United Way’s new mental health guide aims to help employers keep workers happy, healthy

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – A good job can be good for mental health, leaving employees feeling like valued members of their communities. But workplaces can be detrimental to mental health, too, according to data from the World Health Organization.

Data from United Way shows that one in five American adults experience some form of mental illness. If it’s not a result of work, it can lead to poor workplace performance. Studies also show that 87% of American adults think that employers taking action to address mental health concerns would help them. That’s why the United Way of Northwestern Vermont has developed an employer guide to supporting employee mental health.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic came the “great resignation” as American employees searched for jobs that offer better benefits and a better quality of life. One of those benefits is mental health care.

“We focus on physical health of our employees a great deal, and so one of the drivers of this toolkit is to help our communities and our workplaces, which are communities, to see that our physical health is as important as our mental health,” said Connie Beal, the United Way’s Working Bridges initiative director.

Working Bridges is a partnership with local employers seeking to improve employee retention and advancement.

In talking with local employers, Beal has heard repeatedly about the increased need in addressing mental health.

“I think just increased need for mental health providers, mental health supports… and also understanding and information about mental health employer benefits that can support employees in their workplace,” Beal said.

A newly released mental health toolkit seeks to give employers the know-how. It’s called “An Employer Guide to Supporting Employee Mental Health.”

The comprehensive resource details ways for workplaces to foster an understanding of benefits, improve culture and provide a supportive and inclusive work environment.

“And so we know that the need is there, and really this just increases our community of support, right? If we can find the communities in the workplace to support people that need connection to mental health,” Beal said.

Some of the major takeaways– reducing the stigma around conversations pertaining to mental health and encouraging employers to explore benefits to help mental health, like adopting mental health days.

If the desire to provide a better workplace isn’t enough of a reason to hop on board, there’s an economic factor, too, according to the United Way.

“One of the reasons employers are really looking at this is recognizing the annual cost of days lost per employee due to mental distress is estimated to be about $5,000. There’s a business case as to why we want to support people and make sure they can be at work safely,” Beal said.

Beal says so far, the guide seems to be welcomed by their partner businesses. And with one in five American adults dealing with mental illness, Beal says employees have come to expect help from employers.

The 15-page guide is available for free online to anyone who would like it.

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