Mental Health, the Workplace and the Power of HR

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and here at SHRM we are partnering with the Campaign for Disability Employment at the Department of Labor (DOL) to spread the message that all of us have a role to play in promoting a mental-health-friendly workplace.

Together with SHRM, DOL launched the “Mental Health at Work: What Can I Do?” campaign during SHRM’s recent Workplace Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. SHRM is proud to be a partner in this effort because the HR community has a major role to play when it comes to supporting the growing number of Americans who are facing mental health challenges.

I encourage you to visit the campaign’s website, which includes valuable resources for employers in every industry. The campaign demonstrates how business leaders, managers and employees can promote well-being at work by setting an inclusive tone, providing and requesting assistance and accommodations, and being a source of support to peers and colleagues.

This issue is urgent. Americans are increasingly dealing with mental health challenges without access to care, creating a ripple effect in our workplaces, communities and households. Of the nearly 53 million U.S. adults with a mental illness, only 46 percent have received mental health services. While workers need more support from their employers, they don’t necessarily know where to turn within their organizations.

HR is the answer. HR professionals oversee mental health resources, connecting workers with support and educating people managers about supporting staff—all of which help to create a workplace culture that is mental-health-friendly.

In addition to our partnership with DOL, SHRM is sharing new research to help organizations and government officials better understand the opportunity at hand. SHRM and the SHRM Foundation collaborated with Otsuka America Pharmaceutical to complete Mental Health in America: A 2022 Workplace Report.

The report draws on the perspectives of HR professionals, shining a never-before-seen light on mental health and wellness in America. For example, about 1 in 5 (21 percent) respondents working for organizations that don't offer mental health benefits say their organizations don't have the resources, while another 21 percent of respondents believe it's too expensive to act.

Here are some highlights to consider.

The Struggle Is Real

  • The Economic Cost: The World Health Organization estimates that the global economy has lost $1 trillion due to anxiety and depression alone.
  • Workers Need More: Nonetheless, 41 percent of employees believe their organization does not offer enough help, with a lack of employer resources a stumbling block for many.
  • Employers Step Up: Nearly 78 percent of organizations currently offer workplace mental health resources or plan to offer such resources in the next year.

HR Is Part of the Solution

  • HR Speaks Up: 94 percent of HR professionals believe organizations can improve the health of employees by offering mental health programs. They point to increased productivity, employee retention and attracting new talent as additional reasons to support mental health.
  • Supervisors Step Up: Employees who are struggling with mental health challenges cite demonstrating empathy, encouraging them to take time off, and offering remote or flexible work options as the top supportive responses from their managers.
  • Team Spirit Counts: When their co-workers are aware that they are struggling with mental health challenges, employees cite demonstrating empathy and sharing mental health resources as the top supportive responses.

SHRM has stepped up its advocacy for policies that support employers in helping employees respond to mental health challenges and access mental health services. We were pleased to share this fact sheet fact sheet with members of Congress.

SHRM will also continue working to grow awareness on this issue and provide HR practitioners with the skills they need to build mental-health-friendly workplaces. This month, and every month, each of us should ask the question, “Mental Health at Work: What Can I Do?”

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