May 25, 2021
By Rachel Heston-Davis
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 stress and mental wellbeing. 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 ultra-challenging times. Paycor reported in January that 86 percent of business leaders are worried about mental health in the workplace. 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 and your employees cope. Here are four substantial concerns, and how to handle them.
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 mental health challenges.
So how do you help employees who are suffering from stress or mental illness? 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 mental health support in the workplace is a lack of interest in the provided employee assistance programs (EAPs). According to Dr. Joe Grasso, PhD, Director of Workforce Mental Health at Lyra, “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 seeking mental health care, 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 to take action to reduce mental health-related stigma and normalize seeking care.
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 throughout the year. A caring company culture can benefit mentally healthy workers too.
Additionally, ensure that your mental health resources and company culture are inclusive of all employees. 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 disorder is critical to maintaining a psychologically safe workplace–which means your mental health resources should cover substance abuse treatment and education. A person 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 difficulties with substance use may discourage individuals from seeking help for an addiction.
It won’t surprise you to learn that mental health distress can cause a dip in employee productivity. As an employer, you have two priorities: promoting employee well-being, and supporting your business objectives.
It’s hard to promote productivity without addressing the root causes of your employees’ performance challenges. For example, if someone who is 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 distress by noting the concrete behaviors or statements that led you to become concerned, and express that concern in regards to their wellbeing. 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 provide time for treatment.
Tackling mental health and productivity concerns in the right order ensures that you, as an HR leader or manager, are being sensitive to your employee’s personal needs while also maintaining your responsibility to your team and workplace.
LEARN MORE by downloading our report on severe workplace mental health challenges in the workplace, and what employers can do to prevent them.
If you’d like help connecting with a therapist or mental health coach, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
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.