How are your employees doing? Are they stressed? Depressed? How do you know when someone on your team needs help? Does your employee health plan include mental health? As Mental Health Awareness month moves behind us, this is the right time to ask these questions and actively invest in mental wellness at work, not just for the month of May, but for every day moving forward.
Mental wellness is employee wellness.
FACT: One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and PTSD. Source
FACT: Mental illness can affect anyone. While some illnesses have a genetic component, mental illness can affect people of all ages, races, and income levels, whether or not there is a family history. Source
These facts mean that it is very likely at any time that one or more of your team members is living with some type of mental issue.
The challenges of the past year have created a perfect storm of added pressure resulting in steeply increased mental stress. Over 40% of people say their mental health has declined since the outbreak according to a study by Mind Share Partners. Source
As a result, we are facing employee burnout, increased sick days, reduced productivity, and employee attrition. As leaders, we need to be proactive and meet this challenge head-on.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
~ World Health Organization
Three steps to create a mentally-well workplace
1. Destigmatize talking about mental health. In times past, such things were discussed in whispers behind closed doors, if at all. Your employees won’t share that they are struggling if they think it will affect their job or their future with your company. This is especially relevant for first responders, members of the armed forces, and health care workers who are asked to shoulder an immense burden but are discouraged from talking about the effects of the burden of seeking treatment.
It is up to us to create a workplace environment where people feel supported. We need to communicate more and communicate often that mental well-being is as important as physical well-being.
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.
~ Glen Close
2. Practice empathetic leadership. Listen and pay attention. Has an employee’s performance suddenly dipped? Is a reliable person now missing deadlines? Is a usually upbeat team member suddenly sullen or combative? Ask the simple question, “Are you OK?” In the Mind Share Partners study, less than 40% of employees indicated that their manager had asked how they were coping.
Now it is imperative to take the time to talk to your employees to find out what challenges they are dealing with, and where their mental state lies. Your employees want to know that their well-being is important to you as their manager, and to the company as a whole.
This is a place to be vulnerable. Practice active listening. Lead with empathy and understanding. These conversations are not problem-solving sessions per se, but person-to-person engagements. Note, these aren’t one-and-done conversations. Mental wellness should be an ongoing part of your team culture.
Now more than ever, there is an immediate need to replace shame surrounding mental health with wisdom, compassion, and honesty.
~ Oprah Winfrey
3. Provide information and access to resources. Intervention for employees who are experiencing burnout, stress, anxiety, or other mental illnesses could happen in a variety of ways. Provide your team members easy access to mental health resources, tools, and techniques to help them mentally recharge and regain their wellness. Some options are support groups, flexible work arrangements, meditation, gym memberships, employee assistance programs, referrals to counseling, and/or crisis intervention.
I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities, and a purpose-driven self.
~ Harry, Duke of Sussex
Finally, take care of yourself. As the leader, you are not exempt from the stress of the workplace. In fact, C-suite and managers alike experienced the same drop in mental wellness over the past year. Take care of yourself so you can support your team.