In Episode 175 of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber employment law expert Matthew Roberts and CREtelligent Chief Experience Officer Tobi Lutz discuss how employers can create a better work environment for mental health.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s an important topic, because whether it’s an employee, a co-worker, friend, family member or ourselves, we all know someone who is struggling or needs our compassionate support, Lutz says in kicking off the podcast.
And the statistics bear this out. Studies show that as recently as 2021, 76% or three in four workers have experienced a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, Roberts says.
Part of the uptick may certainly be increased awareness overall, but part of the issue is the uncertainty we are all facing in the post-COVID world. Whether it is inflation or job security, there are a lot of life stressors that are coming to work with us every day, Lutz says.
Employers should be aware that mental health may potentially be a disability, Roberts stresses. If an employee is having a mental health crisis that affects their job performance, it’s important for employers to understand the difference between discrimination issues and accommodations, and other legal rules.
A Culture of Wellness
Employers and human resources professionals can help create a wellness environment where employees have the ability to thrive. Lutz says that in creating a wellness environment where employees feel cared for, employers are also creating that same type of environment for their customers.
It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, she says. Employers can ensure that employees have basic necessities like strong benefit offerings and competitive compensation packages—things that are part of an employee’s essential needs. Meeting these needs will truly help employees thrive.
Employers should also foster a culture of “belonging, collaboration, inclusion,” Lutz says.
“And that means that we talk about and we educate our teams on important topics like mental health, and we make mental health and wellness a space where everybody feels validated and supported. And when you have that type of environment and culture that you built, your people thrive,” she says.
And when your people thrive, she adds, so does your city, customers, and business.
How HR Professionals Can Help
Lutz urges employers to take a multifaceted approach when it comes to creating a better workplace for employees’ mental health:
• First, employers should recognize that the employee’s mental health needs don’t just arise during business hours.
• Second, mental health should be talked about in the workplace to remove the stigma that may be associated with it. For example, a workplace can run a holistic wellness challenge that focuses on nutrition, physical activity, education and how to unplug and unwind.
• Third, leaders and managers should be educated on what signs to look for in their employees, and what to say or do if they see an employee who may be struggling. Leaders and managers should know what resources the company offers so that they don’t have to go to HR as a first response.
“We should have a way that we can respond to an employee in the moment, who’s gone to the person that they trust the most, for some guidance,” Lutz says.
Last, let employees know that there are 24/7 resources available to help:
• Call or text 988: This is a suicide and crisis lifeline, routing callers to a local crisis center.
• Call or text 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (1-833-943-5746): This is a suicide and crisis hotline specific to maternal mental health, such as pregnant moms, or new moms who are at home and trying to balance work and life.