Whenever the topic of mental health and self care comes up in the startup realm, everyone is adamant that change needs to occur but it rarely does. After speaking at AirCall recently, the ongoing question continues to ‘Why are we not integrating mental health and wellness initiatives as standard best practices for HR in startups?’
What are the roadblocks for HR professionals and C-Suite leadership to create alignment between mental health services and wellness?
I love, live, work, thrive, and stumble personally with depression and anxiety. I talk about this openly and work to bring the term Invisible Disability to the forefront of the mental health and wellness conversation. I partner with other organizations like Diversability to “rebrand disability through the power of community”. The more we talk, share, and interact with empathy in our workplaces the more we can break down the stigma around mental health (especially in the workplace).
The cost of healthcare in the United States is high. The cost of mental healthcare even higher. According to the American Psychological Associate in 2013 the estimated out of pocket expense for mental health and substance abuse was $187.8 billion. As the graph below indicates, “21% of respondents…did not receive needed mental health care…”
There are also additional costs for businesses around mental health. As of 1993, “serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.” If startups are thinking about the bottom line, then it should be clear that there is a dramatic problem with mental health and productivity. Some organizations are joining the conversation and adding mental health benefits, but often offerings are at larger companies rather than startups.
Time and time again, when mentioning my personal experiences with depression, I can visibly see someone take a step back as if I’m contagious. A study in 2014 reported by NPR found that “people’s willingness to interact with someone with a given disorder was best predicted by their belief about the communicability of that disorder, with other beliefs — about, for instance, the disorder’s psychological basis and the extent to which an individual can control the symptoms she displays — playing a much smaller role.”
This means that the belief that mental illness (et al) is communicable directly affects the behavior of others and people’s willingness to interact.
Fear drives the dynamic of interaction when it comes to mental health. For me, this is the same fear that drives intolerance around diversity, inclusion, and equity in the workplace. This is the same fear that has people wanting to build walls (physical and emotional).
So should a startup do with this information?
Think about implementing long term mental health benefits for your employees. Play the long game for company success with your people as the key part of a thriving organization. There is no one right ‘one size fits all’ for mental health resources in the workplace — so implement and iterate.
- Use technology and other startups as part of your benefits package (think headspace, hello kip, and talkspace, etc.)
- Offer coaching and introductions to communities that allow employees to connect offline (think Dreamers // Doers, Out in Tech, and Tech Ladies, etc.)
- Create (or join) something like an Investor Pledge to increase awareness of and work to de-stigmatize mental health
- Find the right kind of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that works for your organization
- Cover some of the monthly Healthcare coverage cost for your employees; try to offer multiple plans to ensure everyone can find one that works for them
- Train your managers. Train your employees. Create the leadership that you want rather than waiting for it to arrive on its own
- If you’re not sure the People Ops team has capacity to create or run programs, enlist outside help (like The Rise Journey)
- Create safe, quiet places for employees to take a moment out of the day; encourage getting out of the office to clear one’s head; think about alternative workspaces such as standing desks or chairs that are better for the body and mind
- Provide paid policies for parents, family, domestic issues, etc.
- Gym memberships and other physical wellness programs both on and off site
Jes Osrow is the Director of People and Culture at TodayTix and the co-founder of The Rise Journey. She is available to speak and provide workshops on topics such as mental health in the workplace, invisible disabilities, imposter syndrome, talent development, and more.
Check out more at www.josrow.com/speaker