Fortunately, the stigma around mental health is finally being lifted in most aspects of our daily lives, the workplace being chief among them.
While employees were previously inclined to remain silent about their mental health struggles, even when they were work-induced, the job of HR Professionals today is to facilitate an environment that is mindful of mental health. They need to work with any and all potential mental health issues our employees may have.
Let’s examine how we can best approach the subject.
Be open during the recruitment process
Recruitment is the most sensitive stage for someone suffering from mental health issues. They feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t – if they don’t admit to a recruiter that they, for example, suffer from anxiety, they feel they might have a better chance to get the job. But this can mean they have trouble performing at their job, and also having to hide their symptoms. But if they do admit to it, they feel they are instantly out of the running for the position.
As a recruiter, you need to be very open about the company’s stance on mental illness. You need to clearly state that you don’t stigmatize those suffering from it and that they will have an equal chance as everyone else. But also make sure that there are processes and tools in place that can help the person do their job well. This can mean flexible working hours, one-on-one conversations with you about anything that is bothering them, and so on.
Work on the work-life balance
When we think of mental health, we usually think about conditions like anxiety and depression, but there is more to being mentally healthy than not suffering from a specific condition.
Stress, sleep deprivation and overworking can all lead to mental health challenges that may not have a name per se, but that are still very real. They can all lead to serious performance issues, not to mention lower someone’s quality of life.
This is why you should focus on establishing a healthy work-life balance for all of your employees. While what they do in their free time to rest and relax may not be in your realm, you can work on some of the following:
- Think about flexible working hours on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to an overall rule;
- Consider individual commute times and how they can be reduced – perhaps by working from home on certain days of the week;
- Consider working from home as a more permanent fixture; and
- Revise your policy on days off and paid leave so as to benefit your employees, and not require them to call in sick on the days they need to run an errand.
As an HR Professional, you should be skilled enough (to an extent) to recognize when someone might be struggling with a mental health problem, even if they don’t speak up about it.
Start by taking a no-judgment approach to any situation. For example, if someone is late to work every other day of the week, don’t just write it down to irresponsibility. Maybe they’re actually highly functioning depressives and need more time to get out of bed. If someone has a meltdown in the office, ask yourself if it could be a panic attack instead of plain rudeness.
Read up on mental health and how to recognize the signs that someone is struggling with theirs. Teach yourself how to talk about these issues with your employees. You’re not a therapist and nobody expects you to have that kind of expertise, but knowing how to have these uncomfortable conversations will go a long way in helping someone.
Foster an open community
The best thing you can do to promote mental health in the workplace is to establish clear policies and work on removing as much of the stigma around it as possible.
There may be those in your office who would make fun of or ostracize someone for their mental health struggles. Make it clear that this is not acceptable, and sanction this kind of behavior clearly.
Invest in the education of your employees. Work on teaching them not only how to help each other, but how to help themselves as well. Talk about the importance of rest and finding the right headspace, even while at work, to deal with their own emotions and thoughts.
Make sure you enable open communication in all directions and encourage everyone to talk to you whenever they need to. The better the communication, the easier it will be to solve every problem that might arise.
Mental health may never be a comfortable subject to discuss, but the more you work on making it an everyday topic, the more likely your employees will be to open up about their struggles. This will instantly make it easier for you to manage these resources better, enabling you not only to make their time at work easier, but also to boost the overall productivity of the company.
Sarah Kaminski is a freelance writer and social media marketer from San Diego, California. She works with a number of small businesses to build their brands through more engaging marketing and content.