How Mental Health support will keep your company stable
At least 1 out of 6 employees suffers from a mental health issue such as stress, depression, or anxiety. Exacerbated further by COVID-19, analysis suggests there could be a 50 per cent increase in behavioural health conditions at organisations worldwide. Given such harrowing estimates, why do only a minuscule number of companies take mental health at work seriously?
Picture, if you will, a star employee at work. We can call him Max. Max was a go-getter right from the start. He showed initiative and was promoted within a year of joining until co-workers noticed something was amiss. His energy would fizzle into periods of inexplicable lows. Some weeks, Max seemed his usual productive self only to swing back into spells of inefficiency. On bad days, he would lash out at his co-workers. As Max oscillated between highs and lows, the office had no answers. To make things worse, he suddenly quit without any explanation.
High performers or otherwise, there are always signs that someone is struggling in the workplace. Talking about mental health is still taboo in the hallowed halls of the corporate world. In a universe that values go-getters and confidence (even if just external), nobody wants to be seen as “weak” or “incapable." Employees would much rather grit their teeth and bear it than speak up about issues to someone at work.
The issues in question can be varied and emotionally debilitating - trauma, personal loss, marital conflicts, personality disorders, psychiatric disorders, and substance abuse. Add crushing work pressures to the mix, and the dangers of someone spiralling are higher.
Surveys reveal that one in five people feel they cannot talk to their manager about being stressed out a work. People diagnosed with a mental health disorder seldom tell their managers for fear of being discriminated against.
Organizations are at their productive best when employees are healthy and happy. A company’s commitment to its employees' mental and physical health can make a tremendous difference in helping individuals cope.
Here are some suggestions on how to get started:
Be aware of your environment
You know your team and co-workers best and will notice changes in behaviour immediately. But remember that mental health manifests differently for different people. Sometimes, there may be no external signs of it either. However, people can watch out for some signs that teammates aren’t feeling like themselves:
Stark changes in how they interact with co-workers
Frequent mood swings
A dip in output, focus, or motivation levels
Appearing tired and anxious
Difficulty making decisions
Losing interest in projects or tasks they once enjoyed
Change in appetite
Unhealthy eating habits and increased drinking or smoking
How to have conversations
Create a safe space for communication.
People experiencing mental health problems will very rarely talk about it. As a manager or team member, you may need to take a gentle lead. Start by asking how they’re doing - just as you would if someone were physically feeling unwell or recovering from an illness.
Don’t make it too formal and stuffy. Some managers can make sensitive matters worse by escalating them to HR straight away. Their responses usually stem from a lack of awareness on how to talk about mental health.
Choose a neutral location
Talk somewhere private, ideally outside the office. Take them out for coffee or a walk – a neutral space where employees feel safe and comfortable to open up about their struggles.
Ask questions without interrogations
Ask non-judgmental and open-ended questions that encourage people to open up. Don’t make assumptions and let people explain their struggles in their own words. Build it from there. Ask them how it has impacted their work and how you can support their needs.
Each person’s experience of mental health is different. So, listen closely to what they say. Focus on the individual, not the problem. An organization’s support must meet the needs of the employees concerned. It helps companies come up with solutions that actually help instead of hinder. Contrary to popular opinion, workplace adjustments that support employees don’t always require a structural overhaul. It may involve something as simple as different working hours or some time off.
Always ensure confidentiality
Reassure employees that what they share will be held in the strictest confidence. It’s personal information that should be shared only with people that can help – managers, HR reps, and Organisational Health.
Develop action plans
Help employees on a plan to help them gradually get back on track. Work together instead of deciding for them. Identify the challenges, triggers for stress, the possible impact on work, the support needed, and whom to contact during a crisis.
Organisations must create an open culture in the office. Make mental health conversations routine. Normalise these discussions. If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme, seek its support to arrange for counselling services.
Above all, every employee must be aware of mental health policies and rights at the workplace. Many countries have laid down laws that protect workers from discrimination because of mental health challenges. Employers everywhere have a duty of care – a responsibility to support employee health and well-being.