You believe that one of your employees is struggling with a mental health condition. What now? How to determine if your belief is correct, how to support this person if they are experiencing challenges with their emotional health, how to maintain their performance or provide workplace accommodations, if necessary.
Mental health illnesses are just like any other health condition, and employees with these conditions deserve the same care and support as those with physical illnesses. In this blog, you will find some tips on how to navigate the complexities involved in supporting employees with mental health conditions.
What is a mental illness?
According to WHO, 1 in every 8 people in the world live with a mental health condition, and even more, 1 in 3 Canadians (about 9.1 million people) will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime. This means that the probability that one or more of your employees are struggling is extremely high.
Poor mental health and mental illness are two distinct concepts, often used interchangeably. It's important to note that poor mental health doesn't necessarily mean having a mental disorder, and someone with a mental illness can still have physical, mental, and social well-being.
A mental illness is a condition that affects a person's ability to think clearly, manage their emotions, or behave in a way that conforms to social norms. It can cause distress and interfere with important areas of a person's life, such as work, school, or relationships.
There are many mental conditions, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance-related disorders. Among these, anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common, according to WHO.
How to talk to your co-workers about their mental health
It's possible that you've noticed someone who has been consistently late for meetings, not as well-dressed as usual, or falling behind on their weekly tasks. You might suspect something is going on, but you're unsure how to address the issue.
Opening the Door for Conversations About Mental Health
As challenging as it may sound, managers have an obligation to discuss mental health with their employees. They cannot ignore the signs when a typically punctual employee starts missing meetings, neglecting deadlines, and appearing disorganized and disengaged.
Such a conversation requires a thoughtful approach. Keep in mind that an employee is not obligated to disclose any mental health struggles they may be experiencing. Instead of directly asking about their mental health, start a conversation about how you've noticed a change in their behaviour and ask if there's anything they're finding challenging, whether work-related or otherwise. This approach opens the door for a conversation about mental health without making the employee uncomfortable.
One of the most valuable investments you can make is to provide training for your managers and frontline staff on recognizing and supporting employees who may be struggling.
Going the Extra Mile to Establish a Supportive Culture
None of this will work if your company doesn’t have a culture of trust and openness where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health. Clearly communicate to your staff that their mental well-being is valued and that open communication will be met with support, not discrimination.
This is known as creating a psychologically safe workplace. Educate employees about the resources provided by your organization, but also ensure that managers and leaders make themselves available to support their staff.
As a manager, sharing how you prioritize your own well-being can have a significant impact on this communication. For example, let your team know when you're taking time during the workday for a walk, a medical appointment, or when you're feeling burnt out and taking a wellness day. Continuously reinforce the positive message regarding mental health awareness by distributing educational materials on steps employees can take to assess their mental well-being.
How to manage an employee with a mental health condition
Mental health challenges can hinder optimal performance at work, and Canadian employers have a legal obligation to accommodate employees with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.
If you have a team member with an emotional disorder or another condition, it is important to educate yourself about their specific mental health conditions. This knowledge will enable you to assist them in determining any necessary accommodations for their daily work.
One possible accommodation could involve carefully balancing the workload assigned to this individual. By setting clear expectations and closely monitoring their progress, you provide the support they need to navigate the uncertainties that come with mental health challenges.
Flexibility is another helpful instrument for managing a colleague with mental health issues. Offering remote work options, flexible schedules, or lightening their workload to accommodate therapy sessions or medical appointments can help them manage their challenges while still meeting their work obligations.
However, it is crucial not to leave things to chance. Regular check-ins are essential for building trust and assessing how employees are coping. These conversations allow you to determine the effectiveness of your support and make any necessary adjustments to help them achieve their goals.
Mental health recovery is a journey that requires time, consistency, and patience. As a manager, your role is to be a steady anchor for your employees, embodying empathy and providing the support they need to navigate their recovery. Remember to prioritize self-care to support your own well-being while supporting others.
How to prevent mental health issues on a company level?
Encouraging your managers and employees to take steps towards promoting and prioritizing mental health is how to really make change happen. This can start with how conversations and meetings are structured and facilitated, to policies around sick days/care days. You can build out wellness and benefits plans to best support employees.
When trying to solve a problem, it is always best to address its root cause. While mental health conditions can arise from different factors, such as financial stress, family issues, or illness, employers may not have direct influence over their employees' personal lives. However, they can offer resources to help employees take better care of themselves and their families.
Today's benefits landscape offers various embedded and optional wellness resources that go beyond traditional health, accident, and sickness benefits. Employee Assistance Programs offer free and confidential counselling resources. Digital Wellness Programs provide convenient access to a comprehensive range of support to promote mental and physical well-being. Telemedicine offers online support for treatment through telecommunications.
These programs offer private channels for employees to learn about and handle their mental well-being.
As a team leader, familiarize yourself with resources like mental health apps and encourage others to use them. Paid wellness days off help a lot too. When someone is not feeling their best, whether physically or mentally, they can take a day off to disconnect and recharge in their own way.
Getting your leadership team to take mental health first aid training can also be a great way to make them well-prepared to interact confidently about mental health topics. This can include topics such as reducing stigma, identifying signs and symptoms in their staff, and navigating difficult conversations.
Last but not least, ensure that your company is truly diverse and inclusive, as this has a huge impact on your employees’ mental health.
To ensure the well-being of employees' mental health, it is crucial to have a solid understanding of mental illnesses and communicate in a friendly manner. Providing flexibility, regular check-ins, and support for those with mental conditions can greatly contribute to their well-being. Encouraging wellness, offering sufficient paid time off, and training leaders in mental health first aid are also necessary measures to prevent mental health issues from affecting the entire company. And don’t forget to work on creating a workplace that values diversity and inclusivity, where everyone feels safe and supported.