From the LA Times:
How to boost mental health at your workplace
Rose Wong For The Times
By Rachel Schnalzer
The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic have led many employees to look to their managers for support — with mixed results. Ultimately, though, the pandemic may result in more awareness of the importance of mental health care.
“Everyone is just a lot more open about mental health in general,” says Anna Naify, consulting psychologist at California’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission . “We’ve found that [workers are] having to do a lot less convincing to people about the importance of mental health in the workplace.”
Here are some steps that employers and employees can take to bolster mental health support at work.
What employers can do
Self-assess: The most important step for employers to take is honestly assessing how they manage and treat their workers, says Patricia Grabarek, an adjunct professor of psychology at USC and co-founder of workplace wellness consulting and training firm Workr Beeing .
Mindfulness tools and fitness programs are good, Grabarek says, but if company leaders “understand how to treat employees and how to give grace during times of stress, I think that’s where [they’re] going to make the biggest impact.”
Anonymous surveys can be a good way for organizations to get employee feedback, although Graberek notes that these may not work if the workplace culture is particularly toxic. In those cases, bringing in a third party to do anonymized focus groups could help employees feel more secure about speaking out, Grabarek says.
Surveys should ask employees questions such as “Do you feel like the work distribution is fair?” and “Do you feel like you have an understanding of what you’ve been asked to do?” Naify says.
Naify also advises employers to keep an eye on trends over time by monitoring data such as worker absences for mental health reasons and Employee Assistance Program use.
Invite open conversations: Employers should let their workers know that mental health is a priority and learn about employee needs, both in group settings and in one-on-one meetings, organizational development psychologist Shané Teran says.
To help create an environment in which the worker can open up, employers can start with the question, “How have you really been doing?” advises Teran, who is also founder of the organizational health and executive wellness consulting firm SP Consulting Group .
If employees seem uncomfortable discussing workplace mental health challenges with their employers, Teran says it may be helpful to bring in professional workplace wellness coaches from outside the organization.
Keep in mind that under the Americans With Disabilities Act , workers are usually not obligated to share their medical information — which includes mental health information — with their employers. The law also limits the circumstances under which employers are allowed to ask about their workers’ mental health, and it forbids discriminating against a worker because of a mental health condition.
Learn about resources: “You would be surprised at how ill-informed people are about the benefits that are available,” says Garen Staglin, co-founder of brain health nonprofit One Mind, the founding organization of One Mind at Work , a coalition of employers focused on workplace mental health.
He suggests employers explore the Workplace Mental Health Assessment , a joint project of One Mind along with the American Psychiatric Assn. Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health and Mental Health America, to learn about resources , tools and programs.
Teran urges employers to research and apply for grants or other funds to support their mental health initiatives.
Reassure employees it’s safe to accept help: Many employers who offer mental health programs have a “last-mile problem,” One Mind Executive Vice President Daryl Tol says, “where you bring a tool to team members but they won’t use it because they’re afraid they’ll be discovered or they’re afraid that by using it someone will find out and their job will be in jeopardy.”
To remedy this issue, experts suggest that employers speak about their own struggles with mental health.
“When employees have leaders who are talking about their own experiences or their family’s experiences,” Naify says, that “helps to reduce stigma.”
To address fears about potential discrimination, employers can say they won’t use knowledge of a worker’s mental health conditions against them — that the information won’t factor into decisions about assignments, promotions or firings — and then make sure to keep their word.
Allow schedule flexibility: This can be a low-cost way for employers to support their workers’ mental health. “Giving people flexibility and autonomy and control of their own schedules can make a huge impact,” Grabarek says.
It doesn’t require a big shift in company policy. “Allow your employees to take an hour here and there, if they need it, as long as the work is getting done,” Grabarek suggests.
At the same time, Grabarek notes, it’s important not to overburden those who wish to adhere to a strict, pre-established schedule and leave the rest of their time free from work. “They’re the ones that are going to be impacted more from a mental health perspective if they’re getting emails at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.”
Grabarek recommends that managers avoid sending messages or emails late in the evening; instead, they can schedule the messages to be sent during regular work hours.
Ease financial stress if possible : “Everyone should recognize the economic consequences of COVID,” especially for women in the workplace, Staglin says.
He’s seen some employers offer free child-care services to ease the burden and stress of working parents.
In addition, Staglin points to employers who have guaranteed their employees that no one will be laid off during the pandemic. “That’s helped dramatically.”
Prioritize sustainability: Once employers begin to offer stronger mental health support, make sure that support doesn’t erode over time, Teran says.
“The worst thing that you can do with anyone, especially in the mental health space, is start the journey to letting them open up, and then shut it down because of funding,” Teran says.
What employees can do
Team up: Organizing with fellow workers who share your concerns is a good first step, experts say. Then your group can meet on a regular basis to discuss mental health needs and think up recommendations for company leaders.
It doesn’t need to be formal, Tol says. For example, he’s seen teams take coffee breaks together over Zoom to discuss challenges in the workplace. “We’ve seen that become very helpful and build influence in companies,” he says.
Present your case: When approaching management with requests for more mental health support, it’s helpful for employees to consider their bosses’ priorities. “Send a report that speaks the language of the leadership,” Teran suggests.
For example, if company leaders care most about the organization’s financials, employees should consider making the case that investing in employee mental health will end up saving money, and provide data to support that case.
Teran recommends that workers explain their request for greater mental health support in a letter and ask for a response within a specific time frame.
Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .