BenefitsEmployee Wellness

Taking Mental Notes

Countries around the world are taking mental health seriously and providing the necessary resources for employees to be well. Here’s how the U.S. can do the same. 

It’s no secret that workplace mental health is on the rise. In fact, 84% of Americans said that workplace conditions have contributed to at least one of their mental health challenges, with 70% of employers more concerned now than ever about the mental health state of their workers. 

While Americans are not alone in this challenge, other countries may be a few steps ahead in supporting their employees with legislation and policies that apply at the national level. So, what can U.S. businesses learn? Here’s a look at some recent laws and policies around the world that were enacted to help combat the mental health crisis, as well as some opportunities for U.S. employers to consider. 

1. Remote work laws that advance inclusion and belonging. One of the root causes of workplace stressors that impact employee health and well-being is a culture that lacks inclusion and belonging.

As of April 2023, Poland employers are required to approve requests for remote work for some categories of employees who have family responsibilities unless their job absolutely cannot be done remotely. These categories include pregnant employees; employees with a child under four years old; employees caring for immediate family members or members of their household who are certified as disabled; and employees with a child who has a documented need for early developmental support or special education.

In Brazil, a new law was passed in September 2022 to encourage the inclusion and retention of women in the workplace. Employers must fill allocated remote work positions with employees who have children under six years old or employees with disabled children. 

Opportunity for U.S. employers: Avoid enacting a one-size-fits-all policy. In the U.S., leaders should recognize that times have changed and avoid enacting a one-size-fits-all policy. Some companies are good at providing accommodations for some needs, but not all. There’s been a recent trend of U.S. corporations calling for at least a part-time return to the office for reasons including workplace culture, networking, professional development, and even productivity. But at what cost to morale and/or mental health? Research has shown that fully in-person workers are the least happy. So no, one size does not fit all!


2. Policies and laws strengthening work-life balance. Reconciling life at work and outside of work has never been an easy task, and this balance might be different for each person. Nowadays, employees are craving work-life balance harmony. That could be having more autonomy over how work is done and respecting boundaries between work and non-work time.

In 2021, Ireland published a code of practice designed to help employers implement the “Right to Disconnect.” Not a law, though admissible as evidence in the courts, this code covers an employee’s right not to routinely perform work outside their regular working hours, the right not to be penalized for disconnecting, and the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect. France was a pioneer on this topic, and now more European countries are enacting similar policies themselves.   

Opportunity for U.S. employers: Educate employees about boundaries, and the rewards will be tenfold. Establishing an effective work-life balance for employees will likely reduce burnout and overload, leading to a more productive workforce during working hours. In addition, the reduced pressure may have further benefits, such as higher staff retention rates and increased employee morale, as well as a feeling from employees that their mental health is recognized and supported by their employer.


3. The right to time off. Paid time off (PTO) is not supposed to be a luxury, but a basic human right. Not being engulfed in work and having opportunities to take a break will not make employees less productive, but more productive.

For instance, in Chile, in order to provide peace of mind to workers with autistic children, a new law requires employers to provide paid time off to fathers, mothers, or legal guardians of minors with autism to attend emergencies and meetings in the school system. 

Twenty-three countries offer 30 days of paid leave annually, including half a dozen in Africa (Mali, Algeria, Madagascar, and Niger, among others).

Opportunity for U.S. employers: Provide and encourage employees to use their full PTO. U.S. employees commonly receive 10 days of annual leave, which increases based on years of service. However, there is no United States law that requires an employer to provide paid or unpaid vacation leave to their employees. Giving employees peace of mind that they can take PTO to deal with health emergencies of aging parents or to enjoy time with their family will only increase their commitment to the company. It helps when this is demonstrated across all levels, from senior leadership down.

Companies should be proactive in advancing the mental health conversation by creating a package of benefits that offers mental health resources. It’s a win-win. 

Irina Cozma, Ph.D., is a career and executive coach and Lulu Rufael is the chief human resources officer at Atlas HXM.

Tags: Benefits, employee well-being, June 2023

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