Mental health is an increasingly popular subject these days, with many studies and organizations drawing attention to the fact that employee mental health issues are more prevalent and harmful than previously believed.
Bell Let's Talk is on January 28 every year and it does an excellent job of promoting mental health resources, but it's just one day a year. Mental health has lasting impacts that fall on any and every day of the year.
In many ways, mental health is just as important as physical health in that it has a significant effect on one’s ability to perform to the best of their abilities while at the workplace.
Employee Mental Health
As such, it’s important for organizations to recognize the importance of mental health in the workplace, and adjust policies and expectations accordingly.
This can be done through offering greater flexibility in the workplace, such as by offering flexible hours, the ability to work from home and greater autonomy.
Additionally, it’s also important to encourage employees to take mental health days if they are feeling mentally burdened.
While it may not be necessary to create a separate form of time off specifically for mental health days, being candid with employees about the importance of their mental health and highlighting the ability to take time off or adjust hours worked to focus on mental health can go a long way toward improving morale, employee satisfaction and productivity.
To help encourage the use of time off for mental health at your organization, consider adopting the following practices:
Encourage conversations about mental health
Speak candidly to your employees about the topic, underscoring the fact that you understand and support decisions made in the interest of maintaining or improving mental health.
Provide resources and education about mental health to increase awareness and communicate any related policy changes to employees.
Adopt a policy of confidentiality
Employees may not feel comfortable disclosing the use or purpose of a mental health day, whether it’s a full day off to rest or a few hours off to see a therapist.
Make it known that requests for mental health days will not need a stated reason for approval.
Follow up after time off
While respecting their privacy, check in with employees after they have taken time off to find out if they are doing alright and if they require any additional support on your end, such as a temporarily lighter workload.
Fostering Mental Health in the Workplace
Employee mental health issues are more common than many may realize. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, by age 40, about 50 per cent of the Canadian population will have or have had a mental illness. Throw in a global pandemic, and it’s no surprise that anxiety, depression and insomnia are being reported at higher levels.
Since the mental well-being of employees can impact their ability to contribute in the workplace, it’s imperative that employers take steps to help their employees—and the productivity of their organizations.
COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health
A study conducted by Teladoc Health found that 50 per cent of Canadian employees said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. In addition, a University of Sherbrooke study found that 26 per cent of Canadians have shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder due to the pandemic.
With the pandemic taking its toll on the mental health of workers across the globe and country, it’s important for organizations to act. The good news is that 39 per cent of employers have added resources, waived fees and/or opened dialogue around workplace mental health since the pandemic began. The not-so-good news is that 60 per cent of employees who have the ability to access mental health resources don’t, according to a recent survey by Morneau Shepell Ltd.
The resistance employees have toward the utilization of mental health resources could be for a number of reasons, including:
- Believing the offered benefits are inadequate in servicing their needs
- The fear that utilizing the benefits would hurt their careers due to the stigma surrounding mental health
- The lack of communication or awareness regarding the benefits available
Nurturing Employee Mental Health
Employees can only be their best when they feel their best. And when an employee’s mental health is suffering, their work tends to suffer, too. HR and management can support employees’ mental health by:
- Offering and encouraging the use of mental health resources and including them in health insurance plans
- Fostering psychologically safe and inclusive workplaces by offering employee education programs to learn more about the signs of mental health issues
- Developing manager training courses to learn the signs of mental health issues within their employees and encouraging early intervention
- Having managers consistently assess workloads to ensure employees are working under reasonable circumstances and expectations
By implementing these practices into the workplace, employers can start to see the benefits of improved mental health among employees, including:
- Less missed time, reducing costs for employers
- Reduced presenteeism
- Increased employee productivity and engagement
- Retainment of strong talent, which can lead to improved workplace culture and recruiting efforts
Accessing Mental Health Care During the Pandemic
As is consistent with many industries these days, many mental health resources have made the switch to virtual, which has allowed for faster and more effective care. According to a survey by RBC Insurance, two-thirds of working Canadians are open to utilizing virtual tools like videoconferencing for their mental health.
Mental health is fluid and ongoing, meaning any efforts put forth by organizations should be flexible and ever-evolving. HR and management should work to consistently address the needs of employees in the workplace. Conduct mental health check-ins and request feedback on current offerings to prioritize improvement.
For more information on mental health and mental health resources, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.