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After over a year of COVID deaths, social distancing, job insecurity, and political conflict, it’s no surprise that about 60 percent of employees are worried about their mental health. The pandemic and resulting economic fallout have caused ongoing stress for people around the world—including your employees.
As a people leader, you likely feel the weight of responsibility for your employees’ mental health during these challenging times. Paycor reported in January that 86 percent of business leaders are worried about managing employees with mental health issues . Luckily, you don’t have to solve these problems alone.
We’ve identified some of the main mental health concerns employers have reported managing this year, along with strategies to help you support your employees’ mental health
The past year has forced unexpected changes in many industries and workplaces. Employees have been asked to adapt to changing regulations and new protocols at work. Teams shrank and workloads shifted as cuts and hiring freezes went into effect. These transitions have piled more stress onto workers who were already struggling with their mental health.
Some have turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms as a result. Substance use disorder is on the rise, as is social isolation. Both problems can exacerbate existing mental health needs.
So how do you help employees who are suffering from stress or mental health issues? One of the most powerful tools in your arsenal is change management. Change management is a method of implementing change that helps employers, managers, and employees navigate transitions at work in a more mentally healthy way.
Take three important steps to help employees move through times of change:
You provide mental health resources and benefits, but how do you know your employees use them and if they are getting better?
A major roadblock to managing employee mental health issues is a lack of interest in the provided employee assistance programs (EAPs). According to Joe Grasso, PhD, senior director of workforce mental health at Lyra Health, “EAPs are poorly utilized, but HR benefits leaders may not necessarily understand why.”
If this is the case at your organization, survey your employees to find out why they aren’t accessing your EAP. Possible barriers could include:
One of the biggest barriers to employee mental health, however, is within your control to change: a work culture that stigmatizes mental health challenges. If employees feel uncomfortable sharing their mental health struggles, or fear that they’ll be stigmatized or penalized in some way, many who need help won’t seek it. How do you create a work culture that welcomes these discussions and supports those who struggle?
It’s essential that employers take action to address mental health-related stigma head-on.
Regular communication from company leaders, managers, and individual contributors can help foster a safe and trusting environment. For example, company-wide emails that explain your mental health benefits can reassure employees that mental health is a safe subject to broach at work. Host an awareness-raising workshop to help educate your workforce about mental health, or bring it up at a company-wide meeting. Remember, silence about this topic breeds shame for those who suffer.
Second, help your employees feel empowered with tools and resources to take care of themselves. This begins with access to mental health providers through your benefits program, but it can also include flexible schedules, paid time off, and paid mental health days to allow employees to schedule appointments with providers and step away from work when they’re overwhelmed.
Third, create an environment of mutual support among employees. Everyone wants to feel supported at work–not just when mental illness strikes, but any time. A caring company culture can benefit employees’ mental health.
Additionally, make sure that your mental health resources and company culture are inclusive for every employee. Employers sometimes overlook inclusivity when considering mental health benefits, and this oversight can hinder your company’s efforts to create a safe and supportive environment. Your work culture can’t be healthy if a portion of your workforce feels unseen, so make sure your network of mental health care providers is as diverse as your workforce, and make sure your benefit program’s providers practice culturally responsive care. This type of care takes an individual’s cultural background and intersectionality into consideration when addressing mental health challenges and finding solutions.
Finally, addressing substance use disorders (SUDs) is critical to maintaining a psychologically safe workplace, which means your mental health resources should cover SUD treatment and education. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances may exhibit behavior that makes their coworkers feel unsafe. Likewise, a workplace that shames or ignores substance use issues may discourage employees from seeking help for an addiction.
It won’t surprise you to learn that mental health issues can cause employee productivity to dip. As an employer, you have two priorities: promoting employee mental health, and supporting your business objectives.
It’s hard to promote productivity without addressing the root causes of employees’ performance challenges. For example, if someone dealing with depression is struggling to complete work, just drafting a plan to help them finish work faster may not help. If, on the other hand, you provide support and resources to help them address their depression by referring the employee to appropriate mental health services, they’ll be more likely to get the help they need to resolve the underlying problems that affect their productivity and engagement at work.
“It’s important to address these issues in sequence,” says Grasso. “First, check in on an employee’s signs of mental distress by noting the concrete behaviors or statements that led you to become concerned, and express that concern in regards to their well-being. After this initial step, coupled with follow-up to provide connections to the appropriate resources, one can address work performance issues in a separate conversation.” These resources might include mental health services available through your EAP or health plan, information about other options, or flexible or reduced hours to allow time for treatment.
Tackling employee mental health and productivity concerns in the right order ensures that you as a people leader are being sensitive to your employees’ needs while maintaining your responsibility to manage your team and workplace.
LEARN MORE by downloading our report on mental health challenges in the workplace, and what employers can do to prevent them.
The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Heston-Davis is a freelance content writer and former journalist. Her work has appeared in publications such as Business Insider, Everyday Health Group, VacationistUsa.com, and Light & Life Magazine. Areas of interest include mental health, nonprofits, travel, and higher ed. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University.