Mental Health in the Workplace – 4 Steps You Can Take To Support Your Staff

Almost two years into the pandemic, most of us are experiencing some form of pandemic-related burnout. The demands of remote working, repeated lockdowns, social isolation, and rising health anxiety have taken their toll - and the effects are being felt in the workplace where many employees are stressed out and struggling.

Nearly half of all US workers are now reporting mental health issues, putting the onus on employers to strengthen their internal infrastructure to avoid employee burnout and provide staff with the mental health support they need.

Why employee mental health matters

If your workers are in the middle of a mental health crisis, they're far more likely to be inattentive, unfocused, and disconnected. Studies show that problem-solving, creativity, and innovation take a hit when we're not feeling our best. Coaching firm BetterUp surveyed over 1,000 workers and found that those who said they weren't struggling with their mental health spent 23% less effort completing a creative task than those who were.

It's easy to see why. When we're anxious or overwhelmed, the pressure of problem-solving to deadline only makes things worse. Employers can help by cultivating a supportive, empathetic, and nurturing company culture.

What does good mental health support look like?

When it comes to drawing up an effective mental health policy, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all template. A program that works for one team may be wholly ineffective for another. That's why the first step to building a robust framework should involve contributions from all stakeholders – from senior management down to entry-level staff.

While every organization needs to develop its own strategy tailored to its unique needs, here are a few good jumping off points to get you started. 

1. Be alert to red flags

Mental health issues are often referred to as a 'hidden' health hazard. Unfortunately the stigma surrounding these kinds of conditions can make sufferers feel isolated, alone, and ashamed.

Employees may not be willing or able to articulate what's wrong, but employers can often pick up on non-verbal cues that something's amiss. Be on the lookout for red flags such as changes in behavior, sudden dips in performance, lateness, absenteeism, and anything that seems uncharacteristic for that team member.

Often, identifying the issue can break that barrier and encourage the employee to seek help before things fester.

2. Don't overlook the small stuff

Creating a supportive environment in the office doesn't have to mean taking time out for company retreats. Small steps can make a big difference.

This could mean encouraging employees to take breaks, exercise, go for a stroll, or have an informal coffee meeting. You may want to introduce casual group activities like a trivia night or mentoring sessions. Anything that fosters an inclusive dynamic among your team will help members open up and share their concerns.

3. Consider peer support therapy

Peer support therapy – where counselling is provided by a therapist with lived-in experience – has proven benefits in the workplace. By speaking with someone who's been through it, struggling staff are able to open up to an empathetic ear and feel heard, without being judged.

4. Have more structured solutions in place, just in case

The little details are important, but every good mental health framework needs structured support for those times when your employee needs a more formal level of care. This could mean investing in mental health counselling programs, adding mental health services to your health plan, or setting up regular on-the-job training for ongoing support.

And, of course, your employees will need flexibility in their schedules to access these services if necessary.

There should also be a plan in place to support your employee as they recover. Treatment is only one part of the process and accommodating them both during and after their care may require a more nuanced approach in how they work.

If you're worried about stretching your budget to cover a comprehensive support plan, don't be. Data from the National Safety Council shows that employers who invest in mental health support won't just make their office happier, they'll see a four-fold return on every dollar spent.

Mental health has always been a consideration for employers, but it's now more important than ever to ensure you have the right support in place. Prioritizing wellness at work will pay dividends both now and over the long-term as we all adapt to the post-pandemic world.

Prodoscore can help businesses identify which employees are struggling and which are showing signs of stress and anxiety. For these, and other business insights that can help keep your team on track, get in touch with us today.

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