More than ever, mental health* in the workplace is something we need to talk about and support for our employees. COVID-19 propelled forward the conversation around mental health, globally employees are struggling. Sources are showing that 42% of individuals have experienced a decrease in mental wellness since the pandemic started.
Beyond COVID-19, everyone has their own struggles - stress happens to us all, and it is bound to impact our work at some point. Supporting those who are struggling is vital for employees to be successful in their roles.
Why Do We Need to Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace?
There are several reasons why mental health in the workplace is a topic we need to talk about. However, the top reasons include loss of productivity, stigma in the workplace, and the intersections of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and mental health.
Loss of Productivity:
According to the World Health Organization, 1 trillion is lost globally due to decreased productivity directly correlated with anxiety and depression. Your organization is losing money by not addressing mental health.
Stigma in the Workplace is an Issue:
Research shows the destigmatization of mental health is vital for individuals to come forward about their struggles and is necessary for recovery. Unfortunately, workplaces often reinforce mental health stigma. Leaders and managers ignoring struggling employees, toxic behaviors such as gossiping, lack of transparency, and harassment all contribute to mental health stigma.
Mental Health & DEI:
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a term used to talk about and describe programs of representation and participation of individuals from different groups. This includes various representations of age, race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, abilities and disabilities, and ethnicities.
Mental health is a DEI topic as some individuals with mental health conditions (OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc.) fall under the term neurodivergent. Neurodivergent, also called neurodiverse, is a term used to describe those with brains that operate differently than a “typical” brain (neurotypical).
5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health
Lead By Example
For managers and leaders, mental health goes beyond sharing resources and supporting employees. You, as a leader, need to be an example for employees by talking about boundaries and prioritizing self-care.
There is an outdated, destructive cultural narrative around leaders not being able to be vulnerable and show emotions. COVID-19 propelled the conversation around mental health to the forefront and we’ve seen a number of leaders from different organizations talk about their own mental health and take mental health days.
As a leader, openly talking about the importance of managing your mental health and your own habits helps to break down stigma, and communicate to fellow colleagues that you are a person they can talk to.
Embrace a Culture of Psychological Safety Within the Workplace
A psychologically safe workplace creates a culture where employees show up as who they are. Additionally, psychological safety within the workplace is a shared belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risks as a group and within the organization one works for. The risks include but are not limited to:
- Speaking up when there is a problem with team dynamics
- Asking for help
- Taking risks that benefit the organization/group
- Not being shamed for making mistakes
Research on psychological safety within the workplace points to various benefits from increased creativity, confidence, productivity, and trust. As you can imagine, when someone feels psychologically safe at work, they are more likely to come forward and talk about their mental health concerns.
Talk About Mental Health via Informed Psychoeducation
If you are reading this, you are no stranger to internal memos. You’ve probably created a few, or you’ve been in charge of distributing them throughout your organization. Internal memos range from new hire announcements to ways to stay healthy during cold, winter months.
A great way to start the conversation is psychoeducation via internal memos. It allows employees to engage in mental health content without feeling on the spot for having to show up to a meeting or speaker series. It also signifies to employees the organization they work for is a safe space to talk about mental health challenges.
If you need a suggestion for psychoeducation, a globally recognized model of psychoeducation is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Mental Health First Aid was developed with workplaces in mind. The training trains those who take the program to gain knowledge of signs, symptoms, and risk factors for mental illnesses. The program also helps to identify professional resources for those struggling and emphasizes the importance of self-care and maintaining mental wellness for all.
Add A Mental Health Policy and Infrastructure To Your Employee Handbook
When new hires are onboarded, typically, they are informed about the Paid Time Off (PTO) policy of the organization, outlining when to use the PTO and how the PTO should be used. Some organizations combine sick and personal time, while other companies have different buckets of PTO. Regardless of how an organization operates PTO, discussion around parameters for physical sickness rarely includes a conversation around mental health.
Implementing a Mental Health Policy will showcase to employees the organization is a stigma-free zone and discussions around mental health are an open conversation. Mental health policies outline accommodations, who to talk to, and EAPs to support one's mental health.
Investing in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can also be a great help here. An EAP is designed to help you take care of your employees by providing assistance during moments of personal strife related to mental health, substance abuse, family issues, and others.
Offer Mental Health Accommodations
Suppose you have an employee struggling with their mental health. In that case, they are experiencing anxiety, depression, or are in a manic state - one of the best things you as a leader or manager can do is offer accommodations.
Accommodations are a legal matter, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, covers individuals with physical and mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Examples Of Accommodations
- Modified work schedule - offering temporary full-time to part-time or flexible hours.
- Ability to work from home or hybrid schedule
- Allowing a support animal in the office
- Noise-reducing machines (white noise)
- Temporary-Long Term modification of work duties
- Private space within the office to take a break
Accommodations may make a difference in keeping talented employees, who may be struggling, from leaving your organization. This can save your company money in the long run due to increased employee retention.
I’ve spoken to a number of managers and leaders about mental health in the workplace, and a common response is fear around saying the wrong thing. I get it, talking about mental health can be challenging, especially if someone doesn’t have a background in psychology or mental health. They are unsure what to say or how to approach someone in distress.
When it comes to supporting employees' mental health in the workplace, lead from a place of vulnerability and compassion. At the end of the day, we all are human and struggle with starting the conversation.
I refer to mental illness as mental health condition(s) or mental health concern(s) as the language choice helps to break down the stigma attached to different conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, etc. The language choice is in no way to disavow a medical diagnosis of those with lived experience.