One in five U.S. adults is coping with mental health challenges. To address this issue, beginning next year, Starbucks will train all its store managers to recognize and respond to risk factors of mental illness. The initiative is inspired by Mental Health First Aid, an eight-hour course that equips individuals with the skills necessary to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
Offering a wellness package for employees has become the new normal, as 82% of companies with more than 200 workers provide health-based programming, like smoking cessation or weight management, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. While such employee wellness programs have noble intentions, they tend to emphasize physical well-being while neglecting the equally important area of mental health.
How can learning and development (L&D) professionals and human resources (HR) departments address such a sensitive topic in a sincere way?
The most important thing HR leaders can do is commit to reducing stigma by intentionally addressing mental health with employees. The stigma associated with mental health struggles is still widespread and problematic; according to the Mental Health Foundation, almost 90% of people living with mental health conditions report that stigma has negatively impacted them.
One of the best ways to reduce stigma is to openly share information about mental health in the workplace. HR leaders can set the tone by implementing company-wide mental health training. Investing in a robust training course will make it clear to employees that open and honest conversations about mental health, anxiety and burnout are both welcomed and respected.
Microlearning videos, like this YouTube series produced by the University of Bristol, empower HR and L&D professionals to address mental health and reduce stigma like no other medium can. Visual storytelling helps companies make uncomfortable conversations more approachable and messaging more memorable, and it ultimately powers content that is clear, intentional and engaging. This approach is being put into practice at UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge lab, which aims to cut the burden of depression in half by 2050. The team uses animated videos to communicate with stakeholders about digital mental health treatments.
Creating this type of training doesn’t have to be expensive or time-intensive. A “snackable” series is equally as effective as a full-scale content production — if not more so. Training should resemble the short and sweet YouTube content preferred by millennial and post-millennial workers, especially as Gen Z is poised to make up 20% of the workforce next year.
Clear and concise training has proven to increase employee retention and engagement, with the Journal of Applied Psychology sharing that bite-sized learning is 17% more effective. When it comes to teaching employees about mental health, this method of improving retention and recall can lead to the best outcomes.
Even after employees have completed mental health training, HR and L&D professionals and managers should continue to foster open dialogue in the office. One practical way to continue the conversation is to encourage managers to discuss work-life balance during manager check-ins and professional reviews.
Investing in a mentally healthy workforce is a wise business decision that will boost the bottom line, with positive results like reduced absenteeism, lower medical costs and increased employee satisfaction. Designing and delivering mental health training is the best first step HR and L&D professionals can take toward a happier, healthier workplace.