Guest Blog Submitted by Brandy Payne, Workplace Mental Health Consultant
Late last year, I wrote a post on Linked In about Workplace Mental Health being one of the top topics in 2020. While it hasn’t yet been the biggest issue facing businesses this year, its impacts are still far-reaching.
As I’m writing this now, restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus are lifting, and workplaces that shifted to remote work are considering their return-to-office plans.
And everywhere we turn, there’s another article about the coming mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
It can feel overwhelming – as an employer or manager, you want to support your team’s mental well-being, but what to do?
You might be wondering if now is the right time to be thinking about mental health at work, especially with the concerns around physical safety, social distancing, workload, and everything else you’re juggling.
Truthfully, it’s more important than ever before, as we consider the impact of the pandemic on our workplaces.
Why workplace mental health matters now
At the best of times, employees’ mental health can have a huge impact on a business.
The numbers can be staggering. Pre-pandemic statistics show us that:
1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental illness in any given year.
30% of short-term and long-term disability claims are due to mental health.
3% of employed Canadians miss work for mental health reasons each week.
Multiple studies and reports have shown that investments in Workplace Mental Health lead to increased productivity, increased employee engagement, increased retention, reduced costs for disability claims, and more effective risk management.
Now, more than ever, people are under increased strain and pressure due to Covid19 and the measures taken to slow the spread of the virus. There’s a high level of uncertainty and worry as we navigate this triple whammy of a novel and deadly virus, the complete disruption of our routines, and an enormous economic slow-down.
When we add these new pressures to the existing challenges to mental health, it is critical to take the next step in supporting mental health in your workplace.
Where to start
Existing benefits and programs
The good news: you’re probably not starting from scratch.
Most workplaces offer extended health benefits with some psychological coverage, medication coverage, and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Know what’s offered in your existing plan, and make sure your team knows about it. Encourage them to put the 800-number for your EAP in their cell phones. Call the number yourself to see what it’s like. It’s free to use and confidential.
Check with your HR team to see what policies and procedures are in place for health leave, return-to-work from health leave, flex work times, and remote work. If your company doesn’t have those policies, now is a great time to work on them, and there are many resources to help.
Consider mental health as you develop your return-to-office plan by having open and honest conversations with your team about how they’re feeling about returning to the office, and what their concerns are.
Everyone’s situation is different, and everyone responds differently to times like these. The best way to find out how someone is doing is to ask. It can be helpful to talk about some of your concerns, and things that the company is considering to address known concerns. Share as much of the plan as is possible, and ask for feedback or concerns about specific parts.
If your team includes parents of young children (or teenaged children), broach the subject of childcare plans. If possible, be flexible about work hours and return dates. Even though daycares have re-opened in Alberta, current rules mean that spaces are limited and some of your team members might not have access to their usual childcare. Other childcare options are quite limited. Can the parents on your team work remotely a little longer? Or spend a day or two working in the office, and the rest remotely? Talking this through in advance will do a lot to relieve stress and strain for your team.
When talking about mental health is new to your workplace
“But we don’t have that relationship at work. I don’t think people will feel comfortable being upfront about how they’re feeling – that’s just not how our workplace is.”
I get it. These conversations aren’t easy, and it takes time to build a work relationship where people feel confident sharing how they’re doing. Stigma around mental health is real and it hurts us all.
The first step in building those relationships is opening the conversation. It’s asking the questions: “How are you, really? What are your concerns? What are your ideas to address those concerns?”
You might not always find a perfect solution. You might not always be able to address every concern.
If you start with listening, being open to finding a solution, and working towards the solutions together when possible, you’ll be on the right track to supporting mental health in your workplace.
I’ll be diving into the topic of Small but Impactful Things We Can Do to Support Mental Health at Work on a Wellness Works Webinar on June 10. Register here or check out the recording on the Wellness Works YouTube Channel.
About Brandy Payne
Brandy Payne helps caring leaders improve mental health and psychological safety at their workplaces, without overwhelming them or their teams.
Brandy is a Canadian Mental Health Association Certified Workplace Psychological Health and Safety Advisor. She also served as Associate Minister of Health in Alberta, where she was responsible for Mental Health and Addictions.
Brandy draws on a combination of research, best practices, and lived experience to improve mental health and psychological safety in the workplace.
She offers workshops, training, and consulting to businesses of all sizes, in all sectors. Visit her website at www.brandypayne.ca.