Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace Starts with You

May 23, 2023
Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace Starts with You

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to recognize that mental health struggles come in all shapes and sizes, and that YOU have the power to make a difference. According to a recent CNN poll, the US is currently in a mental health crisis with 20% of the adult population reporting mental illness each year, putting individuals at increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease as well as substance use disorders. By those stats, 1 in 5 of your employees might be suffering from a mental illness.

This blog will cover a general approach for how to help your employees with their overall mental health. For specific employees with mental health concerns, there may be applicable federal, state, and local laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that require you to take certain steps to address your employees’ mental health conditions and also put policies in place for all of your employees.

We want our employees to be well, both physically and mentally. Viewed through a business lens, mental illness can negatively affect productivity, company approval and morale. In addition, mental health is a significant driver of healthcare cost which can ultimately impact your bottom line.

From a talent retention and recruitment standpoint, employees expect mental health to be addressed. It demonstrates that their company cares about them beyond what they can do for the business. Promoting mental health awareness and resources in the workplace is a win-win for you and your employees.

Now that we have the “why” established, let’s dig into what you can do about it.

Step 1: Name the issues - A solution can only be implemented when a problem is named. For example, maybe you have noticed that several employees have been on edge lately, and that stress levels around the office (either in-person or virtually) seem to be high. Is the increased stress situational, like a big project that is demanding more of everyone’s time, or is there something systemic occurring that might be addressed? Try to pinpoint the cause or causes—often times there is more than one.

Step 2: Identify what you have control over - Now that you have named the issue, ask yourself: Where can I make a difference? For example, what would help combat employee stress? Possible solutions for this example could include allowing the employee time to take weekly 10-minute mediations or bringing in a speaker to talk about strategies for work-life balance. Whether there is a project that, for a finite period of time, might be taxing your employees’ bandwidth or a chronic issue of staff members feeling overwhelmed, identify where within your area of control you can begin to make small changes. Put on your brainstorming hat and get creative, and don’t be afraid to try. Trying shows your employees your care. This small-steps approach is behavior change 101.

Step 3: Turn to the professionals - Let’s take a moment to emphasize that you (most likely) are NOT a mental health professional, nor are you expected to act as one. Luckily, there are a wealth of workplace mental health resources at your disposal. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) are just a few places to begin your search. Recently, AFSP joined forces with TriNet to enhance mental health support resources and services to both internal colleagues and customers alike. Another great tool is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which will not only benefit your employees, but can also positively contribute to the overall company culture. In addition to confidential employee counseling, EAP offers support around a wide range of issues, including life coaching, mental health, personal development, parenting, relationships, stress, substance abuse, nutrition and much more. Whether it’s one-on-one support or self-service articles, EAP has resources that acknowledge the scope of day-to-day challenges that can affect mental health like work-life balance, exercise and sleep.

Step 4: Put the policies in place - It is one thing to say mental health is important, it is another thing entirely to lead by example. Consider implementing the following as best practice that may also be required:

  1. An anti-retaliation policy protecting employees from any adverse employment actions when they come to you with a mental health issue or point out a work-related concern that may be causing stress.
  2. A policy that provides reassurance that everything they say is 100% confidential to the greatest possible extent.
  3. Consider options such as limiting meeting time, offering self-care opportunities and time to engage in them, or an ongoing mental health education campaign to show employees that you are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat - This is the simplest but one of the most important steps. Mental health awareness is not a one-and-done conversation, especially for employees with mental health conditions. It is ongoing and should occur throughout the year as long as your employee needs support. Through an open dialogue and taking appropriate action, you can begin to tear down the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. You can say hey, I noticed this issue and am going to do my best to help you resolve it. I see it and the impact it is having on you. I care about your mental health. I see you.

Addressing mental health in the workplace is something that is paramount to us at TriNet. Contact us if you have questions about TriNet-sponsored benefit offerings or any of our other HR services. Give your employees freedom to get the HR support they may need. And remember small change can have a big impact.

© 2023 TriNet Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This communication is for informational purposes only, is not legal, tax or accounting advice, and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance. TriNet is the single-employer sponsor of all its benefit plans, which does not include voluntary benefits that are not ERISA-covered group health insurance plans and enrollment is voluntary. Official plan documents always control and TriNet reserves the right to amend the benefit plans or change the offerings and deadlines. 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.

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