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Addressing Mental Health in the Workforce

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Johanna G. Zelman

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. After fifteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has placed unprecedented stress on Americans dealing with isolation and fear, while juggling closed schools and businesses, homeschooling children, working from home, and economic uncertainty, including ensuring basic necessities – Americans are struggling to recover. One study published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a finding that almost 41 percent of adults reported a mental health issue or increased substance use. Other studies published more recently in 2021 reflect similar results. For employers, who rely on a healthy workforce to be successful, this has direct repercussions on productivity, work quality and, in some cases, legal liability.

Despite this, mental health remains highly stigmatized, and employees are often uncomfortable speaking about their troubles at work. But there are things employers can do to encourage their employees to ask for help.

  • Talk to Your Employees. Have your managers and supervisors check in on your employees and ask them how they are doing or if they need anything. Make sure they communicate to employees that as their employer, you are there for them. Employees feel more comfortable speaking to their employers when they know that the subject of mental health is not taboo.
  • Let Employees Know that is Okay Not to be Okay. Many employees believe that they must always put on their best face while at work. This leads to the illusion that they are always happy and that their lives are perfect, discouraging others from coming forward with concerns. Tell employees that they don’t have to always be okay, and encourage them to talk about their concerns. It is okay to not be okay.
  • Make EAP Available and Accessible. Having an Employee Assistance Plan available and easily accessible is a great way to bring mental health care to your employees. Send an email to your employees identifying your EAP provider and providing instructions on how to access it. Put these instructions on your company intranet. Consider giving your employees a few free sessions per year as part of their benefits. Make sure employees understand that the use of EAP services generally will be anonymous unless they are told otherwise.
  • Publish a List of Resources. Every community has mental health and substance abuse resources available. Put together a list of these resources and provide it to your employees, either through email or by making it available on your company intranet, or both.
  • Make Sure Mental Health Care is Covered by Your Health Plan. Many health insurers still do not cover treatment for mental health care. Make sure that the health insurance plan you choose for your employees covers mental health treatment.
  • Encourage Employees to Take Time for Themselves. Rest and relaxation increase productivity. During COVID, many employees gave up their vacations because travel was not possible. Now that it is, encourage your employees to take vacation time, even if it means taking a staycation.
  • Create Opportunities for Employees to Socialize. Bring in donuts on Fridays, and encourage employees to socialize (with or without masks) in the breakroom for a few minutes. Hold a happy hour once a month. Sponsor a cookie competition during the holidays. Social events tend to make for a happier workforce, increasing employee productivity and decreasing the sense of isolation and other factors that lead to mental health issues.
  • Train Your Employees. Providing training to employees about mental health and ways to manage it will let your employees know you are open to hearing their concerns.
  • Ensure All Employees Understand How to Request an Accommodation. Federal law, most state laws, and some local laws require that an employer provide reasonable accommodations to its disabled employees. A mental health condition may qualify as a disability under these laws. A “reasonable accommodation” is any adjustment that can be made to working conditions that allows an employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job, although essential functions need not be eliminated, and the employee’s requested accommodation need not be granted so long as the accommodation provided is reasonable. Tell your employees how to make such a request, and make sure they understand that there will be no retaliation if they do need an accommodation. In some instances, a leave of absence may even be necessary. Again, make sure your employees know it is okay.

Mental illness is often labeled a “silent” disability because, in most cases, it is not apparent. It is, however, no less serious than any physical disability, and, left untreated, can be more harmful. One of the leading causes of employer losses is due to mental health conditions. Employers, therefore, benefit by ensuring that they have a workforce that is healthy, both physically and mentally. Encouraging employees to come forward and seek help for mental health concerns or illness will create loyalty and an overall happier and more satisfying work environment.

This blog originally appeared at FordHarrison on May 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About this Author: Johanna Zelman has represented a wide variety of employers from various industries, but Johanna has a specific strength in matters arising in the municipal employment setting and in public schools and universities.


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I’m a Guy and I’m Stressed Out

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Image: Bob RosnerAh, the good old days. It’s 1977 and the Labor Department’s Quality of Work study found that 34 percent of men say that they’re experiencing some kind of work and home life stress. About one in three.

Fast forward to 2008 (okay, it’s 2011, but the Labor Department sometimes gets too much labor on it’s plate to produce reports in a timely fashion. Don’t get me started on the stress they’re experiencing) and the same question gets agreement from 49 percent of men with families. Just about half.

Where does this stress come from? Not many surprises here. 60 percent of me who have a spouse who also works report substantial conflicts in the demands of work and family, as do men with young kids (55 percent) and men who work the longest hours (60 percent of those working more than 50 hours a week, versus 39 percent of those working 40-49 hours/week).

There are many reasons for this: wages have remained essentially flat for almost 40 years, long hours, working not only your job but the job of laid off coworkers, greater job insecurity and boundaries between work and home life that are breaking down. Heck, just writing this list is stressing me out.

Okay, my take is that this is all a good thing.

Men should assume more stress from their home life. Take more responsibility. In my significant relationships I did 80% of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids. I think that men should contribute in all these areas.

Because participating in family life does bring stress. But it also brings joy and meaning. So this is one of those areas where stress is not 100% bad. It can complicate your life but it also enriches your life at the same time.

Why should women have all the joys and stress from home? Dive in there fella.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.


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