As we approach the end of May, let’s talk about how this month has been a bucketload of surprises. Mother’s Day, Women’s Health Week, and whatnot, there has been a constant flow of occasions one after another. So, how can we forget the event which spans over the entire month of May, i.e., Mental Health Awareness Month?
I am sure many of you did not know that. Neither did I until a few days ago.
However, the concept of Mental Health Awareness month is not new. It dated back to 1949 in the United States and was started by the Mental Health America organization. This month usually involves community members and organizations to come forward and raise awareness amongst the public.
Meaning awareness about mental illness through various activities like campaigns, educational events, and screenings. This time is more about breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness than anything else.
Now, everyone is born with a mental state. And a good one ensures a sense of purpose and direction. It signifies that a mentally fit condition is where we are highly energetic to take on any obstacle coming our way.
It is the feeling of being ready to cope with minor to major problems in life and work. But then, just like our physical health, mental health fluctuates too. Not everyone is always at their best because life is not that easy indeed.
This year the mental health awareness month gets more relevant with the ongoing pandemic. At a time like this, the mental health of all the people is heavily strained, which is why it calls for more attention.
The experience I have had is that once you start talking about experiencing a mental health struggle, you realize that actually, you are part of quite a big club - Prince Harry
Mental Health Care in the Workplace
Before we proceed, let me ask you a question or two on mental healthcare.
Do you have a proper mental health policy? What are the measures your company takes to address the mental health issues of employees? Is there any kind of counseling session or seminar being held on this topic?
Suppose you are finding it difficult to answer these questions. In that case, that will probably mean you are a little behind when it comes to anticipating employees’ mental health needs.
But don’t worry, it is not too late.
The present-day witnesses workplaces with more and more consciousness concerning mental health among employees. Employers understand that the deteriorating mental health of employees can cause severe productivity issues, which will hurt the business too in one way or another.
Keeping the stigma, shame, and denial in the past, organizations are forced to take a step forward towards ensuring good mental health for the workforce. While coping with social isolation and anxiety, employees are going through a hard time maintaining a work-life balance. All the more reason why accentuation of mental health awareness is compulsory in every workplace.
Being mentally sound allows one to thrive. We understand this, and employers, too, are acknowledging the significance of wellbeing at work. With the well-being idea in mind, companies are implementing numerous corporate wellness programs in the workplace.
Studies reveal that organizations with a high level of mental health awareness are more likely to be successful. And, as per research at the University of Warwick, companies addressing employee wellness are to see a growth in productivity upto 12%.
According to National Alliance on Mental Health, the US economy loses around 193.2 billion dollars each year due to mental health issues.
Why is Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace important?
Employees are the heart and soul of an organization. So, when their wellness is compromised, it brings down the health of the entire company.
Health disorders like work anxiety and depression often go unnoticed for an extended period. However, the same does not happen with physical issues, for they show visible symptoms. In contrast, mental health issues are hard to detect.
But as they say, psychological and physical health both work in tandem. One is directly connected to the other, and there is no denying that.
Admit it or not, we all have our highs and lows. Many a time, the lows hit so low that we develop stress, anxiety, and depression. And some people have to deal with far worse mental health conditions like eating disorders, bipolar disorders, or schizophrenia.
Suffering from all these can have a massive impact on our ability to engage and perform at work with our best effort. Especially with the increasing number of furloughed employees due to COVID19, fear and stress have taken over mental peace.
In times as such, companies should have one common business goal of being watchful and improving the employees' collective mental health to make them feel supported and secure.
Due to the stigma attached to it, mental health is often a low-key topic among peers. The previous scenario was very different. Earlier, employers had no formal process to deal with this particular situation.
The employees who were suffering used to stay in silence. Nobody was well-equipped with the knowledge about the signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health.
However, today the scene has changed. People now understand that mental health is something that either keeps us up and going or sulking. And openly discussing it can serve as a preventive healthcare measure.
Thus, raising awareness about mental health issues in the office will bolster employee morale while nurturing an inclusive workplace where employees can bring their whole selves to work. Also, much money can be saved on companies in the future through fewer healthcare costs.
How to understand if employees are struggling with Mental Health issues?
Wouldn’t it be easy if you could figure out yourself what issues your employees are struggling with?
If you are an HR professional, look out for these signs in your employees to understand if they suffer from severe mental health disorders. If they do, you can take the required measures.
Showing physical symptoms like tiredness or headaches
More prone to making silly mistakes in work along with a fall in productivity.
Easily irritated and inversely complacent all the time
Messed up working hours, with them being distracted during the day and working till late night or early morning. Also, they might be working much longer hours than needed.
Absenteeism occurs at a high rate on their part.
Stay connected with friends, family, and loved ones in times when you are feeling low.
How do you promote Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace?
Around half of your workforce must have dealt with a mental issue in their lifetime. This can also mean that your organization has high chances to have employees silently struggling with their lives.
To establish a workplace culture with full mental health awareness, organizations must be willing to create mental health programs for employees to leverage accordingly. This offers your staff to figure out what they actually seek, thus helping them choose.
Engaging your workforce around mental health awareness can prove to be troublesome. In any such case, employers must be smooth enough to grab the right opportunity as it appears.
And what better time than Mental Health Awareness Month for the HR professionals to talk on this challenging topic with the employees?
Doing so will make employees aware of the resources at their disposal simultaneously.
Because it would be correct to say that HR professionals are in a powerful enough position to provide a sound support system as such to the staff.
So, let me give you a few ideas on how you can make your workplace more open, aware, and accepting for the employees in this Mental Health Awareness Month. They might initially come off as a little intimidating, but then here they are-
1. Get rid of the Stigma
Considering mental health as a taboo topic can be hazardous for the company in the long run. Everyone at work must be aware that mental health is not a luxury but a prerequisite.
If your organizational culture is not used to discussing mental health topics, talk about the real-life consequences in the meetings, both with management staff and employees.
Tell them how an employee becomes less efficient when their mental condition is not steady, negatively impacting company earnings and productivity. Also, give them exact stats by emphasizing the number of people suffering from mental health disorders.
Additionally, companies need to ensure their employees get access to the best care facilities available to compete in the larger economy.
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation. - Glenn Close
2. Hold Workplace Activities
As we know, the United States celebrates Mental Health Awareness month by conducting diverse activities mainly around a particular theme. In these activities, spreading the word is done, reflecting the theme through branding on social media, pamphlets, films, and workshops.
This time allows you to start a conversation regarding mental health among your employees. All you have to do is mark the month of May in the company calendar. An excellent way to initiate involvement from your employees' side is to be encouraged to speak up. Thus, the stigma around the topic will be gone for good.
Even mentioning the event in the company-wide newsletter and sharing mental wellbeing quotes via emails and notifications will give a cue to your employees about the importance of the issue- which is enormous.
3. Provide a platform for Discussion
Fixing on a specific time to have mental health discussions with your employees can do a great deal in raising awareness about the same.
HR professionals in every organization should host weekly sessions with their employees- both one-on-one and in groups to talk about the issues concerning the latter. There is no need for the discussion to be formal. Make it comfortable enough for your staff to voice out their opinions.
Creating this forum will develop a kind of trust between employers and employees. This, in turn, would help the former to resolve the problem before it appears. The conversation can occur in meditating sessions or maybe somewhere outside amidst fresh air or in spaces for relaxation.
Even if you cannot provide the perfect solutions right away, exhibiting the willingness to discuss the topic is more important. So, be candid with the team and let them pour their heart out.
Make sure the conversation includes the best mental health information possible. And hold these discussions frequently, thereby making your wellbeing communications strategy in place.
The whole agenda behind this practice would be to give constant reminders to employees that, as complex as it may get, there is always a way out.
4. Introduce inclusive Policies
How do you plan to tackle the various mental health issues if you are not ready with policies around the same?
With no mental health policy in order, your organization is missing out on a significant opportunity.
How else would you prevent discrimination, harassment, or the prevalence of mental health stereotypes in the workplace? You cannot, right?
Moreover, in the absence of sound policies, employees will not see the gravity of the situation. Some might silently struggle, for they would not get the motivation to speak up.
Mental health awareness can be spread when there are strict policies related to it. This way, the entire organization will take the matter seriously.
However, if you do have specific policies concerning mental health, kindly review them. See if you can improve them in better ways to support your employees.
5. Lead by Example
If, as an employer, you can set examples for your employees, what is better than that?
Create boundaries when it comes to maintaining a work-life balance. Be available during office hours and give work total rest post 6 ‘o'clock. Don’t take work home, and do not over-time either, unless in times of emergencies.
Make your employees aware of how your mental health must be strong. Show them how taking a vacation, working only during work hours, and not reverting to emails post working hours gives you mental peace, which is a mandate.
Also, work the amount of time you expect your staff to work too. If possible, encourage your workforce to take a mental health day off to relieve some stress. Focus on the need for good mental health.
And as they say, the more your employees hear about it, the more they believe and are aware of it. And the better it is for everyone.
6. Train the Managers
Mental health awareness among employees is not the only thing. Even the management should have a proper grip on the topic. Preaching about mental health is not everything. Company culture also needs upgrading at the same time.
Yes, that is the first step. Workplace culture ought to evolve too.
Managers should be given appropriate training to help employees identify their mental health issues, if there are any, and intervene with solutions. Relevant training is required because every employee is different.
To be a good boss, you must try to decode each employee’s problem and make them aware of the same by offering them adequate support.
7. Launch Employee Assistance Programs
EAPs: Employee Assistance Programs serve as a beneficial way to spread awareness about mental health. Involving your employees in such programs is a win-win situation for both employers and employees.
These programs are introduced in workplaces to lend support to employees. Because they look up to their managers to help fix issues adversely affecting their mental and physical health.
Stress management tools, counseling sessions, mental screenings, and even workshops would fall in the category of EAPs. All the programs mentioned above will boost your team’s emotional wellness.
A one-on-one counseling session is often constructive because it enables the individual to speak their heart out without hesitation.
Also, for this to happen, the counselor has to be well-equipped with knowledge and experience. He or she also has to be comforting enough for employees to be willing to confide in them. As an employer, you have to make sure of that.
In terms of workshops, invite a renowned speaker or a consultant capable enough to raise awareness about mental health. Employees must find them intriguing.
Besides that, mental health screenings are also on the scene. Both online and in-person, these screenings can stimulate employees to seek help whenever needed.
So, providing your employees with mentioned resources will make them aware of what they are going through mentally and how to cope with the situation, and which resource to leverage.
The end result is your staff coming out of their problems in a more robust manner.
Motivate employees to seek help when they feel too overwhelming.
8. Explain the concept of Stress
Now, did you know stress also comes in different types? Yes, you heard that right.
So when we talk about spreading mental health awareness among employees, identifying the kind of stress they are going through makes the primary step. It is your responsibility to define your employees what type of stress they are experiencing.
There are healthy types of workplace stress, ones that boost motivation, thereby challenging people to be creative. However, unhealthy stress is what causes trouble for all. It can lead to depression and anxiety- the last two things we would want for our employees. That also results in high turnover rates.
Now, all you have to do is segregate the two stress types in front of your employees, explain them and ask them to identify the kind of stress bothering them.
Further, you can give them ideas on how to work on unhealthy stress and value the healthy one. This way, both you and them have clarity.
Ergo, awareness mission accomplished.
9. Run Physical Health Campaigns
To engage your employees in the mental health awareness month, come up with exciting campaigns. Also, why not include physical events like walkathons, marathons and swimming in the same?
Form teams, group your employees into them, and start with the various wellness contests and challenges. This way, you can kill two birds with one gun.
You will be able to raise awareness about mental health issues among your staff and guarantee their physical and psychological health. Because countless physical and psychical benefits come with walkathons and marathons.
They help relieve stress together with keeping the body fit and active.
Even yoga and meditation sessions at work will be very fruitful and calming for both body and mind. Yoga and meditation, as we know, gives us mental clarity, body awareness and sharpens concentration.
What more do you want for your employees?
When the entire organization will engage themselves for a cause, that particular cause will come into the limelight- in this case, mental health.
Walking challenges are a part of wellness programs, and these days, corporates are getting better at implementing those.
Companies are getting a hold on virtual wellness platforms like Vantage Fit, enabling them to track their employees’ physical activities. This application has features like step trackers, 7-minute workout session among ten others which come in handy while conducting walking and running contests.
Besides, there is a leaderboard that helps one monitor their performance. This, additionally, leads to employees wanting to achieve more and set hard targets.
And you ought to give them rewards for completing those goals.
Now you see the connection?
Keeping employees happy while making them aware of mental health molds them into mentally and physically healthy individuals.
10. Find a Mental Health Partner
The idea of raising awareness is easy. But implementing this- not so much. If you have a specific goal, finding the perfect healthcare plan or a mental health partner is the next important step.
Mental health partners are no one but partners who solely focus on offering mental health services to organizations. Having one is always an advantage. For they come with a trusted network of therapists, counselors, or treatment centers that addresses big to small mental health disorders and clinical help when needed.
So when you raise awareness about mental health in the workplace, a mental health partner will be present there. They will assist you in guiding each employee on their independent journey towards mental wellbeing.
Healing takes time, and asking for help is a courageous step - Mariska Hargitay
COVID-19 has severely injured workplace culture in more ways than not. Working from home has taken a toll on people's mental health. And coping with social isolation has proved to be really difficult.
Being at home 24x7 only leads to depression, anxiety, and a feeling of loneliness.
Especially with an increasing number of furloughed employees, this pandemic has turned the lives of everyone upside down.
Therefore, employers should take a step forward in such crises and come to the rescue by conversing about mental health issues openly with employees.
So, mental health awareness month is a general call-to-action for organizations to accept a culture of open-up discussions.
Alleviate the taboo attached to mental health and establish a happier and productive workplace culture.