How to Actually Support Your Employees’ Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and after living amidst a global pandemic, there is no better time than the present to have candid, honest and judgment free conversations regarding mental health.
Over the last year, conversations around mental health and self-care have grown exponentially, resulting in greater awareness of mental health challenges and care, while also destigmatizing the negative connotations surrounding mental health. Rather than being viewed as a deficiency or weakness, mental health has become a unifier. You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been impacted by or struggled with some form of mental health challenge this past year.
This collective experience has fostered an environment where people are beginning to feel more comfortable talking about their personal struggles, coping strategies and resources they have found useful. Talk of therapy is thrown into everyday conversation and no one thinks twice, further reinforcing the notion that the tides are changing. And these changing attitudes are also making their way into the workforce.
Shame, fear of being ostracized, even worries surrounding job security have long kept employees from being open with their employers to the point where they would rather let their work product suffer than speak up.
According to a pre-pandemic May 2019 poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), only 50% of respondents said they were comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace, while another 33% had concerns about job consequences if they did in fact seek mental health care.
Employers are responsible for ensuring that their employees have an environment where they can learn, grow and thrive. Part of that includes creating a safe space for them to feel comfortable speaking honestly about their challenges, experiences and what they need from their employer in terms of support. But what does that environment look like and how can we achieve this?
Here are 3 ways leaders, Internal Comms and HR can help support mental health at work:
1. Foster Open Communication
Employees are more likely to open up when provided with the means to do so. Offer employees the opportunity to connect with one another on a regular basis through a voluntary monthly forum where they can discuss all things mental health related.
Forming a mental health employee resource group (ERG) is another great way to get employees involved through conversations, identifying and producing resources for all employees. If someone isn’t comfortable speaking with a larger group, encourage them to identify a trusted colleague (a mentor or manager, perhaps) and communicate regularly with them to share challenges and to discuss any support they may need. There are also workplace wellness coaches that are available to help with facilitating conversations amongst employees.
2. Offer Access to Resources + Benefits
Health and wellness benefits have been top of mind for employers over the past year and many are now offering additional benefits and programs to employees including:
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
- Wellness stipends that can be used for hobbies, the gym or even therapy
- Mental health hours that employees can use when they need to take a break and recharge, no questions asked
- Free subscriptions to meditation, sleep and other health/wellness apps
- Flexible hours that better accommodate schedules
In addition to providing resources, employers need ensure that employees know where to go and how to access those resources. The May 2019 APA poll found that while 70% of employees knew how to access mental health services through their employer, more than ¼ said they were uncertain or didn’t know how to access mental health care services through their employer.
3. Keep a Pulse on Your Workforce
Make it a priority to check in with your people on a regular basis and monitor their status whether that is through monthly all-hands meetings, weekly or bi-weekly manager meetings, employee surveys or focus groups. Topics should cover everything from self-care, to stress management, overall wellness and support.
Regular check-ins will allow employers and managers to identify emerging issues pertaining to the collective group or individual employees and allow them to respond in a timely manner and mitigate further challenges from arising. These check-ins are also a great way to remind employees of the resources available to them.
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
Looking for more information on mental health management and ways to best support your people? Check-out the following resources below:
- Employer Resources: APA Foundation Center for Workplace Mental Health
- Workplace Mental Health Assessment: Joint project from the APA Foundation, One Mind at Work and Mental Health America
- Brilliant Ink: Battery Levels & Mental Health in the Workplace
- Deloitte’s WorkWell Podcast: Smashing the mental health stigma
- The Los Angeles Times: “Newsletter: How to boost mental health at your workplace," by Rachel Schnalzer - April 6,2021