees have taken a mental health day in the last year
- Nearly half of all people who took a mental health day fibbed to their employer on why they needed the day off out of fear of being judged
- 50% of employees left their jobs in 2021 for mental health reasons, including 68% of millennials and 81% of Gen-Z
Adding a mental health policy to your business’ employee offerings is a great way to support employees and show that you care about their entire wellbeing. There is also the additional benefit that employees who take mental health days are less stressed, which results in long-term productivity. No one should feel embarrassed about taking a mental health day. Having a specific policy in place for mental health is a step in the right direction to end the stigma. Here is a great article that lists some other ways employers can implement a mental health policy to support employees and end the stigma. Remember, mental health IS health.