When employees come to work feeling good and able to focus, it benefits everyone.
Employees can enjoy their work and continue to advance in their careers, and employers enjoy the perks of higher levels of productivity and higher retention levels — both of which go on to boost revenue and reduce expenses over time.
That’s why it’s a mistake to leave employees’ mental health to chance.
Too many managers just hope and expect that employees can keep a positive outlook despite trying conditions at work, and that employees will handle any personal crises completely outside of work hours.
Instead, employers should seek to actively monitor and support their employees’ mental health by identifying common stressors and helping employees find solutions to those stressors.
Let’s discuss why your employees’ mental health might be suffering, and some steps you can take to alleviate their stress.
Pandemic-Related Stresses to Consider
Mental health is important at any time of year, not just in a period during which the nation as a whole seems to face obstacle after obstacle.
But it’s certainly worth noting that your employees, in general, have more to worry about these days than they may have in the past.
The lingering effects of isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll on mental health, and being with family members for long periods can also strain relationships, which leads to even more stress. Parents will be worried about limited options for child care, and about the effects of the pandemic on their kids’ behavior and education. And even if they don’t have pronounced health risks or interpersonal relationship stress, employees may worry about how pandemic-related market changes will affect employees’ livelihoods and earnings in the near future.
Political turmoil affects mental health, too, as employees worry about how current events will affect their relationships, their economic prospects, and the general stability of their communities.
Worried employees will be less likely to sleep and eat well, which goes on to affect their ability to do their best work.
For all of these reasons, it’s particularly important to proactively support employees’ mental health at this time.
It’s difficult to help relieve employees’ stress if managers don’t know how stressed employees actually are or what is stressing them out. That’s why the most adept managers are the ones who can stay in touch with how their reports are feeling and doing emotionally.
To be supportive of employees’ mental health, managers can check in with employees both one-on-one or in groups, both formally in meetings and informally when they happen to see employees in-person (although that might not happen as organically in the era of COVID-19).
Of course, these kinds of check-ins won’t be productive unless the manager already has established trusting, respectful relationships with their employees. Employees won’t open up to their managers unless they truly believe those managers have their best interests at heart and that divulging personal stress won’t end up harming their career prospects.
And, as you probably know from personal experience, trust isn’t established overnight.
Managers have to demonstrate over time with their actions that they are able to listen empathetically and welcome bad news and criticism. They have to show that they genuinely are interested in others’ lives and supporting their employees. Otherwise, it may be difficult for them to get to the bottom of what they can do to help their employees succeed at work.
Even if employees generally trust their managers, they might not see a point in approaching a manager for help if they don’t think there’s much a manager can actually do for them.
That’s why managers have to cultivate a set of resources for employees to take advantage of when they’re stressed, and they need to make sure employees know about those resources.
A few resources to alleviate stress and worry might already be included in the employee benefits package. Employees need to know what they are entitled to as part of their employee benefits, from paid time off to family leave policies to what their health care plan covers.
Some employers may also offer an Employee Assistance Program to help employees manage personal issues that have started to impact their work performance. EAPs were originally created to address alcoholism and drug use in the workplace, but have evolved to address a wide variety of other problems. Employees may seek help for issues such as anxiety, stress and depression, or even get connected to resources that can help them with finances, family emergencies, or marital problems.
Other resources that might be helpful in alleviating workplace stress are professional. If an employees’ mental health obstacles stem from problems with a certain colleague or from a certain part of their work, they may be able to report that employee’s behavior or explore other positions within the company.
Managers should make sure employees know exactly where to get more information about any resource available to them.
If employees have learned that sharing their feelings or airing their grievances doesn’t amount to much at work — either because managers seldom follow up on concerns or because managers’ hands are tied in some way — they will probably keep struggling on their own.
If your workplace doesn’t have the resources or policies in place to give employees the mental health support they deserve, managers can certainly take the initiative to change those policies, or at least suggest changes to their own managers.
For example, managers could suggest giving employees more flexibility by allowing them to occasionally work from home, or suggest changes to the paid-time-off policy to accommodate a wider range of personal reasons.
Once managers know what practices or policies are causing stress, they need to work to change them, even if a resource isn’t available or obvious at first.
Set an Example
If managers want employees to take time off work to address their mental health, managers should occasionally take time off work.
If managers want employees to feel like they can share some of the difficult things they’re dealing with in their personal lives, then managers have to share some difficult things that they’re dealing with in their own personal lives.
For this reason, managers deserve special training that can help them lead with empathy, and that can give them some of the tools they need to advocate for their employees.
If you want to give the managers at your office these tools, we invite you to explore ELI’s Civil Treatment Workplace for Leaders. This program is part of our new Civil Treatment Workplace Initiative to build more inclusive, productive and compliant workplaces.
Learn more here: ELI’s Civil Treatment Workplace for Leaders