Here's yet another Mental Health Awareness Month. What makes it difficult this time is that the pandemic and remote work situation have resulted in a lot of folks going through bouts of stress, tediousness, trauma, and several mental health conditions, that hitherto weren’t as troublesome. A phase like this demands extra attention on the part of employers to ensure their workforce feels fit in terms of their mental health, whether they are working remotely or at your office.
Mental health shouldn’t be a taboo topic anymore. Business owners and managers like you need to raise awareness of potential issues, recognize them, and intervene to nurture an inclusive workplace. Want to know how you can work through this situation? Here we discuss how you can do it.
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘worker mental health’ or ‘employee mental health’ is “the psychological, social, and emotional well-being of the employee in the workspace”. Research on mental health problems in the place of work proposes that employees and employers need to think of mental health care as an investment. It’s high time businesses focused on raising awareness and encouraging help-seeking behavior among their personnel. Being employers and managers, you play a vital role in supporting your employees who experience depression and other mental health disorders. There’s a need to remind those people experiencing such conditions that they are not alone. HR experts have been highlighting the point that employees who feel cared for by their employers are mentally healthier, more productive, and engaged.
Before we talk about how you can help your employees, you can take a look at some of the shocking stats and facts about employees’ mental health. Mind you, these numbers are extracted from research over the past couple of years.
That said, we have to admit that the attention we give to our mental health should be equally important as our physical health. To support their employees, organizations have to provide appropriate resources, train the management, and create a culture of acceptance. In simpler terms, you should begin by fostering a stigma-free workplace.
Since the employees find that their work and personal life are intertwined in a remote work setup, you need to make sure that they are protected from the burnout that occurs due to a lack of work-life balance. They might exhibit several warning signs, and managers have to watch out for the following symptoms in their colleagues:
At the end of the day, you leaders and managers are responsible for keeping your teams engaged. And, you have to ensure their productivity even when they are working from their homes, right? You need to realize that by setting aside time for their family, friends, hobbies, and interests, your employees will feel refreshed and re-energized when turning their attention back to their projects and tasks at hand.
Here’s what you can encourage your employers to do.
1. Stop Treating Mental Illness as Taboo: Mental health problems need to be addressed in a safe, sensitive, and respectful way. If you do not choose the right approach while involving in mental health conversations, your employees who face the issues would feel defensive, and shameful. This will, in the end, make the problem even worse.
2. Train the Managers: One of the best ways to build awareness about workplace mental health is through manager education. By empowering your managers and supervisors to recognize warning signs, you’re one step closer to building a culture of support and inclusion. Also, make sure that they have some strategies for increasing their own mental health and wellbeing. Remember to help the managers develop soft skills as it takes strong communication skills and emotional intelligence to create a positive psychological environment that promotes mental wellbeing.
3. Open up About your Mental Health Struggles: When your workforce is made aware of the universality of mental health issues, they will understand that they are not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in diverse ways. The leaders can disclose their mental health struggles to normalize the topic. This may encourage the employees to seek help or to open up about their concerns. A step like this helps create a bond of trust and depicts your respect towards them.
4. Accommodations for Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy suggests a list of accommodations for Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities. Some of the accommodations that proved effective in helping employees with psychiatric disabilities more effectively perform their jobs include the following:
5. Offer Employee Assistance: Several experts suggest tactics for assisting employees, such as providing mentoring, coaching, and peer support, offering mental health screening and access to secondary and tertiary treatment, advising fitness programs, and offering stress management training. Research conducted over the years has affirmed the effectiveness of Employee Assistance Programs, for both employers and employees. In addition to increased employee productivity, the benefits include reduced medical costs, turnover, and absences. According to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), EAPs “serve organizations and their employees in multiple ways, ranging from a consultation at the strategic level about issues with organization-wide implications to individual assistance to employees and family members experiencing personal difficulties.” These difficulties may include, but are not limited to:
EAP services are paid for in full by the employer but are provided confidentially; employers do not know which individual employees access EAP services, rather, they only receive data regarding the number who do. Some large organizations offer in-house EAP services, while others outsource them to specialized EAP providers. Regardless of approach, EAPs typically offer access to a 24-hour telephone hotline.
6. Amend your work policies: Do you think work pressure and tight deadlines push your employees to perform better? Let us tell you that this a misbelief. During the pandemic, you need to reorganize your employee benefits to fit the needs of the employees. You may consider having your health plan include Telemedicine services for behavioral and psychiatric health. Be wary to prioritize confidentiality and anonymity. You need to assure your teams that their use of mental health resources will not be monitored or tracked. Organize online team meetings to discuss their concerns, and conduct game sessions to help them get rid of boredom. You should involve employees in decision-making and problem-solving processes. For example, include them in identifying possible problems that aggravate stress within the work environment and in proactively implementing solutions to improve working conditions.
7. Educate your Employees on Preventative Practices: Your staff should practice self-care. Let them realize that they need to give themselves the same grace, compassion, and attention they are used to giving others. To help them avoid chronic stress and burnout, you can educate and encourage your employees to follow such procedures that will increase overall health and wellbeing. Some of these are:
8. Ensure Access to Treatment: In its “Working Well” toolkit, the Center for Workplace Mental Health puts forth a few practices that help strengthen access to mental health treatment. If your company offers a health care plan, you have to begin by assessing the specific mental health benefits that it covers. The Center advises employers to cross-check if their plan does the following:
(Source: “Working Well Toolkit,” Center for Workplace Mental Health)
9. Recognize your Employees: During times of additional stress and concern, you have to recognize your staff for their efforts, especially if they have had to change their normal work routine to meet the needs of your organization during the pandemic.
Employers need to assure their employees that those suffering from mental illnesses can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives. You shouldn’t forget that your employees’ mental health and well-being impact their physical health, efficiency, and work performance. In difficult times like this, you and your teams should be more empathetic, and learn to care for each other. On this Mental Health Awareness Month, let us break the taboo around mental health, and spread the message of “You Are Not Alone.”