In North America, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the years, there has been a positive increase in people’s acknowledgment of the importance of mental health. Often overlooked, mental health awareness is crucial in maintaining a secure and efficient workplace for employees.
As an employer, manager or an HR professional, it is essential that you factor in mental healthcare to your organization’s action plans and policies. Employees are the lifeblood of any organization. By giving some degree of time to focus on protecting and improving mental health, you can not only keep your workforce producing at their optimum best but also living well satisfied and fulfilled lives.
The aim of Mental Health Awareness Month.
Mental Health Awareness Month is the period between the 1st and the 31st of May during which activities, policies, and steps geared towards promoting better mental health are observed. This long-standing practice began in 1949 and has continued to pick up momentum over the decades since then.
This campaign aims to raise awareness, increase public participation and educate people about the dangers of ignoring mental health. It draws attention to many illnesses and issues caused by poor mental health care, including depression, suicide, and dementia, as well as the stigmatization of people living with these conditions.
Mental health issues are widespread and people experience them to varying degrees. Many underlying factors could affect mental health, including:
- Traumatic experiences
- Family and relationship dynamics
Physical health issues may be easier to observe and manage, but responding to mental health issues is just as essential and crucial. In this article, we’ve put together ten resources to help employers better support their team’s mental health.
1 - Understand employee burnout.
As an employer, sooner or later, dealing with employee burnout could be an issue you will face. Not everyone understands what employee burnout is—many still think it is all in the mind, but the WHO (World Health Organization)recognizes employee burnout as an occupational concern.
Employee burnout is a syndrome caused by workplace stress that the organization has not successfully controlled. Some of the symptoms of employee burnout include:
- Loss of Motivation
- Frustration and irritation directed at colleagues
- Chronic exhaustion
- Inconsistent productivity
- Lack of satisfaction
Over 60% of full-time employees will have—or face issues with—a burnout at some point in their working life. This is why it is crucial to understand how employee burnout contributes to mental health problems. Some employers read these symptoms as red flags—but for the wrong reasons. They are seen as issues that reduce productivity and therefore need stamping out, usually by hiring new staff or creating stricter work expectations; however these steps do not solve the problem’s roots—in fact, they exacerbate them.
By having a proper understanding of employee burnout and how detrimental it is to employees, employers can better assist and safeguard the health of their employees. It is crucial that, as an employer, manager or an HR professional, there be a balanced look at workplace goals and policies.
2 - Create or reiterate employee benefits.
Quite often, we find that one of the reasons for high employee turnover and dissatisfaction is the absence of an employee benefit program. A paycheck is not sufficient motivation to keep employees satisfied and fired up to do their best. This is why creating and implementing an excellent employee benefits program is vital to raise employee morale.
These programs can include many things, including:
- Life Insurance
- Retirement plans
- Health insurance
- Personal development programs
- Vacation offers and plans
These incentives create an atmosphere of value, love, and security. As an employer, you want to show the people who give their time and energy to you that you care about their personal needs as well.
Creating the program is one thing—actually implementing it is the next step. It is not uncommon to find employees who know little about pre-existing employee benefit programs in their workplace. How you choose to implement these programs is essential.
Employees can read the vibe of the workplace. They can tell when employee benefits have just been implemented to tick boxes and when they are in place because workforce wellbeing is a priority of the organization. Encourage your employees to take these programs. Create a structure that enforces it where necessary. There are excellent HR software solutions that can help you do this.
3 - Normalize mental health conversations.
Mental health awareness should not be discussed in closed circles, aired only in whispers and hushed tones. There is a great deal of stigmatization for people who live with such conditions. This is one reason why most people will choose to stay silent rather than share their mental health issues.
As an employer, your job is to create a healthy work environment where people are respected no matter who they are, where they come from, or whatever issues they may be facing. There are many great ways and policies that you can adopt to make this possible. But all will hinge on you taking center stage and leading by example. Show your employees that you genuinely care.
Encourage them to use the mental health resources available within the organization. And let them know that they are free to speak up if they feel unsafe about their mental health or want to share the burden with people who understand the demands of their role.
4 - Words and labels matter.
Some done understand the gravity words and labels play in our lives. They are an important way to motivate and inspire employees to work better, but can also be counter-productive or hurtful if used in an incentive way. This is a challenge many people who live with mental health issues continue to face.
People who struggle with mental health conditions do not want to be labeled by their peers or colleagues. They do not want to be seen as less capable of holding their jobs, or seen as their mental health disorder as a whole. These are real concerns for people, that employers must factor in when providing resources for Mental Health Awareness Month.
For example, an employee who struggles with anxiety might feel labeled and dehumanized if they were addressed as a "anxious person". Instead, the more wholistic and thoughtful way to broach the topic might be to acknowledge they are a person who lives with, struggles with, or experiences anxiety.
Educating the workforce about general communication is crucial. There should be rehearsals and constant training until a culture of communicating respect, value, and care becomes the underlying tone in the workplace. Without this happening, you will find employees living with mental health issues facing deteriorating conditions, lower productivity, and a hostile work environment.
5 - Take leadership training for mental health.
The success of an organization largely hinges on leadership. Solid and reliable administration must enforce the policies and structures established for mental health awareness. You can do this by constantly exposing yourself and the leaders in your organization to training on mental health care.
Because you occupy a leadership position in your organization, employees are bound to look up to you for some level of guidance in the way they should do things. The behavior and actions of leaders are a reflection of the true intent of the organization. With the right training, you can help build a strong support system for mental health awareness in your organization.
As the person in the leadership role, learning how to navigate these instances with support and compassion is key. When an employee is working through a mental health crisis, grief, or emotional challenge, be sure to learn the appropriate way to handle these instances. You can do so by doing good research and using available resources and support tools.
6 - Educate yourself through empathy.
If you haven’t faced a mental health challenge, it can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has. Naturally, people don’t see life the way you see life—they see it through their own experiences and bias.
Empathy is powerful, especially within a corporate setting where structure and results can take priority over people and their experiences. You can educate yourself about what it feels like to go through a mental health condition daily. You can learn how this can affect work by listening to others who have experienced this.
You can learn about the stigma and the emotional needs of people going through a mental health crisis. Empathy is stronger when it is built on knowledge and experience, not personal bias.
7 - Create an awareness workshop.
The incredible thing about Mental Health Awareness Month is the fact that you have over thirty days in one year to drive a good understanding of these challenges. By giving more time to it, you show how important it is to you and the organization. You also help to create a strong presence of mind for all members of the organization on the significance of mental health awareness.
Workshops during this period are great ways to build on this. The workshops are designed to bring all parties to the same table to confront a challenge that affects them all. You will foster a strong sense of care and security when you put this in place. You may not know all the key areas to address, but there are plenty of great places to start. And the first and most important thing is to make that start. With time it will grow and the results will begin to reflect directly on the members of your organization, as well as on corporate goals.
8 - Evaluate organizational culture.
Cultures are powerful and often underestimated in their ability to shape a community and even an organization. You will find that some organizational cultures have stemmed from assumptions or patterns observed, invented, or developed by a group of people.
When organizational culture stems from undefined beliefs and value systems, it can be difficult to point out. When it is written down in a guideline, it is much easier to deal with. But in all cases, as a leader, you have to employ critical thinking and observation in noting which of these value systems, beliefs, and culture have positive effects on the mental and physiological strength of your employees. You must note the weeds and the little foxes that destroy the vine and deal with them decisively.
When an organization has a culture that positively impacts the mental health of its employees, it fosters a healthier workspace. There will be a significant increase in employee satisfaction and motivation. Mental wellbeing plays an indispensable role in the way people work and live, and in the results they produce.
9 - Work on yourself.
As a leader, it is important to have a lot of self-awareness and to be open to reflection. The way you manage yourself will directly impact how you manage your staff. The important thing to note here is that mental health challenges can affect anyone and to varying degrees. As a leader in your organization, you are not exempted from this harsh reality. You must work on yourself to be the leader who supports and builds strength around those who may suffer from mental health issues. But you must also know that your own mental health is pivotal in the way your team or organization operates.
Your ability to relate, your ability to lead and deliver effective action will all depend on the state of your mind. Leaders bear the burden of responsibility and stand in the front line against the myriads of challenges an organization faces. That can take a toll on the mind and body. Whether you own the organization or you are an employee, your mental health matters too.
10 - Open the lines of communication.
Although you may consider yourself an advocate for mental health in the workplace, sharing this with your team members in a way that makes them feel they can approach you with any concerns will go a long way to increase workplace wellness.
It is not unusual for people to fold and stay silent on such matters that concern mental health—usually because they assume nobody else cares about mental health issues. When you actively show that you are someone who can help or, at the very least, lend a listening ear, employees will feel more open to sharing. Encourage openness within the workplace. You can create structures and avenues for people to share for both the most outspoken and the more reserved members of your team.
The key is to keep openness and respect a core believe in your organization. People want to be valued and respected. People want to know that while they pour their time and energy into your organization’s goals you are, in turn, doing everything within your power to protect them mentally and physically. By using the right tools and resources, you can help bring the much-needed change Mental Health Awareness Month seeks to bring about.