As workplace distress has increased over the past several years, more organizations than ever before are implementing strategic initiatives to support employee well-being. However, even with this support in place, the stigma surrounding mental health support continues to keep those in need from seeking help. One of the best things employers can do for their teams is work to remove the pervasive stigmas around employee mental health. Attitudes that mental health issues are some sort of weakness or flaw can prevent employees from utilizing the vital resources organizations have put in place to help them. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle their workload – but that’s exactly what people need to do. And as organizational wellness leaders, we must work to normalize asking for help before the situation gets worse.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, depression is the number one cause of disability worldwide. Of course, not all depression and other mental health concerns are caused by work, but they can be exacerbated by a work environment where these issues aren’t addressed or acknowledged. Here are three ways that leaders can remove the stigma surrounding employee mental health and boost the wellness of their organizations.
Make EMPLOYEE Mental Health a Part of Company Policy
Your organization will no doubt have policies and procedures around health and well-being, so make sure that mental health is included in those policies. Create a company-wide vision of what great mental health looks like, how you want to support that, and engage every level of your organization to become involved with this.
Consider having regular mental health check-ins. Just as employees might have regular one-to-ones with their line managers about their performance, a regular check-up on workload, work satisfaction, and any feelings of burnout could help address symptoms of employee mental health issues before they become serious health concerns. These regular check-ins can help normalize conversation regarding wellness.
Studies show that nearly half of people who don’t seek treatment for mental health problems simply didn’t realize they were experiencing mental health issues. They may think they are tired, stressed, or overworked, and come to associate work with those negative feelings rather than addressing them. They decide to “tough it out” rather than seek help. By encouraging employees at every level to talk more openly about how they feel, you create a culture of openness, reducing the chance of serious distress and improving productivity and overall employee well-being.
In some industries, including healthcare, confidentiality can be a challenge when discussing wellness support. Decades of consequences regarding mental health issues have understandably created distrust among team members and fear of professional repercussions. To ensure everyone feels comfortable being open and honest about discussing well-being, these mental health check-ins can also be done digitally to protect anonymity and encourage participation. Several tools, such as the Well-Being Index invented by Mayo Clinic, provide an opportunity for employees to measure their mental health anonymously and seek any needed support from the organization.
Consciously Change Language and Attitudes
While no one wants to feel like they have to “watch what they say” all the time, adopting inclusive language that creates a safe space is possible with practice and understanding. Calling things “crazy,” “mad,” “mental,” or “insane” reinforces the idea that mental health problems are “bad” and only connected to things we don’t want to have to deal with. Consider replacing these terms with “challenging,” “difficult,” “unsustainable,” and other professional terms that could improve the outlook of your team members.
As a leader, be bold and challenge non-inclusive behavior proactively. Gently address the use of discriminatory language and actions and enforce the policies of your organization. Take into account that employee mental health concerns may fly under the radar if those individuals are not encouraged to discuss these issues with leadership. If you are seen to be part of a leadership team that doesn’t tolerate any type of discrimination, you are much more likely to have teams that want to talk about their issues rather than concealing them until they get worse.
Stay Informed and Educated
Organizational leaders and executives should do their best to stay up-to-date about issues related to mental health in the workplace. This should include having employee wellness programming and support in place that prioritizes mental health, is easily accessible, and is available to everyone from the executive suite and beyond.
Leaders could also look to engage local experts in mental health, learning about how stress and burnout can lead to longer-term mental health issues and putting processes in place to prevent that from happening. If properly engaged, those experts could come into the workplace and offer advice and information on a more widescale basis, improving the overall attitudes towards mental health. Consider having regular meetings about the state of mental health as an organization. If you can measure the overall well-being of your teams, you can get a broad picture of where you are as a company, where you would like to be, and make plans on how you can get there.
You may be able to engage individuals within the company to share their stories with others. For example, if you have an employee that suffered from workplace-related anxiety, but utilized the support in place to overcome it, that could be a great success story to share with others. Likewise, if you have someone who is still struggling, they might share their story to show others they are not alone. This could encourage employees to come forward and say they are struggling, rather than hiding their problems because they feel like they are simply supposed to cope. It could be a great learning opportunity for managers to understand just how many people within the organization have these types of issues. It’s often the first step to addressing underlying causes of stress and employee mental health problems.
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