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The Manager's Guide to Mental Health at Work

Mental health at work...sounds like a very sticky subject but at the same time a risky one not to address. Too many times managers ignore or overlook really important indicators of employees silently asking for help. This could be due to lack of training or because it is an uncomfortable situation to address. I'm here to help you navigate this very real and harmful situation sweeping the globe. We're going to explore the signs of mental health disorders at work, what you can do, and resources that you can use to make a difference.

Let's talk mental health statistics:

  • 71% of employers feel the deteriorating mental health of the workforce is having a negative financial impact on their company. – Future of Benefits Report, The Hartford, 2022

  • Mental health conditions affect 1 in 5 Americans. - National Institute of Mental Health

  • 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious. - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

  • Globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. - World Health Organization

This is the hard truth about mental health, it has an incredible impact on all parts of the globe. If we as managers could address some of these warning signs and get resources in the hands of employees who need help, think of the impact. And think of the impact these resources could have on your life.

"A lot of people living with mental health illness around them. Either you love one or you are one." – Mark Ruffalo

There are an infinite number of causes for mental health deterioration at work or at home. Especially since COVID-19, most of the global workforce has had their livelihood questioned, they have had economical threats, health threats, and an overall sense of unrest. The external turmoil has made an impact on every person world-wide.

Other causes for a decline in mental health could be caused by an unfavorable work environment. These risks include unclear job role, limited support for supervisors or managers, being overworked, lack of flexibility in work/life balance, an over-demanding manager, lack of company communication, or not feeling part of a team.

Of course there are personal aspects that weigh in here as well. Such as homelife, family, social experiences, underlying medical disorders, and areas of social inequality. Whatever the factors contributing to employee suffering, it is necessary to be equipped to spot the warning signs before it is potentially too late.

What are signs to look for in yourself and in your team?

  1. A negative change in job performance and productivity.

  2. Engagement with one's work.

  3. Physical capabilities and daily functioning.

  4. Communication with coworkers.

  5. A change in overall mood and engagement with the team.

  6. Withdrawing inward - not being as outspoken (if that is their tendency).

  7. Becoming easily agitated or aggressive.

  8. Tardiness or an influx in unexplained personal days.

In what ways can a manager make the difference?

  • Start with a conversation backed with emotional intelligence and authenticity. It is ideal if you have already established a foundation to have this conversation. Which means having built a trusting relationship with your team member. If you haven't started a One:On:One practice with your team members, I highly recommend you do so. Here is a FREE resource get you started!

  • Brush up on your active listening skills. Pay attention, withhold judgement, reflect on the words, clarify by asking open ended questions or 'did I get that right' types of questions, summarize, and lastly share.

  • When setting up for the conversation, look for a quiet space without interruptions. Make sure the employee feels safe.

  • Ask them how you can help them. But be careful as it may appear that you are offing an accommodation to the employee. Of course you want to be sensitive to the subject matter and the employee's situation but you are also an agent of the company.

  • If you are unsure of what to do, contact your HR department or HR Consultant for more ways to navigate the conversation.

Here are some tools and resources you can offer your team:

  1. If you have an EAP (employee assistance program) give the information to the employee and coach them on how to use the benefit. If you do not have an EAP, it is highly suggested you invest in this extremally valuable benefit. Sometimes it is a rider with your medical insurance or your group term life insurance policy.

  2. If your employee approaches you about a reasonable accommodation, take the conversation seriously. The key word is reasonable so be sure to check with your HR team or consultant to understand company/employee rights and responsibilities. What does this look like? It may include flexible working hours, extra time to complete tasks, modified assignments to reduce stress, time off for health appointments or regular supportive meetings with supervisors.

  3. Educate team members on warning signs to look for and ways to approach a co-worker they are concerned about. You can support this initiative by putting content on your intranet, company newsletter, and weekly team meeting content.

  4. Offer time for your team to do mindful breathwork. There are great apps such as Calm Business and Headspace designed to reduce workplace stress. You could also create a daily habit at the start of each morning to do group mindful breathing like the box breath technique - breathe in for the count of 4 > hold for the count of 4 > breathe out for the count of 4 > and hold for the count of 4. This is a great technique to improve focus.

  5. Lastly, don't underestimate the power of encouraging employees to have a best friend at work. This support system, especially through the pandemic has made a powerful impact on creating a system of inclusion. "Employees who have a best friend at work are significantly more likely to: have fun while at work" - Gallup.

Your role as a manager is complex and oh so important. Don't underestimate your positive influence on your team. By being mindful of mental health in the workplace and on your team you are engaging in creating an environment employees want to work in. And this mindfulness will improve your overall wellbeing at work.

"Your mental health is everything – prioritize it. Make the time like your life depends on it, because it does." - Mel Robbins

If you are someone struggling with finding balance or support in your current work/life, reach out to me for a 30-minute complementary coaching sessions. Together we can get your the peace of mind you are looking for in your life.


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