This year 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness. It is nearly certain that some of your employees will struggle with their mental health, and perhaps they will look to you for guidance.
Many employees with mental health issues are reluctant to admit that they’re suffering and often try to act as if everything is fine.
This is detrimental to both the employee and your business. A World Health Organization study on the cost of poor mental health in the workplace found that the indirect costs of mental health issues (categorized as absenteeism and lost productivity) exceed the costs of direct treatment.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to cultivate a work environment where employees know their mental health is considered. Here are some ways to be that workplace.
One of the biggest issues that people with mental health issues face is dealing with the perceived stigma. They believe that being open about their problems will lead to people viewing them differently. As a result, they try to hide symptoms and carry on as if nothing is wrong, a decision that prolongs the issue and hurts their work performance.
One way to get employees to be open about their struggles is to show employees that you’re invested in mental health both within the workplace and in the broader community. Some ways to do that are:
- Contribute to mental health initiatives in your city, such as Bell Let’s Talk.
- Invest in a benefits plan that covers visits to counsellors and/or psychologists.
- Let them know that your door is always open for any employee needing someone to talk to or who needs help finding mental health resources.
The BC government has recommendations for supervisors approaching employees with mental health issues. Their advice includes:
- A focus on building a relationship based on trust with employees.
- Communicating both positive and negative performance observations.
- Talking to employees in non-judgemental ways.
Many of the mental health issues employees will face are caused by external stressors such as financial worry. Taking a proactive approach to mental health by dealing with financial stress in the workplace and having an employee assistance program in place can help reduce the prevalence rate of poor mental health in your workplace.
However, being proactive doesn’t always mean being preventative. Employers can also be proactive in identifying when employees are acting unusual. Mental health issues do not express themselves at work the same way they do at home. At work, anxiety or depression may present as social withdrawal and/or an inability to keep their workspace clean to their usual standards. Noticing these symptoms and having a private, sensitive conversation about any issues the employee may be experiencing (and are comfortable sharing) can motivate them to seek help early.
Refer Employees to Resources
For employees dealing with external issues affecting their mental health, having a diverse list of professionals to refer to will be useful. Our blog on free health & wellness resources is a good place to start.
Additionally, look at what services non-profits offer. The Canadian Mental Health Association frequently hosts elearning sessions and webinars for both employers and employees. They’ve also developed the For My Health screening program designed for the workplace.
Finally, ensure that employees understand how to engage with your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP providers can help direct your team members to counsellors or other resources to help them on their path to emotional wellness.
Set Clear Expectations About Working Hours
There are a million tiny ways work can creep into an employee’s “time off.”
All an employee has to do is respond to one email on Sunday morning to set an expectation that they’re available. Just like that, a brief peek at the inbox turns into periodically checking emails on weekends. These small tasks have a cumulative effect. Not only does checking emails take their attention away from friends and family (not to mention the effect it has on their ability to nap), it means they’re never truly getting a rest from work.
One approach is from the top-down. Have your leadership team make a display of not working more than the required hours and make it clear that they’re not checking emails on the weekend or after work.
This is an effective way to keep your staff fully engaged during working hours, allowing them to log off for the day and relax. One reason employees work extra hours and weekends is that they feel there is an unstated expectation to do so. Even if their contract states that work finishes at 5:30 pm Monday to Friday, they'll follow suit if they see their boss staying in the office till 6 or 7 regularly. Likewise, if they know their boss is leaving at 5:30 each day, your employers will too.
The top-down approach isn’t always possible. Executives are extremely busy and sometimes working long hours and on weekends is part of the job. In those cases, the leadership team can make it clear that just because they are working odd hours doesn’t mean their employees should do the same.
One example of this is executives including a note of any emails sent to staff after hours or on weekends, which states that the email was sent at a convenient time for them and that there is no expectation of an immediate reply.
Recognize Your Employees' Efforts
We might’ve taken it for granted: the pats on the back after a good meeting or the thumbs up of approval from the boss at the end of the day. When offices transitioned to remote work, these little moments of appreciation largely disappeared. Now, many employees are realizing how important they are.
Prolonged periods of work without much positive reinforcement can cause ruminative anxiety. Employee’s may begin to worry about their performance, where they stand in their boss’s eyes, and whether or not others think they’re doing a good job.
This can be compounded if the majority of communication employees have with their co-workers and bosses is limited to when problems arise. If every conversation is focused on solving a problem or fixing a mistake, employees can quickly begin to feel as if they are not appreciated at work.
Ruminative anxiety can have an impact on every aspect of an employee’s life. They can feel pangs of dread on Sunday night, have trouble sleeping, and become unable to stop worrying about work, even when there’s no project demanding their attention.
One way to fix this problem is to remember to congratulate and encourage employees. Follow-up with them after a project to let them know that you appreciate their effort and congratulate them on a job well done. Even short little emails every once in a while thanking them for their hard work go a long way to keeping their morale high and preventing doubt and anxiety creeping into their minds.
Another approach is to hold periodical check-ins with your employees. Ask them what aspects of the workplace they enjoy and what aspects are causing them difficulties. This provides an opportunity for employees to voice their concerns and struggles in an environment they feel comfortable in.
There are many ways that mental health issues can negatively impact your workplace. Fortunately, there are even more ways to prevent such issues from arising and contribute to their resolution when they do. By being diligent about the mental health of your employees, you will create a workplace environment where people are comfortable sharing their problems and seeking help.
Learn more about how you can support your employee's mental health at our upcoming workshop: