While mental health issues are not a new workplace phenomenon, the marked decline in employee mental health has certainly put the issue front and center for workplaces since 2020.
According to survey data analyzed by the Harvard Business Review, the frequency of mental health issues increased from 2019 to 2021. This had led to:
- Increased attrition: 68% of millennials (50% in 2019) and 81% of Gen Zers (75% in 2019) have left roles for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 50% of respondents overall (34% in 2019).
- High prevalence: 76% of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019.
- Widespread disclosure: Nearly two-thirds of respondents talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year. Only 49% of respondents described their experience of talking about mental health at work as positive or reported that they received a positive or supportive response, which is comparable to 2019 rates.
As employees become increasingly forthcoming about seeking mental health support from their employers, it’s important that HR leaders and managers are able to handle these concerns when they eventually come up. Lori Klaus, LPCC, and Stacie Bliss, LPC, both Eden Mental Health Coaches, offered their tips for navigating the mental health concerns of your workplace:
WHEN EMPLOYEES MAY APPROACH YOU ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH
Employees may reach out to their manager or HR partner about their mental health when they feel overwhelmed or when their mental health is affecting their work performance. According to Klaus and Bliss, by the time an employee reaches out, it’s often at the “too late” stage of the game, meaning after their work has been impacted or their symptoms may have become difficult to hide from others.
THE PROCESSES YOU NEED IN PLACE TO SUPPORT EMPLOYEE CONCERNS
When it comes to disclosures about an employee’s mental health, you’ll want to have several processes in place so you can be ready to support them once they confide in you.
Measures to ensure that the employee’s privacy will be protected and respected are particularly important. The one exception to this would be a scenario where an immediate supervisor may have to inform HR in order to help develop a solution to best support them.
Offer reassurance of support when it comes to getting the help they need, and make clear that this won’t negatively affect their job. Have a list of resources ready that you can provide, including materials on how to access help through an employee assistance program (EAP), mental health inclusion workgroup, or mental health or coaching services that are available through their insurance plan.
Finally, it’s crucial to make sure that leaders at your organization receive the proper training for handling these situations. It’s imperative that managers know how to respond with empathy and support and are trained to recognize the signs of burnout and other common mental health issues in the workplace.
HOW YOU SHOULD HANDLE MENTAL HEALTH CONVERSATIONS WITH EMPLOYEES
Should a direct report or employee ever approach you with concerns about their mental health and the impact it’s having on their work, there are a few things you should keep in mind during that conversation:
- Respond with care and empathy and let the employee know that you’re there for them.
- Thank the employee for sharing this information with you, as it likely took a great deal of courage and deep thought to come to the decision to self-disclose.
- Normalize the topic as much as possible. Try not to make it a huge deal because that can increase feelings of shame and fear.
- Listen with an open mind and without judgement. Take cues from the employee in terms of how much they want to share or not about their mental health.
- Be mindful of only making promises you can keep in terms of the type of support you are able to offer, such as a change in their workload or schedule.
SET THE TONE FOR MAINTAINING MENTAL HEALTH COMPANYWIDE
Well before any individual employee reaches out for support, you should do everything in your power to communicate to your workforce that you value their wellbeing, including their mental health.
There are a few ways to go about creating and fostering an environment where employees feel they are safe to nurture their mental health:
- Remember, culture is set from the top down. Leadership should encourage employees to use time off regularly, utilize EAP and other support resources, encourage employees to ask for help if they feel overwhelmed with their workload and to let supervisors know when they have something going on in their personal life that might be affecting their work life.
- Regularly and proactively remind employees of the resources that are available to them as preventive measures, and let them know who to go to if they have questions or need additional support.
- Remind employees that they can safely report any issues they might have and that it won’t negatively affect their role.
- As supervisors or HR leaders, you should talk openly about mental health concerns. You don’t have to go so far as to disclose your own personal mental health struggles, but you can make reference to issues like the stress of parenting or concerns about experiencing burnout. Not only will this help employees see you as someone they can relate to, but it also helps foster an environment where team members will feel more inclined to share their mental health struggles before reaching a crisis point.
This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your Care Team or other healthcare provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials.