Mental Health Requires More Than Time Off


mental health requires more than time offIf recent years have taught us anything, it’s that the business environment is ever-changing, and the ability to keep up depends on your ability to adapt and continuing to gain new expertise. But that’s not just about the latest technology or the smartest methodologies. These days, it also includes greater understanding of workers’ needs—including when it comes to their mental health.

Far beyond working through challenges such as anxiety, depression or disorders, there is an increasing awareness that promoting mental wellness can boost productivity, help with hiring and retention and improve a company’s overall culture. That impacts the bottom line. Here’s the hitch: It means more than just giving people time off.

According to Lyra, a leading provider of mental health benefits, 970 million people are living with mental health issues. In its recent 2023 State of Workforce Mental Health report, Lyra found that:

  1. most workers face mental health struggles but, for myriad reasons, many don’t get help;
  2. many employees struggle to get the right care;
  3. more people are discussing mental health at work, propelling a culture shift;
  4. managers lack mental health resources; and
  5. employees are stressed and burned out, signaling a need for better work design.

In some ways, the supply chain industry is unique. Labor shortages, increasing customer demands for speed and accuracy, geopolitical impact, lack of materials and sustainability challenges are a start. In addition, at a time when many in other industries are choosing work-from-home options for greater flexibility and work-life balance, supply chain roles within a facility or on the road can’t always accommodate that choice. Someone has to keep things going at the warehouse and drive the truck—even as peers in the same company might be able to log in from their living rooms. “You have to be conscious about where you may be able to give flexibility,” said Brenda Stoltz, senior managing director at MHI member Alpine Supply Chain Solutions. Otherwise, it may not be seen as equitable or fair. “There’s still the pressure to show up.”

For those who do still show up, there can be uncertainty about that adoption of automation, robotics and even use of AI and the impact on their jobs. Here, said Stoltz—whose consultancy helps clients solve complex challenges in a variety of areas, from warehouse consulting and supply chain systems to HR—workers can fall into one of two camps: “really excited or terrified.”

There can also be a great divide between senior leadership and individual contributors, with a lack of awareness of what the day-to-day for a supply chain worker is really like. Engaged and effective frontline supervisors are key. In addition, Stoltz said, all-hands meetings can help—but not if they get pushed aside or rescheduled for things that feel more “urgent.”

The Amazon effect is real, and the pressure for efficiency continues to increase. Orders come in, and they have to go out. “You don’t have a lot of time to react to it,” she said. “It’s all very real-time. With other industries, forecasting might be able to help. The supply chain is getting better. There are different technologies, and you do see similar patterns across holidays or what people consider their peaks. But there’s still very large variation between what’s forecast and what actually comes in. And with current labor challenges, you have to deliver more than what you’re appropriately staffed for. That can be stressful for everyone.”

Even given all the differences, there are also similarities between supply chain and other industries. And as knowledge, awareness and strategies are developed in the realm of mental health, many are applicable here, too. Employee mental health benefits, for example, are becoming increasingly common, and range in services and costs. In addition to Lyra, there’s also Calm, BetterUp, Talkspace, Spring Health, Headspace, Burnalong, LifeSpeak, Wysa and a host of others offering help in this area.

These offerings are no longer just a “nice-to-have;” the 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, from Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics and ServiceNow found that 91% of job seekers believed that a company’s culture should support mental health. Further, as reported by Forbes, “new talent (Gen Z), the current largest generation in the workforce (Millennials), and historically underrepresented groups like LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents were all more likely to express these sentiments.”

Leadership, meanwhile, might not quantify their efforts as “mental health.” But they’re increasingly realizing, Stoltz said, that there’s a lot that can be done to help provide a healthy work environment. “I see companies understanding they need to provide training for leadership to be able to carry these conversations. We’re doing training for a couple of organizations that want their leaders to know how to have better relationships, how to have open and honest communications and how to grow their emotional intelligence skills.”

The lines between professional and personal lives are increasingly blurred, she continued, and social media and digital communications can make it even harder to truly get away from work.

“This makes things more challenging,” she said. “The biggest difference I see is just in acknowledging that our world is different, and in having the right policies and procedures in place, rather than just saying, ‘Take a couple of days off and don’t worry about it.’… It really is more about how to support people while they’re at work, so that they take time off to enjoy it and not because they feel the need to recover.”

Opening Up the Conversation

COVID helped bring talk about mental health to the forefront. In the first year of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%. In addition, a variety of Pew Research Center surveys between March 2020 and September 2022 showed that at least 41% of adults in the United States experienced high levels of psychological distress at some point during the pandemic.

Historically, however, workers wouldn’t necessarily discuss these things at work. They might have feared being judged, stigmatized, marginalized, misunderstood or even let go. In addition, without proper training and awareness of options, managers might have felt inadequate or unable to help, even if they wanted to.