MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE: A CRUCIAL CONVERSATION FOR HR LEADERS
By Kim LaMontagne
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy US $1 trillion each year, driven predominantly by lost productivity.”
To promote mental health, prevent mental health conditions, and enable people living with mental health conditions to participate and thrive in work, the WHO developed guidelines on mental health at work. The recommendations cover organizational interventions, manager training and worker training, individual interventions, return to work, and gaining employment.”
ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE IS CRITICAL
Given the state of the world, we must be vigilant about the mental health of our employees and ourselves. Training leaders to know the signs of someone in distress and teaching them how to open a safe conversation is crucial.
Some employees are exposed to high levels of stress, working in a toxic organizational culture, don’t feel safe to speak openly and ask for help, are overworked, and don’t take time to rest and recharge. This can lead to mental health challenges and burnout.
As leaders, you are not expected to be counselors, but you are in a unique position to identify an employee in distress, open a safe conversation, and crosswalk them to services. It is our responsibility to create a culture of safety for open dialog. A ‘culture of safety’ is a culture where everyone feels safe speaking openly about mental health and substance misuse without fear of judgment, retribution, or job loss.
In a safe workplace, employees are encouraged to speak their truth and feel safe to:
- Acknowledge the feeling.
- Identify what is causing it.
- Speak openly with leaders about the issue.
- Discuss solutions.
- Engage in professional help, if needed.
When an employee feels safe, seen, heard, and understood, they are more likely to ask for help and embrace the tools they have been given to help them in recovery. In a safe workplace culture, conversations will happen naturally because employees feel safe asking for help.
Below are 6 steps to open a safe conversation.
- Identify employer sponsored resources prior to the conversation.
- Create a safe space for open dialog without judgment.
- Acknowledge you are the leader and not the counselor.
- Listen with care and practice empathy.
- Use person centered language.
- Crosswalk the employee to professional services
PROACTIVE MENTAL HEALTH TIP FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM
Countless leaders in HR, corporate, legal, healthcare, construction, sales, and other industries have confided in me that they feel anxious, overworked, depressed and oftentimes, don’t put the oxygen mask on themselves first.
Question: How can you take care of and lead others when your tank is empty?
Answer: Follow the 4 steps (below) to be proactive.
- Know your personal signs/behaviors that signify you are experiencing burnout, depression, or other mental illness. (What emotions and behaviors do you display?)
- Share your signs with others. (Tell others what to look for)
- Give them permission to “reach in” when you aren’t strong enough to “reach out.”
- Guide them on how to help you by sharing what works for YOU.
A concerned friend and colleague can support you best when they know exactly what works for you when you need help. By following these steps, you empower others to help you when you are not physically or mentally capable of helping yourself.
These four steps can save you or someone else’s life and are part of creating a mentally healthy workplace where everyone feels safe speaking openly about mental health.
More people than we know experience mental health challenges, yet many fear speaking openly about it. Open dialogue, about mental health, results in an increase in use of employer sponsored mental health services, leading to increased employee engagement, productivity, and satisfaction. Healthy employees are more engaged employees.
You and your leaders are not expected to be counselors, but you are the closest person to the employee and can identify the signs, open a safe dialog, and crosswalk the employee to services.
Training leaders on mental health in the workplace (signs, symptoms, stigma, person centered language, opening a safe dialog, cross walking an employee to professional services), is critical if we want to normalize the conversation about mental health.
Leaders have the power to transform the workplace and create a culture where everyone feels safe speaking openly about mental health. Lives (and the bottom line) depend on it.
Kim LaMontagne, MBA is President/CEO of Kim LaMontagne, LLC, Corporate Mental Health Trainer, International Speaker, and Author. She is also the Wellbeing Director for HR Florida State Council. Her mission is to share her lived experience and train leaders to create a culture of safety in the workplace where everyone feels safe asking for help. Lives depend on it.