As the world continues to reunite, we are all different than we once were. How could we not be? We now have different needs and priorities, and employees have come to learn it’s OK to openly share them in the workplace, especially when it comes to mental health.
Naturally, this means employers have had to rethink how they support their employees. The first step is to listen with empathy. Gauging employees’ feelings on existing resources can serve as a compass when trying to understand if they are getting the value that’s intended and help ensure your organization is putting the most supportive programs in place.
For HR professionals, it can be overwhelming to determine where to begin when it comes to implementing new resources that will be meaningful to employees. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
Expand Your Employee Assistance Program
According to a recent study from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., titled “Mental Health in America: A Workplace Report,” 78% of organizations currently offer workplace mental health resources or plan to offer such resources in the next year.
Expanding existing employee assistance programs to include mental healthcare services has never been more important. According to Mental Health America, more than half of adults in the United States who live with a mental illness do not receive treatment.
Providing cost-free, confidential, and personalized mental health care for employees and their families can be an invaluable benefit. Having access to this level of service will undoubtedly be appreciated by employees who are struggling—either themselves or as a caregiver—and who may hesitate to speak openly about what they are experiencing.
Simply knowing support is there when they feel ready to seek help can go a long way.
Build a Culture of Acceptance
According to Mental Health America’s “Mind the Workplace 2022 Report,” 47% of employees know about their company’s mental health services, but only 38% would be comfortable using them.
When we create supportive communities that learn and grow together through collaborative experiences, a culture of acceptance is fostered. This holds true in the workplace.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are established within organizations to bring people together who have a shared experience. While it may be more common for companies to have ERGs for veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, or individuals living with a disability, establishing a peer-to-peer mental wellness group might also be a consideration.
Creating a safe forum for employees who are struggling with their mental health—diagnosed or undiagnosed—to come together and have open and honest conversations without judgment helps reduce stigma and foster empathy. It can also build a sense of community within the organization.
Provide Tools to Help Employees Help Each Other
Opening the lines of communication around mental health breaks down biases so that all employees feel heard and supported in their journeys. This undoubtedly takes time.
Identifying, understanding, and responding to signs of mental health and substance use challenges at work can be daunting. But recognizing the growing need for high-impact, skills-based training, some employers have begun to pilot mental health first-aid programs within their organizations. These programs provide employees with insightful guidance on how to support a colleague in need.
Employers have the responsibility to embrace, without judgment, all employees who experience mental health issues. Only then can employees feel comfortable bringing their whole, true selves to work each day.
Angela Colon-Mahoney is vice president of people and business services for Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., an industry leader in mental health.