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Best Practices for Discussing Mental Health in the Workplace

February 28, 2023
Best Practices for Discussing Mental Health in the Workplace

Talking about mental health isn’t easy, especially in the workplace. The stigma that surrounds mental health can make it difficult for employees to feel safe and respected enough to speak about it. They might think that in doing so, they’ll lose their job, lower their chance of a promotion, experience judgment within the workplace or even be the target of harassment or bullying. Unaddressed mental health concerns can negatively impact more than the individual who is struggling. Company culture may suffer, productivity levels could decline resulting in a risk of higher employee turnover. To help you better understand how to address mental health in the workplace, consider the following tips.

Understanding Mental Health

Mental health refers to a person's overall emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It encompasses the way a person thinks, feels and behaves, and it can affect daily life, relationships and physical health. Mental health can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, trauma, and day-to-day experiences. Although there are many different conditions, it’s estimated that close to one billion people (1 in every 8) around the world suffer from one or more mental disorders each year.1

The Importance of Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health is an integral part of overall well-being, so it’s understandable that it could affect an individual’s professional capabilities. Poor mental health can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and a higher risk of workplace accidents—amongst other things. Companies who address mental health in the workplace show their employees that they’re supportive of struggles and open to helping in whatever capacity they can.

In addition to enhanced employee experience, offering support for employees dealing with mental health struggles may help reduce the financial burden on the company in regard to the cost of healthcare and disability leave.

Six Best Practices for Discussing Mental Health in the Workplace

At first, talking about mental health with your employees may be difficult or uncomfortable. However, allowing for open communication can help make everyone become more comfortable and feel understood and supported. To help, consider some of the following best practices to implement in the workplace.

1. Normalize Conversations About Mental Health

The first step in discussing mental health is making the effort to do so. Encourage open and honest communication about mental health, and create a culture where people feel comfortable discussing struggles. To help, consider some of the following:

  • Lead by Example — If you feel comfortable, be transparent about your own mental health and ways that you’ve received support. This can show your team that you can relate to what they’re going through and opens up the line of communication.
  • Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Days — May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a great time to work with your team to show support, understanding, compassion and opportunities for healing within your organization.
  • Incorporate Flexibility — Consider incorporating additional policies that support employees who need to take time off and focus on their mental health. This may include a leave of absence, workplace accommodation or flexible work arrangements .

By normalizing conversations about mental health and showing your team that you support their needs, companies can create a healthier and more productive work environment for all employees.

2. Get Educated

It is important to educate yourself on some common conditions. This can help you better understand where your employees are coming from and how to offer helpful and unbiased support. Luckily, there are several ways you can educate yourself on mental health issues, including:

  • Books by credentialed experts
  • Free online introductory courses through accredited universities and organizations
  • Workshops and conferences
  • Consult with a licensed professional
  • Connect with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) (EAP)
  • Credible websites such as NIMH, WHO and Mental Health America

3. Be Respectful, Empathetic and Non-Judgmental

Be respectful and show empathy and understanding when discussing mental health. Avoid making assumptions or stereotypes about mental health conditions, as doing so can have a lasting negative impact on your workforce. Try to listen with an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions.

Being empathetic helps foster a safe and supportive environment where individuals feel more accepted and feel safe to share their personal experiences and concerns. It can also serve to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and increases the likelihood that employees will seek professional help if needed. When an employee feels heard, understood and that their experience is acknowledged, they’re more likely to trust their employer. This can lead to increased employee engagement and productivity, as well as employee retention.

4. Offer Professional Support and Access to Programs

Maintaining an open line of communication is only one part of supporting your employees and their mental health. Develop a plan for how to respond and provide support when an employee raises concerns. Offer recommendations for mental health support and resources, such as employee assistance programs, counseling services and mental health days.

The Employee Assistance Program (EAPs) can provide your workforce with confidential counseling and support services for mental health and other personal concerns. When an EAP is available, your team may be able to gain access to these services through a third-party provider, usually at no additional cost.

If you refer employees to the EAP or to their carrier, they may be able to find an in-network mental health professional .Some employee benefits provide coverage for mental health services.

5. Confidentiality

When encouraging employees to speak openly and honestly about their mental health, it’s important to let them know that there are mental health resources available to them, they are encouraged to take advantage of them, and what they say or ask about mental health needs or resources will be kept confidential. Always respect the privacy of employees when discussing mental health. There are several ways to do this:

  • Have a Clear Confidentiality Policy — Clearly communicatee this policy to employees.
  • Obtain Consent — Before sharing any information about an employee's mental health, obtain their written consent.
  • Limiting the Number of People Involved — Only share information about an employee's mental health with those who need to know in order to provide the necessary support.
  • Keeping Records Confidential — Like all employee medical information, make sure that any records related to an employee's mental health are kept confidential and stored separately from their personnel file and in a secure location.
  • Offering the Proper HR Training — Provide regular training to all employees on the importance of maintaining confidentiality and how to handle sensitive information related to mental health.

Confidentiality is crucial to building trust and encouraging employees to seek help when they need it.

6. Check-In Regularly

Take a proactive approach and help normalize talking about struggles, whether they’re work related or not. Mental health can fluctuate and change, so regular check-ins can help see that employees have the support they need at all times. Professional support can be engaged to facilitate mental health and associated support in the workplace.

By following these best practices, workplaces can help create a more supportive and understanding environment for those who may be struggling with their mental health. For additional resources, access to HR experts and more, TriNet is here to help.

To assist with mental health and more, TriNet offers a unique approach that empowers your employees to optimize their health benefits and become smart healthcare consumers.

WE DO NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.

1. World Health Organization, “Mental disorders.
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