Oct. 10 is World Mental
Celebrated every year since 1992, the day’s overall objective is to “raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health,” according to the World Health Organization.
Raising awareness of mental well-being’s importance is always a good idea. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a time in recent memory when focusing on mental health was as critical as it is right now.
A global pandemic that’s still taking lives every day, while wreaking havoc on the global economy and millions of livelihoods. Civil unrest following the death of George Floyd and other unarmed Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. An historically contentious presidential election that gave way to a deadly insurrection at the nation’s capital not quite two months later.
It’s been a tumultuous 18 months or so. And the upheaval of the last year and a half continues to take its toll on the workforce.
Gallup’s newest “State of the Global Workplace” report, for example, finds 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers saying they feel stress on a daily basis, compared to 49% saying the same last year.
Mental Health America’s “Mind the Workplace 2021” report finds most employees experiencing signs of burnout, reporting that workplace-related stress is severely affecting their mental health, and feeling that they’re not receiving the support they need to manage their stress.
Employers can do more to help provide that support to employees on a daily basis, said Emily Brainerd, well-being and engagement practice leader at Gallagher.
Companies can take advantage of World Mental Health Day “as a date to promote the importance of mental health education and resources with employees year-round,” said Brainerd, noting that a recent Gallagher survey found 39% of workers reporting a decline in their emotional well-being since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizational leadership must create a culture where employees are comfortable addressing mental health concerns and seeking out the resources they need to do so. In order to create such an environment, “it is imperative that [employees] have access to mental health awareness and educational resources,” said Brainerd, noting organizations such as Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness as sources of information on mental well-being.
“Employers need to make sure there are resources in place for employees to get treatment and manage mental health conditions,” she continued. “These resources should span a broad range, from including access for emergency support around substance misuse or suicide to preventive care tools such as mindfulness exercises and stress management strategies in order to build resiliency.”
In addition to promoting these resources, the organization should also consider how it could positively affect stressors to lessen common employee burdens, said Brainerd.
“These could include programs to help with financial stress or caregiving responsibilities, or even concierge-type or convenience related services such as healthy food delivery. Within the workplace, this might look like creating flexible schedules, strengthening manager/employee communication channels, increasing recognition opportunities and encouraging the use of paid time off.”
Communication is critical, of course. An effective employee communications strategy can help employees learn about the resources available to them, when to use them and how to access these tools, said Brainerd, adding that company intranets and benefit hubs can be a central location to house this information.
“Employers can also coordinate information and links from health plans, employee assistance programs and third-party providers on the same platform, to point employees to additional resources.”
The effort to build and maintain a psychologically safe work environment should also include training for all people managers, “as direct managers are often the first point of contact for an employee,” said Brainerd.
“Managers and organizational leaders need the emotional skills to be able to respond supportively to an employee in need, and to assist that employee in navigating available resources. This might also mean that managers and leaders themselves need emotional well-being support first, as they are struggling with the same challenges facing their team members.”
Employees and managers alike must also be encouraged to think about and take action regarding their own mental well-being, added Brainerd.
For managers, “it is important that employees see you taking care of your own mental health and emotional well-being,” she said. “Direct supervisors must first be supported themselves if they are to effectively support their teams.”
Mark McGraw is the managing editor of Workspan.