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Workplace stress and mental illness are rising at an alarming rate. The mental health index by Lifeworks found that more than half of Americans felt they needed mental health support, but 40% of workers fear that if they admitted they needed help for a mental health issue, it would limit their career options. Multiple studies have also revealed that workers are struggling more with mental health issues such as stress, depression, addiction, or an exacerbation of mental illness due to financial insecurity, the pandemic, burnout, and lack of supervisor support. According to (Adams et al., 2021), 59% of their respondents felt they are not receiving adequate support from supervisors to help manage stress, 85% of respondents agreed that their workplace stress affects their mental health, and 56% felt their employer did not provide a safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illness. In addition, an average of 18% of United States workers report monthly having a mental health condition (Ferguson, 2022).
Unsupported and unmanaged mental health issues and illnesses can significantly impact job productivity, turnover, missed workdays, and increased conflict in the workplace. You can understand how psychiatric disabilities have become the most common type of disability covered under the ADA and the most misunderstood and feared by employers. Prioritizing everyone’s mental well-being can positively impact a worker’s and organization’s success. Whether the organization has a worker managing a lifelong mental health condition or a worker dealing with financial struggles or family challenges impacting their mental well-being, organizations can provide programs, services, and training that will help workers toward a path of mental health wellness and growth. Organizations can take three distinct steps to start rebuilding a workplace environment of collaboration, trust, and mental well-being.
Train your managers;
Provide benefits that support mental health; and
Hire outside professionals.
I cannot say this enough, train your managers. Provide your managers with the training and support they need to cope and communicate effectively with their staff. Ensure you hire managers with the skills and abilities to manage and communicate. Providing managers with regular, periodic training on interpersonal communication skills such as verbal, written, and non-verbal communication, empathy, and compassion is also proven to be a more effective motivator than criticism or shame. A manager with strong interpersonal communication skills is likely to be more effective at communicating points, messages, feelings, and thoughts to others. Interpersonal training can also help employees communicate more effectively with their co-workers and upper management.
Organizations must also train their managers on recognizing and responding to accommodation requests under Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Managers and employees also need to understand what the organization’s and the individuals’ rights and responsibilities are under the ADA. Managers are usually the first point of contact that a worker will reach out to when requesting modifications to their job because of a medical condition or the need for medical leave. Ensuring managers and employees are trained on the organization’s ADA accommodation processes and procedures enable both parties to understand their responsibility in the accommodation process and when to include Human Resources in that discussion. Many disability discrimination lawsuits are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because a manager made discriminatory remarks regarding an employee’s health condition, did not notify Human Resources about an employee’s need for an accommodation, or denied a request for an accommodation before effectively engaging in the interactive process. Adequately trained managers and employees can assist an organization in fostering a positive work culture and developing trust within the organization.
“81% of individuals said they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health when they seek future job opportunities” Workers Appreciate and Seek Mental Health Support in the Workplace Organizations need to offer benefits to employees that can support their employee’s mental and physical well-being. One of the benefits organizations can provide their employees is an Employee Assisted Program (EAP) that organizations can add to their existing medical benefits package. EAPs help employees overcome a wide range of life challenges. EAPs are typically offered free of charge to employees and their families to assist them in four key areas:
Health and safety, such as grief, trauma, and loss.
Financial and legal wellness, debt, budgeting, and legal matters.
Workplace-related problems such as job stress and burnout.
Family matters such as relationships, childcare, and eldercare.
EAPs have proven to influence an employee’s work performance, lower absences positively, and increase productivity. EAPs give employees the tools and resources to assist them with work and life challenges, achieve better emotional well-being and feel guided and supported. Organizations should also ensure that their employees’ healthcare plans include comprehensive mental health coverage. Even though these healthcare plans increase an organization’s cost, most find it worthwhile as their employees are healthier and more productive when given the help and treatment they need. Other benefits to consider if your state does not require it are short-term and long-term disability, paid caregiving leave, and paid family sick leave. Organizations recognize the mental health impact of circumstances where these types of paid leave are needed.
Organizations can support management and employees by addressing conflicts from the beginning and resolving them most effectively and efficiently as possible. Historically, the Human Resources Department of an organization intervenes when conflicts arise between employees and management. Often, this can be an appropriate avenue for conflict resolution in an organization. However, when there is mistrust between workers, Human Resources, and management within the organization or Human Resources has limited knowledge regarding the issue being disputed, hiring a neutral mediator can be a proactive way of resolving conflict before a complaint of discrimination is filed with a state agency or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by the employee. Hiring a private or outside mediator can help to resolve misunderstandings or conflict around an accommodation request, especially when there is fear or misunderstanding surrounding a specific type of ADA disability, such as mental illness. For example, a mediator can help both parties reach an agreement and understand what accommodation should be implemented, what the accommodation is expected to do for the qualified employee to perform his job functions effectively, and how the accommodation will be followed up and monitored.
By taking strategic, proactive steps to support an employer’s workforce and mental well-being, an organization can begin to see positive, critical benefits in a challenging and competitive business environment. An organization will see an increase in worker performance, job satisfaction, and retention rates. When trust is built within the organization, employees will enjoy a culture of honesty, psychological safety, and mutual respect.
Adams, T., Reinert, M., Fritze, D., & Nguyen, T. (2021, March 2). 2021 Mind the workplace report. Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/research-reports/2021-mind-workplace-report
Ferguson, S. (2022, October 31). What to say when calling in sick with depression: Examples and legality. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/depression/what-to-say-when-calling-in-sick-with-depression
Workers appreciate and seek mental health support in the workplace. (2022, July). Https://Www.Apa.Org. https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-well-being/2022-mental-health-support
This article was concurrently published on Mediate.com (LINK) on November 11. 2022.