Workplaces need to go further to address employee mental health

Workplaces need to go further to address employee mental health

As you may have heard, a CEO’s supportive response to his employee’s need to take a mental health day recently went viral. Public reaction to this story was widespread and positive, with many calling the CEO a trailblazer in how mental health issues are seen in the workplace.

While this instance is a positive step forward in the overall conversation about mental health in America, it’s not far enough. In 2015, an estimated 18 percent of all adults in the U.S. experienced a mental health condition within the last year.[1] The workplace, where the average full-time employee will spend almost one-third of his or her day, [2] should be prepared to support employees with mental health conditions.

An employer’s role
While an employee’s need for a one-off mental health day may be covered by paid sick leave or paid time off, we need to go further not only as a society but as individual employers. Employers need to become proactive in ensuring that employees with mental health conditions are provided the right support and put in touch with helpful resources available through their workplace year-round. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Train managers to identify and appropriately interact with employees who may need help
    Senior managers are often the eyes and ears of an organization. Provide training to all management on the importance of identifying an employee who may be struggling at work because of a mental health condition. Be sure that your training includes information concerning the privacy protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act and guides managers to partner with your Human Resources department when they have concerns about an employee’s mental health.
  1. Build a zero-tolerance culture to mental health labels
    Employees with mental health conditions are often labeled by others in their workplace. That’s because these employees aren’t always forthcoming about their conditions and the symptoms may not be perceived as indicative of a serious health condition. Instead of seeing an employee who may need help, an employee with a mental health condition is often seen as problematic or troublesome. A supportive culture shows employees that these types of responses are inaccurate and can be damaging to an employee who is already in need of help. Disability sensitivity training, which can be provided by a disability insurance carrier, can help employees understand how an employee with a mental health condition may be feeling and can find helpful ways to provide support.
  1. Ensure all employees understand the benefits of their benefits
    Not all employees understand that mental health conditions should be treated like any other type of serious health concern. Employer-sponsored benefits, such as disability insurance and employee assistance programs, often have resources for employees in the form of stay-at-work programs to help mitigate the incidence of their conditions and where they can find professional help locally. It’s important to let employees know these resources are available, and not just during open enrollment season. Year-round communication about concierge services or other employee-provided benefits are crucial to help an employee who may be struggling in the moment.

You can make a difference by prioritizing how you support employees with mental health conditions. Communication and training for both employees and senior managers can help to create a culture of acceptance and support that demonstrates to all that mental health is an issue that’s taken seriously. For more information and other resources on overcoming labels in the workplace, click here.

[1] Any Mental Illness Among U.S. Adults, National Institutes of Mental Health, 2015  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-us-adults.shtml.

[2] Average hours per day spent in selected activities by employment status and sex, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/charts/american-time-use/activity-by-emp.htm.

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