Mental Health in the Workplace:
Trends Employers Should Know
– Written by Linda Addy, Senior Consultant, HR Annie Consulting
Did you know that 1 in 5 adults experience a mental health episode each year? In 2019 40% of Oregonians reported mental health issues, and most of us would anticipate that a survey in a world with Covid-19 would likely report an increase in mental health concerns. Engagement in one’s work, communication, daily function, and job performance are at risk when mental health issues arise. What does this mean for employers? How can workplaces create a culture of mental health awareness, and support their employees when mental health concerns arise?
HR Annie is honored to work with small and medium-sized businesses to assist in navigating a workplace landscape with new stressors and innovative support to their valued employees. Here are some of the trends we see in workplaces today:
Remote work is valued by your team. It can be a polarizing conversation. Can the responsibilities of the job be accomplished from home? How can you remain assured that the team can get the work done from afar? Many studies show that employees are more productive and happier when they are given the flexibility and convenience to work from home.
The Perks: Employees may inherit avoiding the time and cost of a commute, more time with family, ability to remain available to children who are in remote school, more time to schedule self-care.
Pro Tips: Even if the scope of the work can’t be accomplished from home all of the time, some of the time/in some circumstances delivers flexibility to your team. Developing a Remote Work Policy communicates guidelines that allow employees to feel assured of how they can be successful, avoiding uncertainty and anxiety.
Safety is a conversation your team wants to have. 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated in the U.S., but safety is still a concern amongst your team. Will you mandate vaccinations? What if an employee can’t get vaccinated due to a medical reason? What about new variants of Covid? What about customers who don’t wear their mask properly? What about a customer who is demonstrating signs of mental distress? Addressing these questions proactively and having a communicated Safety Plan is a best practice.
The Perks: When you plan the work, you can work the plan. Employees who know the expectations of safety are assured of your commitment to their well-being and the well-being of their coworkers. A work environment where the team knows what to do when it comes to safety have less anxiety, worry, and work-related stress.
Pro Tips: Ask for feedback and ideas from your team. They are the closest point of action to many aspects of your business and can shine a light on issues or concerns about safety.
Correlations exist between financial and mental health relationships. You may not have optics that an employee’s partner was laid off last year. Perhaps they are helping their parents financially, going through a divorce, or stressed by medical bills. Studies show that financial stress can lead to mental health decline. When/if you have awareness of financial challenges that an employee is experiencing, do what you can to provide financial resource support.
The Perks: When employees know about a hardship loan they can take from their 401k, PTO they can donate to a coworker in need, or other workplace or community resources, they feel supported.
Pro Tips: If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), your employees will have access to the resource of financial advisement. Talk to your retirement plan broker to see what information or meetings can be pushed out to the team to lend support.
A healthy team is one that is reminded of their entitlements and mental health benefits. If you offer health benefits for you team, what counseling services are available? Is massage covered? How many visits does your plan cover to acupuncture? Have you decided to offer Emergency Paid Sick Leave (and if so, does your team know they can take time off if they have complications from being vaccinated?). Pushing these and other healthy reminders out to the team is one way to promote good physical and mental health.
The Perks: Companies that have regular conversations about physical and mental health benefits are contributing to a culture that says it’s okay to take care of yourself, to participate in one’s well-being.
Pro Tips: Consider sending out a monthly reminder of ways to remain healthy, from ergonomics at the desk, to the details of your health and/or wellness plan. Ask your benefits broker to give you tools to send to you team. Survey your team to gain understanding of the perks they enjoy or desire most.
A proactive leadership team notices changes in behavior & takes time to check in. An employee who is normally on time, has arrived to work this month with erratic tardiness. An employee who normally dresses according to your professional dress code arrives to work in the same unpressed clothing a few times this week. An employee who usually is the first person to say Hi to the team seems especially quiet and avoids conversation with others. Could these situations be examples of a mental health issue? Maybe. While your role isn’t to diagnosis or know everything about the personal lives of your employees, you may need to check in when work is affected. Ask open-ended questions and consider ways to genuinely lend support. For example, “I wanted to check in with you because you are usually the first person to turn in your reports, and I have noticed that most of your reports have been submitted late this month. Is there any support you need from me?” Leaning in to intentionally inquire how you can best support your team is one of the best tools in your manager tool belt.
The Perks: You’ll learn about operational challenges and be able to offer solutions to problems. You’ll be able to point your team to the entitlements and benefits that they deserve. You may be able to proactively approach trickier situations that mitigate risk to the team and the company.
Pro Tips: Listening Sessions, Employee Surveys, Suggestion Boxes, and Check Ins with scheduled frequency allow you to gain feedback from your team to best support their employee experience with you.
The trends listed above are conversations with your team. Take some time to consider what is available today and how/when it’s communicated (current policies, benefits, paid time off, check ins). Explore what may be available as additional provisions of support…and add to the conversation.