Let’s Bring Humanity To The Workplace: How Employers Can Prioritize Mental Health
Sana Jawa | February 07, 2022 | Employers
In this day and age, it’s clear that working-age adults face a lot of stress, uncertainty, and unpredictability. From personal issues to the anxieties they face in professional settings, it is this kind of stress that makes it harder for them to function in the workplace, maintain their productivity, and consistently work a nine-to-five. Since the onset of the global pandemic, this pressure has only increased, creating an additional layer of stress, anxiety, and lack of control for the working-age population. As a result, in today’s workplace, the state of mental health has seen a quick decline. Even as we slowly transition back to our ‘normal’ lives, there needs to be a concerted effort by employers across the country to integrate mental health into the workplace.
Recently, I read an interesting article by Michael Timmes (Insperity’s human resource consultant) on mental health in the workplace, the pressures that working-age employees have to contend with and the ways that employers can support them. It was a very interesting, inspiring article and made me think more critically not only about what working in a pandemic is like but also about the different ways that employers can support their workers.
It is important to remind ourselves that employers bear much of the responsibility for their employees when it comes to maintaining/improving employee mental wellbeing. Creating a safe and comfortable workplace and supporting employees across all aspects of their health is a growing priority - it benefits both employees and employers. Now, while this does seem to be a hefty task for some employers to achieve - especially if they have many employees and/or a small leadership team - it is not impossible. All employers are capable of prioritizing the mental well-being of their employees, with even the smallest changes potentially making the biggest difference. There are many quick and easy strategies that employers can implement - and I’m here to share some of the best with you that I picked up from Timmes’ article.
One of the easiest ways to integrate mental health in the workplace is simply to remind employees of the multitude of resources they have available to them. Employers, historically, have granted employees access to health-related benefits and programs. Often the introduction to these resources occurs when a new employee is onboarded, but it is rarely discussed after this time. In other words, employees are in a situation where they quickly forget what resources they have access to. Sometimes, reminding employees that the resources simply exist and that they can take advantage of them can be enough to make a substantial difference. For example, sending out a reminder through an email blast or the company newsletter normalizes seeking out help when necessary. Let’s not forget that employers are already paying for these resources, so increasing engagement helps to maximize the potential return on their initial investment in the resource itself.
In addition to emphasizing programs that already exist, employers can initiate new, potentially more effective programs. A good example of this referenced by Timmes is a ‘Lunch and Learn’ program where employees can take the time to share strategies to manage stress and use each other as sources of support. In my opinion, this has the potential to be an incredibly effective approach. Not only does it provide an informal environment where employees can be candid about their issues, but it also encourages workers to be active about resolving them. All in all, this creates a company culture that welcomes discussions on mental health.
In Timmes’ article, he also notes that leaders should always pay attention to the health and morale of their workers and recognize when their performance falls or decreases. This is not as easy as it seems, but it certainly is possible. By training managers to understand how to monitor/gauge the mental wellbeing of their direct reports, they are able to use direct interactions with staff as opportunities to have open conversations about what (if anything) might be the problem and how to address it. As this becomes the norm at an organization, what may start as a conversation that is anxiety-provoking and uncomfortable can turn into an opportunity for employees to regularly feel acknowledged by their leaders. One thing to note, however, is Timmes’ comment that if an employer is going to approach mental health in this fashion, they must be ready to make some other potential changes. For example, to support their workers further, employers must be prepared to reduce workload, allow days off, or potentially have the employee move to another position.
And finally, one of the best ways to make sure that employers protect the mental health of their employees as noted by Timmes is for leaders to do the same for themselves. Leaders cannot implement any of the above strategies if they are not monitoring and maintaining their own mental wellbeing. I truly believe that only by taking care of themselves can leaders take care of their workers. Leaders, too, need a safe and comfortable workplace and environment to support, teach and mentor others. If they demonstrate healthy and productive behavior, employees are more likely to mimic them. At the end of the day, real change starts at the top, which means the higher ups at the organization must approach mental wellbeing the same way they are suggesting that all the employees should.
There are many ways for employers to remind their workers that they are not alone and that they are supported. However, there is not a “one size fits all” approach to this. In the end, what matters most is that employers do not give up, and remain persistent in making mental health a central issue in the workplace. Why? Because if they protect the mental wellbeing of their workers, they will have a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. At the end of the day, a happy, healthy, and productive workforce will drive organizational success, and today it is clear that employers prioritizing employee mental wellbeing are most likely to be successful in the long run.