Employee mental health: A moral and economic imperative for organizations

Project Healthy Minds execs discussed pathways for employers to mental health care at PRDecoded.

Employee mental health: A moral and economic imperative for organizations

There’s no question the world is in a mental health crisis. 

More than 615 million people worldwide, including 65 million Americans, live with a mental health condition and studies estimate the pandemic’s impact could increase this number by 50%. Young people, especially women and the LGBT community, are especially at risk. 

As employers assess the future of their organizations, including how to meet new expectations from talent, supporting mental health should be front and center as a moral and business imperative, experts point out. 

At PRWeek’s virtual conference PRDecoded, Brian Offutt, chief workforce innovation and operations officer at Weber Shandwick, led a discussion with Lisa Licht, marketing advisor for Project Healthy Minds and Phillip Schermer, founder and CEO of Project Healthy Minds, about the state of the mental health crisis, the impact of mental health on business and the role of organizations in providing access to support.

A recent Weber Shandwick survey of American employees found that 58% are worried about their mental health. Most employees believe their employers are a constructive force to address major societal issues. While 83% cite mental health as a top issue, only a third of those employees somewhat agree that their employer is providing resources to manage their mental health and wellness.

“You have a younger generation, getting older at work and demanding a new set of obligations from their employers when it comes to mental health,” said Schermer. “What people my age today demand is a whole new agenda around mental health.”

That’s why Project Healthy Minds, inspired by the impact of Logic’s song featuring the suicide hotline number, is working to create user-friendly digital pathways to care. This includes partnering with public figures to reduce the stigma of mental health and helping companies step up and care for the mental health of their people in the most effective ways.

“I don’t think you can talk to a single person under the age of 35 today who is not saying that mental health is one of the most urgent issues that they see, that they face, that their friends and their families face,” said Schermer. The fact that 86% of millennials and Gen Zers say mental health is as important or more important to them than their physical health has profound implications. “It changes who we decide to work for, who we decide to consume from and who we decide to vote for.”

To continue to reach employees and customers, brands will have to play a role in advancing this issue. 

“In marketing, we’ve spent the past several years talking about brand purpose and what a focus that needs to be for each company because social media has made it so that you can be canceled at any time,” explained Licht. “What companies are doing to better the world is key. But they’re going to need to put their money where their mouth is and really support their employees. You’re going to see more and more brands communicating, like Cameo, Slack and Lululemon, what they are doing for their customers as well as their employees.”

“Corporations historically have done very little on mental health,” said Schermer. “Mental health costs businesses a trillion dollars each year in lost productivity. So the economic return on investment is quite high. And the audience you’re serving, your own employees, is a key stakeholder. There is this really interesting opportunity for companies to take a stand, both internally and externally.”

“If they’re not doing it, they need to be, and they’re just not paying attention,” added Licht. “But inevitably they must have a productive workforce to stay successful in business.”

To do so, leaders will need to engage in honest mental health conversations. “It’s imperative that leaders talk about their own mental health journey and what they’re doing to stay healthy in all aspects, not just physically,” stressed Licht.

“I would encourage you, even if you're not in a leadership role, to not underestimate the power of your own voice in sharing your own experience and leading with vulnerability, because what you find statistically is one-fourth of the people in that room have at least a personal connection to the issue,” concluded Schermer.

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