Equip Managers to Help Employees Navigate Mental Health Benefits
#evolve Magazine
July 05, 2023

As declines in mental health collide with financial stress, caregiving demands, layoffs and layoff survivorship, many organizations are leaning more than ever on their managers for help.

Mental health challenges can have a major impact on the workforce, with employees struggling to not only keep up with work but also just show up for work. The prevalence is growing: In 2019, the World Health Organization found that 15% of working-age adults were estimated to have mental illness. By 2023, a survey by Mental Health America found that 21% of adults, about 50 million people, are experiencing at least one mental illness, and over half have not received any treatment. 

Yet even as behavioral health becomes more mainstream, some employees are still reluctant to engage in benefits that can help. Concerns about privacy, lack of time and perceived lack of manager support leave many people struggling and not tending to their mental well-being.

Managers can play a vital part in employee well-being, but they need consistent training and the tools to do it well. Because employees’ needs are ever-changing, managers need to keep up with information that often changes daily.

Enabling Managers to Increase Support

Here are three things that HR can do to make it easier for managers to navigate mental health conversations with employees:

1. Script the Conversation

The many types of mental health resources offered by employers may leave employees overwhelmed if they don’t have time dedicated to understanding the benefits or are unaware of which ones might be the most helpful to their own needs or their family’s situation. Managers play a key role in relaying information to employees and are often a trusted source of knowledge about where to find resources within an organization.

Creating a series of easy-to-read manager tip sheets can help managers locate resources, provide conversation starters on tough topics and teach them how to recognize the signs and know what to do when their people are struggling in certain areas.

For example, a technology company that we work with noticed extensive signs of employee burnout and stress. We developed a manager tip sheet that outlined specific scenarios where a manager might notice performance issues, such as a star performer suddenly missing deadlines. The tip sheet was set up to provide conversation starters and detailed information on where to go for help. In this instance, managers were given highlights about their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits and a link to the organization’s benefits website, which includes a “where to go for care” page, so they could direct their team members to helpful information.

To evaluate whether an approach is working, HR and benefits managers can look at health data and vendor utilization metrics to gauge whether these messages are reaching employees and whether employees are taking advantage of the benefits. In this case, we saw a clear connection between increasing awareness of behavioral health benefits via managers and program usage. 

2. Break Down Complex Topics

Documents full of legalese and complicated HR language are difficult to wade through, yet they’re all too common in benefits communications. Creating detailed guides specifically for managers can be valuable in outlining their roles in administering certain benefits, like paid time off, so that both the manager and employee know what to expect.

We created a leave guide for a California-based company that was experiencing a high rate of employees welcoming new family members. The guide provided managers with an explanation of the roles and responsibilities for both manager and employee, detailed checklists and due dates for before and during leave, and a breakdown of the many different timeframes for parental bonding leave and maternity leave in the state of California. The guide also included a glossary that defined terms and laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. And it featured an FAQ to help both manager and employee understand leave requirements and what employees need to do during each step of their leave. Managers found it incredibly helpful in keeping employees informed on next steps and in making sure their leave went as smoothly as possible.

3. Promote Benefits Learning Just Like the Rest of Your Training

Scheduling manager meetings on a regular basis, with agendas driven by managers, invites them to bring up topics that other attendees may also find valuable. Creating a space for those open discussions helps them feel supported and can also educate other managers.

One of the companies we work with took this approach a step further and included a closer look at one benefit per meeting. We recently created a summary of the organization’s wellness incentive program for the meeting leader. Managers were encouraged to ask questions in real time and identify issues that may need to be examined by the benefits team. It provided everyone with a better understanding of the wellness credit, so that it could be promoted to their employees. When managers understand and use a benefit themselves, they’re more likely to encourage their people to do the same.

Providing Support for Your Managers, Too 

Managers are probably feeling many of the same stresses that their employees are experiencing, which can be compounded as they offer support to others. Be sure to encourage your managers to also take time off to rest or seek mental health support.

When it comes to employee happiness, managers play a big role. In working with organizations across a variety of industries, we repeatedly see that relationships with management are one of the top factors in employees’ job satisfaction. We know that managers have long played key roles in organizations, affecting everything from employee engagement to organizational performance.

Successful managers are the driving force behind employees’ well-being and a key reason why employees thrive in both their work and personal lives. If your managers feel supported, they are more likely to pass that support down the line to their people. Happy employees lead directly to higher performance, and that can positively affect an organization’s bottom line.

Editor’s Note: Additional Content

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics:

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