The conversation around mental health has become active in recent years. People are more willing to discuss their mental health challenges while employers are increasingly cognitive of the impact of their employee’s mental health on productivity, absenteeism, and turn over. Presently, COVID-19 has amplified the pressures placed on employees’ mental health as everyone adapts how they work while balancing family and financial stressors. Within this context, there are some simple first steps that employers can take to promote positive mental health in their workplace.
Mental Health “Hazards” in the Workplace
The first step towards promoting mental health in the workplace is to assess the current work environment to identify hazards that could have a negative impact on mental health. The assessment could be done through conducting employee interviews, companywide surveys or by creating an employee task force. The following are some of the hazards that you should be looking for:
- Workload: Does the employee have too much work? Not enough work?
- Workplace culture: Is there a toxic work environment? Is there harassment, violence, or bullying? Is the workplace inclusive and does it value diversity? Is there a stigma of mental illness?
- Job responsibilities: Are the job responsibilities clear for employees? Do they have clear job descriptions? Are job expectations realistic?
- Management style: Does the leadership promote positive mental health?
- Stressors of the job: Does the job require a high degree of emotional or psychological resources? Are the deadlines of the job realistic? Is the employee sufficiently trained to perform the functions of the job? Is there a risk that employees could experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Does the employee feel safe at work?
Strategies to Promote Mental Health
Once the hazards have been identified, develop realistic strategies that can be implemented to mitigate them.
- Create a work environment that promotes positive mental health
- Model positive mental health starting at the top of the organization.
- Make recognition a part of the fabric of your corporate culture. Read this blog post.
- Provide information to employees on how to improve their own mental health through webinars, lunch and learn sessions and corporate training such as mental health first aid training. Encourage employees to access free resources through the Canadian Mental Health Association or the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. Additional support has also been made available to front line workers such as the Here4Healthcare campaign from the Canadian Mental Health Association.
- Participate in the CMHA Mental Health Week
- Implement work life balance initiatives. Consider flexible work arrangements such as job sharing, part time work or compressed work weeks. If possible, temporarily change employee’s work schedules to accommodate childcare needs while schools are closed. For example, allow employees to split work hours between the day and evening rather than a typical 9-5 shift.
- Encourage physical health to improve mental health. This can be done through benefit programs that pay for gym memberships, yoga/stretching classes over lunch in the boardroom, office massages and workplace wellness challenges. Take your health challenges online while physical distancing measures are in place. For example, a stretching class can be held on zoom, or create a shared spreadsheet where people can track their steps and post pictures from their walks.
- Give employees access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through your benefits provider.
- Review your HR documents. Ensure that your job descriptions are up to date and realistic. Make changes to workflow processes where employees are overloaded or underloaded.
Supporting Employees with Mental Illness
When an employee has a mental illness, employers are required by law to accommodate the employee. In addition to the accommodation process, below are some tips to help facilitate the recovery of an employee suffering from a mental illness.
- Maintain open lines of communication. Be approachable and provide information to keep the employee in the loop. Sometimes you may need to work on behalf of the employee to get information from the insurance company if the employee is having difficulty navigating the insurance process.
- Know that when an employee is returning to work from a leave due to mental illness there are likely to be setbacks. Have a plan to manage the workflow in the department as the employee may not be able to take on as much work as anticipated. The Return to Work (RTW) plan may need to be modified if the pace is too fast or too slow. Changes to the RTW plan must be done in consultation with a medical practitioner and the involved insurance company.
- Understand the employee’s functional abilities and make sure that the work that they are assigned is aligned with the medical documentation that you or the insurance company has been provided with.
Do you want more information and guidance on promoting mental health awareness in your workplace and minimizing the hazards? We offer training programs for supervisors as well as practical, hand-on assistance in creating a work environment that promotes positive mental health. Contact us today!