Mental Health All-In
In part two of a three-part Q&A series with diversity and inclusion consulting firm All of Us, founder Andrew Phillips unpacks how employers can respond to and offer support for mental health issues that surface in the workplace while at the same time navigating the need to focus on company growth and employee productivity.
The key is to show empathy and support. Don’t pretend to understand what they are going through; they may not themselves. Employers should express support and convey that the key leaders and the business as a whole are keen to help in whatever way they can. There is a risk of being too involved and also of not being involved enough, which is why workplace training can help. However, as long as the employee knows that the employer views these challenges as ones that can be worked through together, that is an appropriate first step.
Businesses will want to continue to provide a great product/service to their clients and for all colleagues to enjoy their work. There is a risk of disruption if an employee is not performing at his or her best or is away from work for a period of time. Speak to the employee and find out what he or she thinks. Discuss what is best for the business and for the employee and plan around that. The employee may want the rest of the team to know what is going on or may not. Employers should respect that decision as much as possible.
It is important that the company and management let employees know they are supportive before an employee discloses an issue. The employee will typically have felt poorly for some time before disclosing any mental health issues. Fear as to how the employer will respond to any disclosure may make the employee anxious, so a clearly supportive approach may help stop an issue from escalating.
A recent Cigna global well-being survey found that 87% of employees are stressed at work—with personal finances being the top stressor—and 38% claim no stress management support is provided at all. Financial well-being is clearly a big issue, and there is a feeling that businesses do not do enough to support their staff in this or, if they do, they do not make clear what they offer in terms of support.
Food insecurity falls into the broader well-being category and can be one of the causes of increased sick leave, which has a massive impact on business performance. While harder to identify specific issues through the traditional staff surveys and polls, there is no doubt that food insecurity is a business issue that has to be managed carefully.
There has been a significant rise in the number of tech businesses built to provide benefits to employees that cover a wide range of health and well-being issues delivered to staff via an app so resources can be accessed as and when required.
The results are great: employees feel cared for and heard, are better equipped to plan their weeks, and feel the employer is responding and adapting as necessary through this new normal.
In many cases, indifference is the result of ignorance, which may not be the individual’s fault and instead may purely be the result of that person’s reality. A white person might never see racism in day-to-day life. Thus, a good approach is to open people’s eyes to the experiences of others. Companies often do this by sharing case studies of their employees who are ambassadors and represent the issue and the benefit/support that the business brings to the issue. Role models are widely used to spread the word and show proof of how a company works hard to help those suffering with their mental health at work.
You can also point out that clients and colleagues will have close family and friends with a range of mental health challenges. Show empathy, include everyone in the conversation, educate where necessary, and highlight the importance of inclusion in staff morale and company performance.
The most critical action company leadership can take is to notify staff that they are supportive. This is largely unknown and causes huge anxiety among staff struggling with their mental health.