What is a mental health ERG?
Let’s start with what an employee resource group or ERG is. Employee resource groups are voluntary, employee-led initiatives where group members come together to raise awareness and provide solutions around an issue. Leading companies have been doing them for a while, but typically until now they have been focused on diversity, equality and inclusion or sustainability, but there is a growing move to organisations having mental health employee resources groups that help contribute towards personal and workplace mental health.
ERGs are needed as part of a broader mental health strategy so that the many mental health challenges that people are facing can be addressed. Our latest report, All Worked Up, found that the number of people with mental health conditions is much higher than we thought. A third of employees are experiencing moderate to severe anxiety or depression – twice the reported prevalence. Additionally, our Employee Mental Health Report, with data drawn from over 150,000 conversations that 11,300 employees across 60 countries had with Wysa, found that over 33% of employees globally reported feeling ‘not okay’ at the start of the workday– and this number kept going up throughout the workday, reaching its peak at 40% towards the end of the workday. All in all, 75% of employees reported low to moderate energy on average throughout the day. During the workday, a high percentage of employees are expressing feelings of stress (36%) and sadness (38%). It’s clear something has to be done and we need to incorporate mental health into a much broader strategy.
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How to set up a mental health ERG
- For impactful mental health ERGs first, you need to look at the current situation. Are your employees speaking about mental health, or is it a subject that doesn’t get any priority or air time? Is there stigma related to mental health in the workplace? Are you in an organisation that prides itself on open communication, or are people discouraged from speaking up? Do you offer mental health benefits? Are people comfortable speaking to legal and HR teams if necessary? And what kind of examples are your leaders setting when it comes to mental health? It all comes down to company priorities.
- Once you have the landscape, you can think about your objectives and build an established process. Ask people what they want to get from an ERG and align it to organisational objectives. Employee assistance programs like Wysa often have data dashboards you can draw upon to get an understanding of the biggest challenges in your business, to help inform a strategy.
- Make sure you resource the group. People will need time off from work to attend, an appropriate space in which to speak, and funds for any activities they want to take part in. They may need access to mental health apps for additional support.
- You might consider corporate partnerships which can help employee resource groups to be more effective, by providing resources and funding, for things such as team building or campaigns. Well-positioned partnerships are aligned with your own organisation’s brand and values.
- Set communication ground rules. Its important people don’t feel constrained by what they can say, but also understand that people may have boundaries. Active listening with empathy is crucial, and respectful, thoughtful communication that avoids negativity, can help open up dialogue.
- Offer support, through tools such as Wysa. Often difficult subjects will arise and people may need to talk and get them off their chest. Having an anonymous and judgement-free way to do this helps ensure that members aren’t taking on too much responsibility for other people’s mental health conditions and can offload when needing to. Wysa’s higher engagement than other employee assistance programmes means that it’s great to support workplace wellbeing as well as individual mental health.
6 benefits of having a mental health employee resource group
1. Creates psychological safety
Psychological safety is when employees feel able to share concerns, thoughts, and ideas without fear of being embarrassed, rejected or humiliated for speaking up. It creates a safe environment in which employees are listened to and their thoughts are welcomed by those around them. In workplaces where people feel psychologically safe, they do not fear judgement or fear for speaking up and speaking out. By their nature of bringing people together around this common ground, ERGs help foster psychological safety.
2. Helps in reducing stigma
Social contact, peer support, and education are three of the most effective ways of reducing mental health-related stigma in organisations – and a mental health ERG helps address these. By bringing people together in a safe place to discuss issues that may feel sensitive or personal, in the knowledge that others too may have experienced them, you are creating a safe space that breaks down barriers to conversation and connection.
Having a mental health ERG clearly indicates that you’re a business that cares about mental health and it demonstrates to the workforce that it’s ok to speak about mental health in the workplace. In All Worked Up we found that the vast majority of people plough on at work regardless when experiencing mental health problems – less than one in six (14.5%) would take a mental health day, preferring instead to turn up and try, or take paid time off or cite a physical illness.
3. Help create cultural awareness
We’re all different, and it’s important that every person in an organisation realises and respects this. Creating cultural awareness includes acknowledging protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, age and disability, as well as diversity of thought. As well as creating a community around an issue, ERGs help employees recognise that there are multiple different ways of experiencing that issue. And by raising the profile of mental health through an employee resource group, it can be clear to them that not only do mental health and mental illness exist, but it affects the people they are with every day. Say that the mental health ERG runs an event for Eating Disorders Awareness Week – people will become aware of eating disorders, how they affect them, the impact of diet talk as a trigger, and other elements, and thus be more sensitive.
4. Raises visibility
Mental health conditions can be invisible, which means that, unlike physical health problems, they go unnoticed. Setting up an ERG that can raise awareness and campaign for advocacy raises the visibility of mental health and can help to reduce stigma. Inthe All Worked Up report, we found that three-quarters of people would prefer to speak to a clinically validated app with self-help tools – like Wysa – than their HR team, showing there is a long way to go when it comes to improving mental health culture at work. If people are hesitant to engage in difficult conversations it may be because they don’t see others doing it. Mental health ERGs can help inspire people to lead by example.
5. Improves company culture
Through peer-to-peer conversations and mental health support employee engagement can be improved which helps benefit company culture. A happy and healthy workplace is one where people want to be there, and feel more engaged when they are. If people want to be at work they will do a better job, which will also increase productivity.
Believing that you are valued at work as an individual with your own experiences is also important, as personal identity in relation to your organisation plays a big role in personal mental health and workplace mental health. Knowing you can turn up as a whole person and have nuanced conversations about individual or shared experiences in a safe space is therefore hugely valuable and something that health employee resource groups can offer.
6. Create a sense of belonging
One of the benefits of ERGs is that in and of themselves they are good for mental health and well-being. By people coming together around an issue that they care about and are passionate about they feel a sense of purpose, which is good for mental health. Studies suggest that people who have a purpose in life feel both physically and mentally well in everyday life. People want to feel like their whole self can be appreciated at work, and that they are able to contribute in ways that go beyond the bottom line. Employee resource groups fill the need for a sense of contribution in an environment that is aligned with their overall goals. According to Deloitte, businesses that prioritise a sense of belonging see results including 56% higher job performance, 50% less turnover risk, and 75% fewer sick days.
Effective mental health ERGs are about more than tickbox activities. They offer employees guidance, reduce stigma, create a peer network, and result in employee wellness that has mental health benefits personally, socially and at work.
In the current landscape where mental health conditions are rising, and employers and organisations are stepping up and taking responsibility as active players in society, mental health employee resource groups can go a long way towards creating the mentally healthy workplaces we all want to be part of.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: