Prior to founding ACHIEVE, I worked primarily as a Social Worker in the field of mental health – both in hospital settings and in the community, providing support to those living with mental health concerns. My role in supporting people’s recovery would regularly involve conversations with their employers about ways to best support their return to work.
I was often struck by how different employers responded to these conversations. Some were empathetic and supportive of the employee, while others where indifferent and unsupportive. In these latter situations, return-to-work attempts were often unsuccessful.
As leaders, dealing with issues related to mental health in the workplace can be challenging and difficult to navigate. However, it is essential that organizations have the capabilities to manage mental health because early identification and support typically lead to continued productivity and retention of employees. With the right support, people with mental health concerns can thrive in the workplace.
Mental health concerns either directly or indirectly affect all people at some point in their lives – either personally or through a family member, friend, or colleague. The sheer number of people affected by mental illness – 1 in 7 people – means that mental health is an issue that impacts almost every workplace.
Organizations can either contribute positively or negatively to a person’s mental health.
Organizations can either contribute positively or negatively to a person’s mental health. Workplaces should care about mental health because, simply put, it is the right thing to do. But if that isn’t enough, there are also significant financial costs that can come as a result of poor mental health, including loss of productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism (at work in body, but not mentally focused), and turnover.
Proactively Provide Support
In many countries, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who have a mental illness. Employers are not allowed to use the fact that someone has a mental illness as a reason to discipline or terminate. And yet, not all organizations are proactively supporting mental health in the workplace.
One of the best ways to support mental health in the workplace is to be proactive and ensure that you are providing a safe and healthy workplace for staff. When this does not occur, the impacts of stress, conflict, and risk of burnout contribute to mental health concerns. Working to ensure your organization is doing an effective job in these six areas is a great place to start:
- Healthy Workplace Culture: Be intentional about creating a workplace where employees like their place of work and feel psychologically safe.
- Formal Policies: Ensure your policies around things like respect in the workplace and use of sick days are clear and followed. Consider if your orientation of these policies is adequate.
- Accessibility of Services and Programs: If counselling services are a part of benefits, ensure that staff understand how to access them. Become aware of community resources that may be helpful and work to normalize access to these services.
- Training and Development: Offer training to both employees and managers in areas that support mental health awareness. Be sure your larger leadership development program fosters leaders who are able and willing to support employees.
- Management of Psychological Hazards: Have plans in place to effectively deal with issues of conflict, bullying, and harassment.
- Leading by Example: Leadership should be visibly and actively engaged in creating an inclusive environment and normalize conversations around mental health.
As leaders, we need our employees to function at a high level to support the mission and vision of our organization. But when people are not mentally healthy, it’s next to impossible to function at a high level. When we work to support mental health concerns in the workplace it benefits both employees and employers.
Training: I am teaching a half-day virtual workshop on the topic of Managing Mental Health in the Workplace on August 25, 2020, from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Central Time. Register or learn more here.
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