8 Ways Companies Can Support the Mental Health of Their Employees
Mental illness has affected humankind, and business, forever. It has many different forms – depression, anxiety, stress, substance use/abuse, anger, and many other afflictions. Fortunately, now the conversation has started and the stigma of needing mental health support is decreasing.
For that, we owe thanks in part to many public figures willing to talk about their mental health struggles such as Olympian Michael Phelps, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, and even Denver’s local 9-News anchors who recently shared on-air their personal journeys with post-partum depression.
Escalated workplace violence has brought employee mental health to the forefront.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an average of nearly 2 million U.S. workers report having been a victim of violence at work each year.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of annual workplace homicides at about 400.
These statistics, along with the challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, has brought mental health and well-being to the forefront of employee-related issues that companies are confronted with today daily.
Fisher Phillips, a national law firm, offers some of the following advice to employers in their recent Insights article.
1. End the Stigma. Employees are often afraid to speak up about mental health problems for fear of embarrassment or being seen as incapable of performing their job. The most effective way to overcome this stigma is for leadership to start the conversation on mental health. It must be done with care, however, so that the conversation doesn’t feel invasive, artificial, or run afoul of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
2. Gather Input and Determine the Landscape. Understand how your work environment impacts employees’ mental health and if your workplace culture is a supportive one. This can be accomplished by asking employees about workload, flexibility, leadership, and culture. Consider doing a confidential survey to get initial input so employees don’t feel singled out and are comfortable expressing their feelings.
3. Smooth the Path. Consider ways you can make employees more comfortable seeking accommodations. This includes emphasizing that employees need not disclose their diagnosis as part of the accommodation or FMLA process.
4. Analyze and Promote Resources. What resources does your company offer for mental health issues, and for employees experiencing work- or family-related stress? Are they being utilized? If not, why? Ensure that employees are aware of all benefit programs available to them, including those related to mental illness and substance use and abuse treatments.
5. Train on Accommodations. Your supervisors and managers may need training to recognize when an employee may be requesting an accommodation based on a mental health issue. It’s not always obvious and recognizable. Employees with mental health conditions may request accommodations such as time off, emotional support animals, reduced work schedules, tasks lists or revision of tasks, weekly meetings with their supervisor, and similar relief.
6. Know the ABC’s of “Working From Home”. It’s important to understand that just because someone worked from home during the pandemic doesn’t mean remote work is a reasonable accommodation. However, you need to also understand that simply because you want employees in the office does not mean remote or hybrid work is not a reasonable accommodation. Each situation needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
7. Stay in Your Lane. It’s important to always respect an employee’s privacy. Make sure your supervisors and managers do not ask for specifics regarding any mental health issue, such as a diagnosis. It is not their role to determine whether the employee has a qualified disability; it is their role to direct the employee to Human Resources.
8. Be There. Some employees may openly divulge their mental health struggles, while others will not. Either way, your organization should be equipped to offer support of a general nature without running afoul of the ADA. Disability discrimination laws do not allow an employer to ask questions regarding a medical condition, but you can still offer empathy and support. For example, if a supervisor notices that an employee has been late more times in the last month than in the preceding three years of employment, they may be able to ask the employee “I noticed you have been struggling to get to work on time recently. Is everything okay?”, or “Is there something we can do to help?”. Empathy and non-judgmental communication can go a long way.
In conclusion, many companies are finally making forward progress in addressing their employee’s mental health issues and challenges. However, we are not all well-equipped to know the do’s and don’ts of how to properly respond to every situation and request.
The ADA requires that employers navigate accommodation requests with an interactive process. It is always prudent to consult with an attorney who specializes in workplace or employment law to help your company navigate these sensitive and complicated situations.
This blog is not intended to be legal advice.
- “Understanding Workplace Violence Prevention and Response“. SHRM’s HR Week, May 23, 2022.
- “10 Steps to Mental Health Wellness for Your Employees”. Fisher Phillips, by Raeann Burgo, Myra K. Creighton, Emily N. Litzinger. May 2, 2022.
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