Does your organization prioritize mental health? A report, ‘Women in the Workplace’, produced from a recent study by Mc Kinsey and LeanIn.org found that women, especially during the present hardships induced by the Covid pandemic, were facing extreme workplace challenges. The report highlighted that workplace stresses prompted many women to contemplate quitting work.
Working women are expected to balance multiple roles, both at work and at home, which is a cause of increased levels of anxiety and stress.
A Cigna study indicated that 87% of women between the ages of 35 and 49 who have to care for children or elderly parents are stressed out at the workplace. The likelihood that working mothers will worry that their role as caregivers will attract negative reviews is twice that of fathers. The McKinsey and LeanIn.org study also showed that 39% of women in senior roles report feeling burnt out, compared to 28% of men.
A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2019, revealed that while mental illness occurs at nearly the same rate in men and women, the patterns are quite different for women. Women face gender-related violence, income inequality, and gender discrimination in many areas of their everyday life, making them more prone to depression, anxiety, and other mental health troubles.
What can employers do to support their women employees’ mental health? Employers can support women’s mental health by focusing on and moving women’s mental well-being centre stage. Here are five steps that employers can take to improve women’s mental well being:
Reassess workplace practices:Hybrid work practices and work-from-home norms require employees to always remain ‘connected’. For working mothers, this is especially difficult. The McKinsey and LeanIn.org study also showed that among working mothers, 50% of respondents with children believe that a return to working from the office will negatively affect their mental health.
Employers can mitigate such feelings by aiding work-life balance and allowing continued flexible work arrangements. This is best done by leaders setting a personal example by themselves prioritizing work-life balance and by opting for flexible work arrangements.
Enhance mental health support:Women in senior positions are more prone to feeling burnt out. Employers should engage the services of mental health experts for the benefit of their staff. Trained mental health experts can provide quality and gender-specific mental health advice specific to the workplace. Such advice can even be provided via digital or virtual modes.
Prioritize mental health in the workplace:Another McKinsey survey, conducted among employers in the US, revealed that only 31% of employers emphasized access to mental health. In emerging economies, the focus amongst employers on mental health is likely to be lower.
Leaders need to reiterate their commitment to employee mental health and back this stated commitment with visible action. Moreover, employees should also feel comfortable seeking mental health support. Additionally, similar to annual assessments of physical health, organizations should initiate periodic assessments of employees’ mental health.
Increase awareness of available resources:Many times, employees are unaware of the availability of the available mental health resources in the organization. In the US, 75% of large employers, and 50% of small employers provide at least one mental health resource (e.g. Employee Assistance Program(EAP)). However, the utilization of the provided resources is low. Employers need to expand the availability of mental health resources and increase awareness of their availability with appropriate communication.
Senior leaders – especially women leaders, should talk about the available resources and share their experience of using the resources. Senior women leaders talking about using mental health resources encourages more women to seek help. It helps eliminate perceptions that seeking mental health help is unprofessional or a sign of weakness. Former US First Lady, Michelle Obama was right when she said, “Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it. But that simply doesn’t make any sense.” Employers must guard against their organizations from falling into this trap.
Institute metrics to assess progress and results: Organizations should determine metrics that can assess the utilization of mental health resources and the desired outcomes. Employees’ satisfaction levels and the extent of the benefit derived by the employees need to be measured. Aggregated mental health claims data among women employees, can be a useful metric to measure progress and outcomes of the instituted mental health wellness measures. Special emphasis needs to be laid on such assessments for working mothers, who are likely to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety.
Improving women employees’ mental wellbeing requires sustained and concerted effort. Business leaders need to recognize that the mental health of women employees is key to their greater engagement in the workplace and improving their workplace productivity. Improving women’s mental health will have an outsized impact on overall business success.
Specialized HR services firms such as YOMA provide expert staffing and HR services for organizations. YOMA is a part of the BYLD group that specializes in leadership development and assessment services.
Reference links: YOMA’s website