Workplace Wellbeing

Gaining a Competitive Edge: How HR Leaders Can Become Mental Health Advocates Across Industries

Transform workplace culture and drive organizational excellence by advocating for mental health support tailored to your industry's unique needs.

Written by
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Jess Maynard
Clinically reviewed by
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Four employees sit around a meeting table discussing work

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    There’s a new paradigm at the heart of work: the success of an organization goes hand in hand with the well-being of its people. Employees who are mentally healthy, supported, and present in the workplace can contribute more to their teams, become more empathetic and effective leaders, and improve collaboration and innovation.

    HR leaders spearhead this philosophical shift, shaping workplace culture as advocates for employee mental health.

    However, the unique challenges and stressors employees experience vary across industries—from high-pressure corporate roles to physically demanding frontline jobs. But the same imperative remains: cultivating a culture of well-being.

    Mental health is a common thread across industries

    Employees in every industry experience unique working conditions and environments, which impact mental health in different ways. Although every industry is unique, research and surveys show mental health struggles are surprisingly consistent.

    This highlights the widespread prevalence of employees struggling with mental health issues globally. For example:

    • A report published by a collaboration of international health organizations found that at least a quarter of health and care workers surveyed globally have experienced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout
    • A large majority (83%) of finance employees have considered changing jobs due to the impact of work on their mental health
    • Manufacturing industry claims data shows 8.6% of all workers suffer from anxiety or insomnia
    • The food and beverage industry ranks the highest of any industry for substance use

    In light of these mental health trends, it’s clear mental health plays a vital role in both individual and organizational health.

    HR leaders are at the forefront of workplace mental health

    More employees are seeking mental health support and well-being resources at work, as many employers recognize the importance of sustaining a mentally healthy workforce. 

    But here's where it can get complex for HR leaders—no matter the industry, they're implementing mental health solutions for diverse employee populations with varying needs. So, how can they understand and cater to those unique needs?

    There are multiple avenues for effective advocacy:

    • Implementing a comprehensive mental health solution that uses data to identify trends and patterns related to mental health challenges in the workplace
    • Measuring the impact of existing mental health initiatives and programs
    • Implementing preventative measures to address mental health issues before they escalate
    • Tailoring support services and accommodations to meet the specific needs of an employee populations
    • Leading the way in promoting mental health education and awareness in the workplace
    • Staying updated about mental health research, benefit effectiveness, and best practices

    Now, let’s turn to the healthcare and manufacturing industries for examples of mental health best practices, and explore how implementing a comprehensive mental health solution impacts organizations and individuals.

    Best practices in healthcare

    Mental health is a fundamental concern in every industry, and yet workers experience mental health challenges arising from the particularities of their workplace and industry. 

    In healthcare, for example, employees often deal with high-stress situations, long shifts, and exposure to traumatic events. So, let’s consider a couple of best practices for healthcare industries as part of a comprehensive mental health solution:

    • Proactive outreach. For high-risk individuals working in healthcare experiencing suicidal ideation, or who seek help with substance-related challenges, licensed clinicians acting as care navigators can initiate contact.
    • On-site mental health programs. In high-stress work environments like hospitals, these can include custom workflows for manager consultations, critical incident support, and escalations.

    Best practices in frontline

    Within frontline industries such as manufacturing, many employees experience long hours in physically draining jobs, have high rates of substance use, and may encounter significant stigma around discussing mental health.

    In light of these conditions, best practices might entail:

    • Normalizing therapy for male employees. Due to the high levels of mental health stigma that exist in many male-dominated frontline industries, messaging featuring sleep and stress-related support is most effective to get them in the door.
    • Substance use support. To combat the high rate of substance use among frontline workers, use measurement-based care with longitudinal support for alcohol and drug use—solving for late detection, lack of precision, and little personalization.

    The benefits of mental health support: no need to compromise

    Many HR leaders are likely struggling to control benefit spending while ensuring employees have quality mental healthcare. Investing in employee well-being improves the lives of employees while also increasing productivity, lowering health spend, and decreasing turnover.

    Here are some real-world, industry-specific examples from Spring Health members that illustrate the benefits of investing in comprehensive mental health support.

    Results of comprehensive mental health support in healthcare

    On average, Spring Health’s healthcare customers are experiencing these results  from implementing a comprehensive EAP:

    • 60% reduction in employee turnover
    • 80% report improving depression symptoms within 2.35 sessions
    • 70% report improving anxiety symptoms within 2.53 sessions
    • $6,256 savings per employee per year from increased productivity
    • 3.2 hours of lost productivity recovered per week due to faster improvements in employee mental health

    Results of comprehensive mental health support in frontline

    On average, Spring Health’s frontline customers are experiencing these results from  implementing a comprehensive EAP:

    • $6,000 in savings per employee per year
    • 50% less likely to leave their job
    • 42% report improvements in depression symptoms
    • 25% reduction in absenteeism
    • 82% of employees with suicide ideation and intent supported
    • 28% of employees enrolled within 14 months of launch
    • Recovery of 3.4 hours of lost productivity per week, 176.8 hours recovered per year

    The business case for prioritizing mental health

    Historically, there’s been an understanding that spending on mental healthcare drives up health costs. Although this perception has changed, we are living through a period of high inflation. As healthcare costs rise, there’s also high demand for access to mental healthcare.

    Where does this leave us? Perhaps counterintuitively, with a strong business case for investing in mental healthcare as a way to lower costs.

    Untreated mental health conditions are proven to raise overall medical spend. Medical expenses are two to three times higher for individuals with diabetes, cancer, or a heart condition if they also have a mental health condition.

    In a recent, major study on this issue, research showed a small group of high-cost individuals are responsible for a significant percentage of total healthcare costs. Many of these individuals had minimal or zero mental health-specific treatment.

    Strategic resource allocation is part of mental health advocacy

    With rising healthcare costs and inflation, HR leaders may feel constrained when funding mental health benefits alongside other priorities. Resources are limited, so data can help pinpoint the highest priority needs for a workforce.

    It might seem intuitive to think a one-size-fits-all mental health initiative would be most efficient. But the reality is, within any employee population, certain subgroups likely need more targeted support.

    For example, employee data from a comprehensive EAP might reveal female retail employees over 50 at a specific location are struggling with anxiety or depression. With tight budgets, digging into those nuances allows HR leaders to allocate resources most effectively for maximum impact.

    Improving lives and strengthening organizations

    Workplace leaders are keyed into the importance of investing in quality mental healthcare. However, employees expect more than just a benefits checklist. They want solutions specific to the challenges they face at work. This shift is happening across the board, which is heartening, given how much people invest in their jobs.

    In the midst of such progress, many HR leaders are stepping up into the role of mental health advocates for employees, ensuring they are getting quality care that addresses the specific challenges experienced in their workplace.

    By taking a precision approach, organizations satisfy two key goals: providing top-tier mental healthcare to employees and getting a validated return on investment. It's a win-win, allowing organizations to support their people more effectively.

    Support employee well-being and strengthen your organization through industry-specific insights and proven mental health strategies with Your Ultimate Guide to Workplace Mental Health.  

    About the Author
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    Jess Maynard

    Jess is a seasoned writer who has completed graduate work in women’s studies. She also works at a domestic violence shelter facilitating support groups for children and teens. Jess follows her curiosity devoutly and is committed to using her accumulated knowledge and life experiences to articulate facets of being human.

    About the clinical reviewer
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