Sometimes, like our physical health, our mental health can become unwell. Mental health is just as important as physical health – and tending to our invisible ailments requires the same level of intentionality as tending to a visible illness. What should managers do to make sure their employees’ mental health is taken care of?
Often, when we think of poor mental health, we think of conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and while these conditions will affect some people in the workplace, for many of us, the term often denotes fluctuations in our emotional welfare. According to Mind, a mental health organization in the U.K., one in six people in England “report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.” It’s the role of managers to make sure that employees feel comfortable and part of the team even if their mental health is suffering.
It’s imperative for managers to be proactive when it comes to managing and supporting staff with mental health issues, so here are some steps to take when you start to spot the first signs that an employee is struggling.
1. Begin an Honest and Open Dialogue.
You’ve noticed a change in their behavior. Perhaps they’ve become irritable or withdrawn, or their standard of work has dropped. They’re not meeting deadlines like they used to. The first step is to start an honest conversation: “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself recently; are you okay? Is there anything on your mind?” Everyone has a built-in need to feel seen, known and valued. Your reaching out to engage them will communicate real care and provide them with an opportunity to be heard. Start where the person is, listen and ask them what they need.
2. Have Regular Catch-Ups.
Make it a habit to check in with your staff to see how they’re doing – not just in terms of work capability but other areas of their life, too. Establishing open and regular lines of communication will form a foundation of trust so that if they go through a distressing situation that affects their mental health, they know they can approach you without embarrassment or shame. Getting to know your staff will help you recognize when something is not right so you can offer support at the earliest opportunity. Promote the idea that talking about feelings isn’t a sign of weakness but taking charge of your well-being.
3. Review Work Capacity.
Emotional strain might mean a colleague is not able to work at the same standard as before, so extend some grace to them, and focus on what they can achieve rather than what they can’t. Discuss and introduce adjustments to their workload, and be open to some creativity in terms of what they have the head space to do.
Of course, don’t offer what is not possible according to company policy, but do make reasonable accommodations to minimize barriers to their recovery. These accommodations could include changing their schedule, giving them a place to go for short breaks or modifying performance targets. Consideration for a person’s situation will contribute to increased employee loyalty. Kindness when someone is passing through deep emotional waters is not easily forgotten.
4. Keep a Paper Trail.
It’s a good idea to log the decisions you make together, so if there’s a change in personnel, your replacement can easily get up to speed with how the employee is doing. A wellness and recovery plan is an excellent way to outline triggers, warning signs and information on what will keep the person well. Regularly review the plan and amend it as appropriate. This paper trail can be invaluable evidence of the support that the organization has provided the employee, should this evidence be required at a later stage.
5. Be Flexible.
Mental health problems are often not ongoing but rather episodes where people need support before they fully recover and gain their equilibrium again. Provide flexibility to accommodate the ebb and flow of wellness.
6. Create a Culture of Awareness.
Ensure that resentment does not have any space to seed and grow, especially when others temporarily take on more responsibility while a colleague recovers. The workplace needs to be target-driven but should also be a community where compassion for employees is important.
7. Use Available Mental Health Services.
Encourage employees to seek advice and support from their doctor or to work with your employee assistance program, if your organization has one, to arrange counseling. As a manager, you seek information from outside organizations or your in-house occupational health practitioner, if appropriate.
“Mental health” doesn’t have to be a scary phrase. It is possible to create a culture of openness and support, especially when discussing emotions, so that whatever your staff goes through and whenever it happens, it doesn’t have to affect them or the business negatively in the long run. Showing your employees you care for them and that you can accommodate their needs is not only the right thing to do but will also enhance loyalty, productivity and, ultimately, profitability.