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Four ways employers can prioritise mental health right now

We are facing a mental health crisis. As employers, the role we play in supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of our employee population has never been greater. Holly May shares actionable ways employers can drive positive change and mental wellbeing within their organizations.

According to the 2023 State of Mental Health in America Report from Mental Health America (MHA), 21% of adults are experiencing a mental illness – equating to more than 50 million Americans. Additionally, MHA reported that as of June 2022, more than 152 million people lived in mental health workforce shortage areas and only 28% of the need in these areas was being met by mental health providers, meaning that there are not enough mental health workers to meet the country’s mental health needs.

As employers, we can’t turn a blind eye to the mental health crisis facing our nation. We have a responsibility to support the mental health and wellbeing of our employees — after all, they are our most valuable asset.   When employees are healthy and happy, they are more productive and engaged, leading to better outcomes for everyone. In fact, for every dollar invested in scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a four-dollar return on investment in improved health and productivity.

Here are four ways employers can prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of their team members starting today:

Develop and implement policies and practices that prioritize mental health and wellbeing for team members as well as their immediate families. Caring for your team members as whole people means investing in initiatives that go beyond their time in the workplace, to provide both the personal and professional support they need. At Walgreens, our resources are available to our team members and their immediate family members – including up to five free mental health and counseling visits (virtual or in-person) per issue as well as online tools to help with childcare/eldercare, stress and depression management, crisis management, divorce/separation, legal support and more.

Model inclusive behavior, starting at the top. You cannot truly give team members permission to show up to work as their full, authentic selves if you don’t do the same. As leaders, it’s critical to encourage an open dialogue and reinforce a workplace culture that is defined by authenticity and compassion – fostering an environment where team members feel safe, supported and respected for being their “authentic selves.” This builds connection, relationships and most importantly trust.

We need to allow ourselves and our teams to be “whole people” at work, sharing both our personal and professional sides and leaning in to vulnerability. This is a powerful tool, and once you start leveraging vulnerability to build trust and form connections with team members, it will become a consistent practice that creates a safe space for team members to share their feelings or concerns.

Solicit feedback from team members – and really listen. The biggest key to understanding what your team members need is to listen. Just because a program or offering is successful in one company doesn’t necessarily mean it will fit the needs of your workforce. There is no “one size fits all.” Understand what your team members need and deliver it in an effective way. For us, our team members shared they wanted options of live, on-demand, customizable support, which is one reason we expanded our resources and introduced our Be Well Connected program, which has a trio of platforms.

We’ve been blown away by the engagement by our team members. To date, nearly 60% of Walgreens’ approximately 240,000 employees have downloaded or engaged with the Journey Live health and wellness app, and more than 80% of these team members are active users on the platform today. We’ve also worked with our partner, Journey Live, to further expand our content, launching a wellness series tailored for pharmacists and a new series for caregivers of children with special needs. We’re continually listening to our team members to understand how we can best support their health and wellbeing.

Take advantage of free resources. Just last year, as part of Walgreens’ longstanding partnership with MHA, we released our first-ever Workplace Mental Health Toolkit, subtitled Creating a Culture of Support and Well-being, giving employers of all industries and sizes the tools, resources, best practices and actionable steps to foster a healthy and productive workforce – completely free of charge. From teaching managers about emotional intelligence to educating your workforce about available resources, there are ways to support and improve the mental health of your organization’s people, no matter if you have 20 or 200,000 employees.

Every organization is impacted in some way by the mental health crisis in America. As an employer, prioritizing a work culture that truly listens and responds to employees’ needs will not only have an impact on employee health but also on business outcomes and reputation. As a leader, take the time to understand how and when you can support team members authentically. Actions taken across all levels today can help drive positive change and mental wellbeing within your organization.

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