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Jul 13, 2022

It’s been a challenging couple of years to be, well…human. The ongoing pandemic, record-high inflation, social justice issues, global conflict (and more), have led to significant declines in mental health. As a result, stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) have all been on the rise. Not only this, they’ve crept their way into the workplace. In fact, 31% of workers believe their mental health has declined over the past year.

Amidst this, it goes with saying that supporting your employees’ mental wellbeing has never been more important. Not only does it increase talent retention, raise productivity, and improve business outcomes, but it’s also the right thing to do.

The good news is that many employers recognize the critical need for mental health support on the job and are stepping up their initiatives. According to a survey by the Harris Poll, approximately 23% of workers say their company introduced new mental health benefits during COVID-19.

But if expanding mental health services hasn’t been high on your list of HR priorities, where do you start? What works? And how can you reduce the stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental illness in the workplace along the way?

Here’s how to put the “human” back in “human resources” and support your employees’ mental well-being:

1) Prioritize psychological safety

Mental health support at work begins with dialogue. Gone are the days when topics like burnout and depression were deemed taboo around the water cooler.

Open the door for employees to talk freely about mental health by making your workplace a psychologically safe environment. Psychological safety means ensuring your people feel comfortable discussing concerns or asking questions without fear of judgment or retribution.

Establishing a psychologically safe environment stems from change at the leadership level, so providing managers and supervisors with mental health training and awareness enables them to best offer support when needed.

For example, at iHire, managers hold weekly one-to-one meetings with their individual team members. They don’t only have to talk about work; they can chat about anything on their mind. Managers are encouraged to listen actively and practice empathy, understanding, and transparency. These regular meetings help build trust and rapport so that if a mental health issue arises, managers can provide the right resources and assistance.

Another effective tactic for increasing dialogue about mental health in a psychologically safe environment involves introducing educational opportunities company-wide. For example, host “lunch-n-learns” about a mental health topic or arrange an open forum or round table discussion with employees around a thought-provoking subject.

When promoting such initiatives, emphasize that the event will be held in a safe space where attendees can speak freely. Also, make sure the sessions are optional. Never pressurize employees to participate.

Lastly, lean on surveys to empower staff to share their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions surrounding mental health in the workplace. Surveys can be anonymous, which may generate even more valuable, actionable feedback to better support your people.

2) Expand Your Benefits

Nowadays, supporting employees’ mental health involves benefits beyond health insurance which may or may not cover mental health options.

For instance, you might explore introducing an employee assistance program (EAP) that allows staff to speak confidentially to an expert about their mental health matters.

Other ideas for expanding your offerings include:

  • Memberships and subscriptions to mindfulness and meditation apps
  • Mental health days in addition to normal PTO and sick days
  • A meditation room or quiet room in your office space
  • Flexible scheduling options (including remote or hybrid work)
  • On-demand fitness classes and virtual health coaching

3) Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

But what do HRDs/line managers do if they think an employee is struggling?

I say approach that employee and let them know that you’ve noticed a change in their behavior, work output, appearance, or something else. Tell them you are wondering if everything is OK and that you will not judge them for their response. Hopefully, the employee will tell you what they’re experiencing and give you the opportunity to intervene appropriately.

However, understand that it is not your job to diagnose or treat an employee, especially if they do not open up to you.

Remember, managers generally can’t ask employees about employees’ health conditions. The best you can do is point them to the right resources (such as your company’s EAP) and provide a supportive and safe environment.

Above all, remember that your employees are human – not just numbers on a payroll.

Supporting mental health is not optional in the modern workplace.

Start with dialogue, add in benefits, offer the right resources, and keep the conversation going. Good luck!