According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 1 in 5 Americans aged 18 and over are living with a mental illness at any one time. In 2019, that represented 51.5 million US adults. However, many people struggle to get effective support, especially in the workplace.
Discussing mental health issues at work can be difficult, whether you are an employer or an employee. This blog suggests strategies for starting a more open conversation to improve well-being and productivity at work.
Mental health in the workplace
The 2021 Mind in the Workplace Report by Mental Health America gives an insight into the mental health challenges experienced by employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey included questions on mental illness, burnout, supervisor support and workplace stress.
- Only 5% of employees agreed that their employer provides a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness
- 9 in 10 employees report that stress in the workplace is impacting their mental health
- 3 in 5 employees are not receiving adequate support from supervisors to help manage stress
- 4 in 5 employees feel emotionally drained from their work – an early sign of burnout
- 56% of employees spend time looking for a new position compared to 40% in 2018
- 65% of employees find it difficult to concentrate because of their work environment compared to 46% in 2018.
How to talk to your employees about mental health
Millions of employees spend a large part of their life at work. Their mental well-being, job satisfaction and productivity levels often depend on the culture, demands, support, environment, relationships and rewards at work. At the same time, an organization relies on healthy, motivated and productive employees to be competitive.
Talking about mental health at work and supporting employees with mental health problems is not just about retaining employees and boosting productivity, it also sends a powerful message about the organization’s values and commitment to staff well-being.
Here are some strategies that employers can use to start up a conversation about mental health in the workplace:
Create a culture that encourages employees to be open about their mental health
Send a clear signal to employees that their mental health is important and being open about it will lead to support not discrimination. A simple way to communicate this message is to explain that the organization will treat mental health in the same way as physical health.
Recognize the signs that an employee may have mental health problems
Although there may be some outward signs that a member of staff is experiencing mental health issues, there could be no obvious clues, which is why it is important to create an environment where people can be open. If there are any signs, they may include:
- changes in behavior, mood and how they interact with colleagues
- lower productivity, motivation and focus
- struggling to make decisions and find solutions to problems
- appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
- losing interest in tasks and activities they previously enjoyed
- changes in eating habits and appetite
- increased smoking and drinking.
For individuals or organizations concerned about their mental health, take our online mental health tests and learn about your wellbeing.
Reach out to employees at line manager level
If there is any indication that an employee may have mental health issues, their line manager should take the lead and raise it with them, as they may feel unable to broach the subject themselves.
It is vital that managers start off the process in a positive and supportive way, without making the conversation overly formal or involving HR initially. There are no special skills needed, just common sense, empathy and listening without judgement.
Develop positive steps to address the key issues they are struggling with
Having discussed the employee’s mental health problems in an open way, the priority is to develop positive steps to address the key issues they’re struggling with. Often, simple adjustments can make a big difference rather than a major change or significant cost. What is agreed will vary by person but here are some general tips for the overall approach:
- Listen to your employee – they may be able to suggest the support or adjustment they need and how to manage their triggers
- Work together to make adjustments – this could include changes to how they perform their role, changes to the role itself and/or extra practical support
- Be positive – focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t
- Agree to regularly monitor and review the adjustments and support, and make changes if necessary.
Devise an action plan
Strong leadership and mental health policies will send a clear message that employee well-being matters to the organisation and encourage staff to be open about their mental health. Put a process in place for managers to work with their teams to offer a personalized mental health action plan. This will give employees access to tailored support when they need it with practical, agreed steps which can form the basis for regular monitoring and review. The action plan should include:
- symptoms, early warning signs and triggers
- potential impact of the employee’s mental health issues on their performance at work
- what support is required from their line manager
- any workplace adjustments required and on what basis (temporary or permanent).
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Many organizations have recognized that the benefits of supporting employees’ mental health far outweigh the cost. Companies perform better when their staff are healthy, motivated and focused. Whatever support your employees need, our experienced team can help.
At Kindbridge we tailor our workplace mental health programs and services to meet your employees’ needs. As well as offering support for common types of mental health issues – such as anxiety, stress and depression – we also specialize in therapy for up and coming problems that may be impacting employees and preventing them from focusing at work, including digital addiction, gambling addiction and gaming disorder. Our comprehensive cover includes:
- Immediate access to highly-trained therapists
- Four counselling sessions
- Confidential, online treatment that is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection
- Follow-up support, as needed, to ensure appropriate and effective care
- Therapy for eligible family members who are being negatively impacted by a loved one’s mental health problems.
We also offer professional support for organizations – including manager training programs for supervisory-level personnel, mental health readiness training on how to talk about mental health and wellness seminars.
Find out more about our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and we will help you get started straight away.