U.S. employers lose billions of dollars each year to direct medical costs and lost productivity as a result of employee mental health disorders. A comprehensive strategic approach to workplace mental health offered in the September 2019 issue of Organizational Dynamics provides useful guidance. E. Kevin Kelloway, President of the Canadian Psychological Association, proposes a three pronged approach for employers to more effectively manage this challenge:
It is noteworthy that inherent in this model is the presumption that employers find it in their best interest to even add this topic (employee mental health) to their “to do” list. From a purely legal compliance perspective, the ADA mandates some degree of intervention and accommodation. It is clear, however, from the research cited in this issue, that relying solely on mandated action is unlikely to maximize the possible benefits from a more comprehensive strategy.
Prevention involves awareness and analysis of workplace practices, including “nuts and bolts” HR issues such as:
- Policies and expectations of workers that may create undue hardships and burdens on them, leading to burnout.
- Relationship development between workers to engage them and provide meaningful workplace supports.
- Stress reduction efforts and training on the topics of mindfulness, self-management, and time planning skills.
- Health and welfare benefits provide employees a foundation of support for personal issues that may impact workplace behaviors and effectiveness.
- Training of employees and especially managers to recognize signs of stress and effective ways to manage them.
Intervention efforts are needed for issues that arise during employment, and may include:
- Policies that provide employees with time and resources to self-care and ask for help.
- Workflow analysis and redesign to identify and mitigate structural problems.
- Managers who are trained to identify employees in distress and how to respond appropriately; this applies equally for themselves as for the individuals they supervise.
Accommodation of mental health issues includes mandated as well as optional action steps:
- A workplace culture that makes it safe for employees to disclose their needs for accommodation appropriately.
- Leadership that supports appropriate disclosure and reasonable accommodation to support employees’ ability to continue working as they manage their mental health challenges.
- Interactive discussions with employees as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act to identify reasonable accommodations that enable the employee to continue working.
The list above is a brief overview of tactics cited in this research and other articles; by no means is it all-inclusive. Takeaways for employers may be: accept that employees come to work as whole beings; many have or will develop mental health disorders; many will need help to continue being an effective contributor. Employers that acknowledge this and prepare for it cohesively and strategically (as opposed to a reactionary, unprepared response) will likely mitigate risks and improve their chances to successfully engage and retain good employees.
For assistance with employee mental health issues, Employers Council offers members resources, legal guidance, sample policies, and HR best practices. The resources used in this article are available for check-out; for assistance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.