Since the pandemic began, many of us have faced the challenging task of managing our mental health. Right now, 1 in 5 Canadians are dealing with such a struggle. These types of challenges bleed into their professional life and can affect employees performance and job satisfaction.
As a manager or team leader, you may find that employees are hesitant to discuss their mental health at work. However, if you proactively take steps to create an open and supportive culture, staff will slowly begin to feel more comfortable in talking to their managers about any issues they are facing. This article will set out some simple steps in creating a workplace culture that’s open about mental health.
In today’s benefits landscape, there are a variety of embedded and optional wellness resources offered by insurers that extend beyond traditional health, accident, and sickness benefits. Employee and Family Assistance Programs offer free and confidential counselling resources. Digital Wellness Programs provide employees with convenient access to a full suite of support to help promote mental and physical well-being. Telemedicine offers online support for treatment using telecommunications.
These programs provide confidential channels for employees to educate and manage their mental health. As a team leader, educate yourself on available resources and find ways to promote them to others. Beyond this, consider offering paid wellness days off. When someone is feeling off, whether it's physically or mentally, they're free to take a day to disconnect and recharge in a way that works for them.
Be mindful of creating a culture of trust and integrity. Establish a clear message to staff that their mental health matters and their open communication will lead to support, not discrimination. This is known as a psychologically safe workplace. Educating employees on resources provided by your organization is a key initiative; however, managers and leaders must also make themselves open to support their staff.
As a manager, sharing with your employees how you prioritize your wellbeing can go a long way in this communication. For instance, share with your team when you’re taking time during the workday to go for a walk, for a medical appointment, or that you’re feeling burnout and taking a wellness day. Continue to reinforce the positive message on mental health awareness in ways such as distributing educational materials on steps employees can take to assess their mental health.
As difficult as it sounds, managers have an obligation to speak with their employees about mental health. They aren’t allowed to bury their heads in the sand and pretend not to notice that a typically punctual employee has started missing meetings, blowing off deadlines, and showing up to work disheveled and unengaged.
There are good ways and bad ways to approach such a conversation. Keep in mind that an employee has no obligation to disclose any mental health struggle they are going through. So rather than asking them directly about their mental health, start a conversation about how you’ve noticed a change in their demeanour and if there’s anything that they’re struggling with— work related or otherwise. This opens the door for a conversation about mental health without pushing the employee out of their comfort zone.
If you take proactive steps to establish a clear message that discussing mental health challenges will lead to support, over time staff should begin to feel more confident to talk to their managers. It’s important to remember that developing trust in this support takes time and these types of challenges in the workplace affect individuals in different ways. Individual relationships between managers and employees are key to establishing integrity in a culture that is open about mental health. If team members feel they will receive positive support when voicing their challenges, this can often help steer them to seek support and receive the help they need as early as possible.