Management · September 30, 2021

Dealing With Mental Illness in the Workplace

Employers want what's best for their employees, and today's workplace has challenges never seen before, which makes dealing with mental illness in the workplace more common. The pandemic has caused widespread mental anxiety by adding new sources of stress and intensifying previous ones. In a survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 75% of employees say they've felt burnout at work, and 40% said it's specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With staffing shortages prevalent around the country, businesses have the potential to lose more employees to burnout, especially as many seek positions elsewhere or collect unemployment. Employers experiencing mental illness among their staff must address the challenges their employees are facing to retain their workforce.

While Zoom happy hours and catered lunches may have been quick pick-me-ups earlier in the pandemic, they aren't long-term solutions to a serious issue. Here are five steps to take to help teams feel supported and fulfilled.

1 Address the topic

The first step to supporting employees is to remove the taboo around mental illness. It can be intimidating for employees to admit they feel stressed and overwhelmed. Managers need to start the conversation and share their own feelings of burnout. By letting employees know their feelings are valid and the employer wants to help, you create a safe place for discussions and solutions.

2 Learn the signs of burnout

Even when employers make it safe to share emotions, some employees may not be comfortable talking about their mental health or recognize the signs in themselves. Train managers on what to look for when it comes to stress and burnout. For example, if an employee starts delivering work later, or if they have a sudden shift in their normal attitude, there may be something affecting them. In this case, find an opportunity to ask them how they're really feeling during your normal communications. It can help to set the stage by admitting how stress is manifesting itself in your own life.

3 Adjust expectations

With schools across the country closing, many employees are feeling burnout from juggling the pressures of work and home. Employers who can offer flexible work hours can help alleviate some of the stress employees feel around scheduling. Offer autonomy around work hours, workloads and meeting schedules. Some companies are implementing video-free days to give employees a break from the constant demand of communication. Also encourage boundaries, such as not emailing employees after traditional work hours or during the weekend.

4 Add employee mental health benefits

Review your benefits package to ensure you're offering adequate access to mental health services. For example, many companies are adding telemedicine screenings, employee assistance programs, meditation or mindfulness training, and other stress reduction programs. You can also add no-questions-asked mental health days in addition to vacation or sick time.

Physical health can also impact mental health and being outside in nature has been proven to lower stress and improve mental health. Consider starting a company hiking or walking club. Some managers even hold walking meetings, either in person or over the phone. These breaks outside can help with dealing with mental health in the workplace.

5 Increase paid time off

Several employees didn't take vacation time during the pandemic because travel was virtually nonexistent and there was nowhere to go. Make sure employees take time away from work. Some companies are making vacation time mandatory. Others are adjusting work hours and adopting a 4-day workweek to give employees long weekends to recharge. And make sure managers serve as role models by taking time off themselves.

Managing the employees' well-being is the most important job a manager has. By taking these steps when dealing with mental illness in the workplace, you'll help employees feel valued, which can go a long way in retaining your talent. Creating a healthy environment can have a positive impact during these stressful times and even boost your bottom line by increasing productivity and reducing turnover.

The best part is many of these ideas can be implemented without much resources from the business. If you're looking into offering additional benefits or other services, you can talk to your business banker for help investing in the right programs.


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