The Innovative Workplace
By Joy Justus
MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE
How your clients can support employees who face challenges
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half the people in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives, and one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. It’s therefore not surprising that mental health has a significant impact in the workplace.
Those who have never suffered from a mental illness often have a hard time understanding the depth of the problem or the inability of a person to “snap out of it.” Be assured: the struggle is real. For those living with mental illness, life at times can feel unbearable. Obstacles that were easily overcome one day can feel insurmountable the next. Minor worries can gnaw at the mind obsessively.
Some people with mental illness aren’t wired with the skills and abilities that neurotypical people take for granted, making each day a battle to conform with ordinary social expectations. People with mental illness almost always want to feel better and do better; this is where employers can play a role.
Your clients can make it much easier and less stressful for their employees by giving them the time, resources, and financial support to improve and sustain their mental health.
Helping employees manage their disabilities empowers them to do top-notch work and creates a diverse and inclusive culture, and clearly it produces an impressive return on investment. But employers may not be eager to involve themselves in this aspect of their employees’ lives. And employees may be reluctant to speak openly about their struggles, especially if their condition is affecting their work performance or the stress of work is worsening their condition. There’s also the risk that an employer might inadvertently say or do something that acts as a stressor or provokes a discrimination claim.
All of this can create a cycle of distrust and fear, where neither employers nor employees want to talk about mental health issues that affect the workplace and the people in it. When this happens, individuals don’t get the help they need, and organizations are not as healthy as they could be.
What can your employer clients do to promote mental health in the workplace without being intrusive? Fortunately, a lot. Here are some recommendations to discuss with them:
Promote a healthy, balanced approach to performance metrics. Productivity and efficiency are important ways to measure success, especially in a competitive market, but they’re not the only signs of a healthy organization. In fact, putting too much emphasis on productivity and efficiency can be unhealthy. No one tries to run a marathon at all-out speed, and no one can be at his or her most productive every hour of the workday. Employees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to take time to care for themselves or get professional support. On the contrary, they should feel encouraged to get well and be given the space to do so. The ability to occasionally function at a moderate (or even slow) pace should be built into performance expectations, so that employees can avoid burnout or breakdown; this is a good practice regardless of whether employees have mental health conditions.
Offer PTO, mental health benefits, flexible schedules, and remote work if appropriate. Some employees who want to get the help they need can’t afford it. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These challenges can exacerbate anxiety and depression. Other employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments that accommodate their work schedules. Paid time off, health insurance, flexible schedules, and remote work options can help employees find the time they need to work on their mental health.
Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance with issues such as substance abuse, relationship troubles, financial problems, and mental health conditions. These services are offered through an outside provider that connects employees with the appropriate resources and professionals.
Make reasonable accommodations when possible. If an employee informs their employer that he or she has anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition and requests an accommodation, the employer should begin an interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation(s) it can provide in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employer has 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that require employers to make accommodations at an even lower employee count.
Promote good mental (and physical) health in the workplace. Healthy habits are important for everyone to practice. Employers can consider setting time aside for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness that develop and strengthen these habits. An employer who isn’t familiar with such practices can solicit the help of employees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activities and be able to assist in setting up a workplace program.
Employees, particularly leaders, also can help their employer make mental health awareness a normal part of workplace conversations. Employees should feel safe to talk about mental health and to seek accommodations and assistance as needed. No one should have to worry about discrimination. Employers must make sure that managers understand that if an employee shares information about his or her mental health, it should be treated as confidential and reshared only on a need-to-know basis.
Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to manage their mental health and get any care they need. Your employer clients, however, can make it much easier and less stressful for their employees to attend to these matters by giving them the time, resources, and financial support to improve and sustain their mental health.
Joy Justus is senior vice president responsible for overseeing the insurance channel marketing and distribution strategy at ThinkHR. She has 25 years of experience in employee benefits, property and casualty, and human resources. Joy joined ThinkHR ten years ago when it was a start-up. She has been instrumental in driving the company’s growth, holding executive leadership positions in sales, marketing and strategic initiatives.
ThinkHR’s flagship solution, People Risk Management (PRM), is used by over 1000 full-service agencies across the country. Core product features allow employers to reduce risk, drive efficiencies, and resolve people-related human resources and compliance issues quickly and efficiently. Agencies partnering with ThinkHR report improved cross selling outcomes between commercial and benefits departments and stronger marketplace differentiation. To learn more, visit www.thinkhr.com or contact theauthor at firstname.lastname@example.org.