Psychology Month: how is your team's mental health?

February is psychology month so it’s a fitting time to check your workplace’s mental health pulse

Psychology Month: how is your team's mental health?

February is psychology month — which happens to fall in the middle of a long, cold winter for many Canadians — so it’s a fitting time to take your workplace’s mental health pulse.

Are absentee rates higher than usual? If so, remember that half a million Canadians stay home from work every week on account of poor mental health.

Are managers noticing that employees seem a bit withdrawn or down? Know that 2/3 of people who suffer from mental health stay silent about their struggles.

Fortunately, prioritizing workplace mental health is more common than ever before as employers become more aware that a healthy workforce is more likely to be a happy, engaged and productive one. It’s also incredibly expensive to keep mental health in the office shadows: mental health-related disengagement (in the forms of absenteeism and presenteeism) costs Canadian employers more than $6 billion annually, and mental illness is the leading cause of disability claims nationwide.

It’s true that Employee Assistance Programs are high priority for most Human Resource leaders these days, but it is important to note that they are still severely underused. A 2019 survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans revealed that while 84% of employers offer EAPs, three-quarters said that a mere 10% or less of their employees actually used them.

Ultimately, barriers like inconvenience, difficulty finding providers or getting appointments, figuring out the reimbursement process and lingering stigmas are still getting in the way for many employees.

In light of this, here are five ways HR professionals can increase access to — and encourage employee engagement with — mental health resources this year:

1) Take some time to review how employees can access EAPs and/or their benefits. Is it cumbersome? What obstacles can you remove? Create some simple communication tools — think checklists, infographics, short videos — to make it easier for employees to navigate this process. Make sure they know what amounts they can claim and what paperwork is needed.
Offering virtual care as a complement to EAP is another way to increase employees’ access to mental health support. Connecting with registered mental health specialists on a platform like Akira is a way to bring down barriers often associated with accessing mental health support: text and video messaging at any time of day or night is a much more accessible way to initiate a difficult conversation.

2) Create your own toolkit for when employees approach you with mental health struggles. It’s not easy to come forward when you’re struggling, so make sure you’re ready to handle the conversation optimally. Listen, empathize and validate concerns. Offer all available options for mental health support (ie: More flex time? Adjusted hours? Working from home on certain days?). Most importantly, remember to treat mental health difficulties as you would a physical health concern.

3) Turn inward and address your own mental wellness. It can be difficult in any industry to practice what we preach, especially in positions where we’re responsible for the wellbeing of many others. But don’t lose sight of your own mental wellness. Taking your own mental health pulse and making use of the supports that are available to your employees will not only ensure you’re in a position to do your best work, but will give you valuable firsthand experience with the resources available in your company.

4) Use your influence to create a supportive workplace culture. It may seem obvious because HR pros spend much of their working days thinking about employee culture, but you’ll make an even greater impact if you’re also a wellness leader when you’re away from your desk. Do you love spinning in your spare time? Champion a company-funded spinning club! Are you trying to learn to meditate at home? Don’t be shy to share that in the lunch room! Try to use your influence to reduce mental health stigma and encourage positive habits at every opportunity.

Ultimately, remember that prioritizing mental health has countless benefits — not just protecting the bottom line or retaining great people. A recent study by Morneau found that 77% of employees would actually consider changing jobs for an employer who offers more mental health and wellbeing support. It’s worth keeping your finger on this pulse.

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