Getting Insights on Employee Mental Health Starts with Organizational Culture

Dr. Joe Aller, DHA, MBA, CPA
Director, Analytics and Research, IBI

Upcoming IBI research evaluating how employees’ mental health is impacted by the pandemic begs the question - how can employers proactively gather information on potentially deteriorating mental health while promoting activities supportive of employee well-being and productivity? The major challenge is there are no standard codes for employee feelings of anxiety or depression. With no readily available way to measure employee mental health outside of a claim, employers will potentially need to rely on self-reported information acquired in a formal or informal setting.

One such study published in Front Psychiatry analyzed what circumstances and types of organizational culture would encourage employees to share health information with their manager and/or organization. Creating a welcoming environment for information exchange and sharing of personal information may help employers gather employee health concerns outside of formal claims data.

According to the analysis, having a strong leadership commitment to combatting employee feelings of associated stigma is key to effective communication. In particular, 75% of the respondents who chose to share their mental health status did so due to intrinsic factors such as having a good relationship with their manager and having a feeling of personal responsibility to share. Top reasons for not sharing included wanting to deal with the issue alone, a feeling of embarrassment, and the belief the condition would not affect their work.

This research suggests the ability to obtain personal actionable employee health information may be dependent on the employee’s personal relationship with their manager and a supportive organizational culture. This could potentially be counter to much of the training managers have had regarding maintaining professionalism, appropriate co-worker boundaries, and adhering to HIPAA protections. As we continue to look for ways to support employees through wellness and care programs to drive employee productivity, we may need to examine our current paradigm of information gathering, employee relationship management, and our level of personal engagement. The perfunctory greeting of “How are you feeling today?” may take on a whole new level of significance.

+Stay tuned for the release of our mental health research that analyzed how the pandemic and resulting work disruptions impacted employee mental health. A brief teaser is in my past blog here.