Rising anxiety during uncertain times leads to declining mental health which can have a disastrous effect in the long run. In the workforce, it can lead to decreased productivity, lower attention span, disinterest in work and resignation in extreme cases. Human Resource (HR) professionals manage employees’ emotional and social well-being while taking care of other umpteen tasks at an organization. If one is not properly educated on the subject, their reaction may not be fair or helpful.
Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
The pandemic has brought the focus back on employee mental health with organizations taking active steps to tackle it effectively. Given its high prevalence, there is a chance that your employees are struggling or have struggled with their mental health. In this scenario, having a culture that doesn’t discourage employees from sharing and has an empathetic approach to mental health helps.
Though this may sound complicated in the beginning, several steps can be taken by the HR manager to make the workplace more compliant with the mental well-being of employees:
- Eliminate stigma
Unlike other physical ailments, mental health has much stigma associated with it, which deters people from addressing these issues. Most of these stigma breeds from misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and misinformation around mental health. The fear of repercussion, judgement, or ridicule makes it difficult for people to talk about mental health struggles. Dispelling the myths regarding mental health, creating an empathetic atmosphere and encouraging discussions around mental health can go a long way in cultivating the right culture.
Accept that these problems exist and lead by example when it comes to extending support to employees struggling with mental health. Even small actions may go a long way in creating a positive atmosphere at the workplace. Educate your staff about non-judgemental phrasing and a stigma-free way to discuss mental health.
- Spread awareness
Destigmatizing mental health issues and spreading awareness at the workplace creates the right culture in the organization. Provide appropriate resources that can help employees to learn and address their behaviour while providing the correct avenues to seek help when needed. Once you acknowledge and talk openly about mental health issues, employees are more likely to feel comfortable and share their problems. The right attitude goes a long way in reinforcing trust amongst those struggling to manage their mental well-being.
You can create an environment that is supportive of mental health by organizing social groups at the workplace where employees can congregate and discuss their struggles without any fear of judgement, provide a healthcare assistance program for them to seek out professional help, provide workplace training and being more empathetic at the workplace, and set up anonymous portals for employees to bring these issues to the HR.
- Offer flexible schedule
The pandemic has shown the world the perks of remote working. As things start getting back to normal, more and more companies are adopting a hybrid schedule by allowing employees to choose how they want to work. Work-life balance, or its lack thereof, can have a tremendous effect on the mental health of an individual. Excessive burnout at work is leading to a slow decline in one’s mental health and posing serious health implications.
A flexible schedule allows employees to prioritize work without compromising their mental health. They have the liberty to work from anywhere while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It further allows them to avoid workplace stressors and work in an environment that boosts their confidence and productivity. Exercising this freedom increases their trust in the management and allows them to address and improve their mental health.
- Communication is the key
It can be very difficult for someone who has not faced mental health issues to be empathetic to another person. Even though you may not have the bandwidth to understand that person, treat them with empathy and lend them a helpful ear whenever they need it. While you can’t solve their mental health issues, being a part of their healing process or communicating with them frequently helps.
The lack of awareness breeds anxiety. Inform employees about any organizational changes or updates, new working hours, changing expectations, etc. Work to eliminate stress by prioritizing the important tasks and sometimes letting the less important work slide. Unnecessarily brooding over unfinished business can lead to added stress and mental health woes.
- Address workplace stress factors
50% of employees have experienced at least one characteristic of burnout due to greater job demands and expectations, lack of social interaction and lack of boundaries between work and home life.
Communicating or providing resources is never enough when the workplace itself is toxic and puts undue mental pressure on staff. Addressing stress factors at work ensures that those struggling with mental health don’t get triggered and other employees don’t stress themselves out. What is putting undue pressure on your employees? Last-minute deadlines? Non-cooperative colleagues? Demanding manager? Long working hours? Identifying these stress factors and taking steps to mitigate them can assure your employees that the management is invested in their well-being.
While it may not be possible to mitigate stress completely, you can train your employees to manage and plan their tasks better. Evaluate and ensure that the workload is appropriate, managers are having regular conversations with employees, work hours are flexible, there is no discrimination or bullying of any kind, and employee contributions and successes are duly recognized.
- Train your staff
Mental health stigma is the biggest hindrance that employees face at the workplace when it comes to addressing these challenges. It is important to provide adequate training to your staff to ensure that your organization has the correct response and doesn’t resort to discrimination based on employees’ mental health. Train the managers to recognize the signs of mental health fatigue among employees.
Training also teaches the management and staff how to react and creates an empathetic channel. While we can not take the place of a mental health practitioner, a cooperative workplace makes it much easier for employees to function. Managers should be able to hold difficult conversations and create a positive atmosphere in the office that prioritizes the overall well-being of employees.
Mental health is a topic that is always hushed or seldom taken seriously. 41% of workers said stress made them less productive, 33% said it made them less engaged, and 15% admitted to looking for a new job because of stress. If these numbers are anything to go by, then it proves how organizations must take steps to address mental health challenges faced by employees at the workplace. It is negatively impacting productivity and leading to high staff attrition rates. As an HR manager, take steps to recognize and address employee mental health at the workplace.
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