Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has become undeniable that many people are now in a position in which we must confront the issues impacting our mental health. For some, these issues may be more apparent than ever, and we even see our heroes, from athletes to entrepreneurs, in a similar position of addressing their own mental health. And yet, the stigma of acknowledging our mental health and asking for help still exists.
The question then is, how do we normalize the conversation? This is a question we must all attempt to answer in our respective spheres, but as a community centered around business and industry, I think the answer must come from a top-down approach. I am the founder and CEO of a company that provides mental health services for businesses and individuals, and these are my suggestions for bringing the conversation to the workplace.
Acknowledge the situation.
The first component of normalizing this conversation in the workplace, or in any environment with professional peers, is knowing and understanding the current state of mental health in the contemporary professional setting. Organizations as large and well-resourced as Nike have come to this conclusion, and they’ve responded by giving employees additional time off. Bumble has done this, too.
New research shows an increasing need for responses like these. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, the perception of external threats to our health, threats to our financial status and also the difficulty of finding childcare options are causing psychological distress for working adults. The research also found that nearly one in five Americans even had some type of physical reaction when thinking about the pandemic.
In business and in the workplace, I think it is our responsibility as leaders to find ways to use our understanding of what mental health actually is to break down the barriers that keep us from connecting with our professional peers and employees on topics of mental health. In doing so, we can properly exercise the empathy required not to solve their problems, but to be of service to those who are in need of it.
Facilitate a supportive culture.
The second component of normalizing this conversation is facilitating a culture of understanding in the workplace. Understand that making these changes to the workplace won’t ever be the solution for solving a mental health crisis, but creating a positive environment can make a difference.
Positive business cultures that are committed to employee mental health are proven to increase employee productivity. We also know that with the integration of remote work into the contemporary workplace, the home-life of employees can be even more sensitive to the ramifications of an unhealthy work environment that doesn’t acknowledge opportunities for improvement.
Creating a culture that facilitates improved employee mental health doesn’t have to be an expensive, far-reaching effort. In many cases, it is actually free of cost altogether. A big step is to develop core company values that include openness, inclusion and reaching out for help. You can also consider offering your organization’s meeting spaces for support groups that give people the chance to tell their stories and address mental health issues. You can also promote awareness by holding educational forums and yearly meetings on the topic with mental health professionals.
Integrate programs to support mental health.
The third component is integration. By implementing what is referred to as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you can empower your employees to work toward being their own heroes in mental health. Employee Assistance
Programs typically offer access to confidential counseling services, consultants who can help your employees resolve their insurance and healthcare-related issues and more. By turning your business into the outlet through which employees are able to achieve this, you can help reduce the stigma of communicating about mental health within your company while making it easy for your employees to access qualified professionals.
When integrating mental health programs, reach out to your human resources department and insurance provider to see what they offer and how you can communicate that to your employees and business partners. I also suggest contacting some national organizations, such as the Center for Workplace Mental Health or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as an employer or individual to get a better view of what’s offered and what resources are available.
By providing the framework for your employees to access opportunities to improve their mental health, you are communicating to them that you understand there is more to this world than what is just inside the office that you share. You are letting them know that they work in a positive environment that prioritizes mental health — and that this is a core tenant of the workplace culture they participate in.
Your employees should never have to communicate with you about their mental health. But by taking the actions above, you can create an environment where they feel supported. Then they are not only safe to communicate about what they are experiencing, but they can also have a constructive dialogue about steps they can take to alleviate the crisis they may be experiencing.
By: Roselyn Omaka