To address mental health issues, especially while dealing with staff anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak, HR professionals should start by creating a supportive workplace culture
Over the past years, mental health has become a widely used term. It defines psychological and emotional well-being of people, inevitably influencing both private life and work. While HR professionals face a lot of complexities during their careers, one of the tough challenges they may affront could be managing and supporting the employees that are struggling with mental health issues.
The risks of ignoring mental health issues in your organization
Unfortunately, despite ever growing awareness of the matter, mental illnesses remain somehow stigmatized in our society, and therefore many workers find it very uncomfortable acknowledging the problem. As confirmed in Harvard Business Review, “despite the fact that over 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions each year ($16.8 billion in employee productivity), mental health remains a taboo subject. In fact, almost 60% of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status”. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), each year in the UK, about half a million people suffer from work-relatedstress, depression, or anxiety.
If untreated, mental health conditions may negatively affect staff members: employees might show lower performance comparing to their colleagues, be generally unmotivated, or even miss work. The issue goes far beyond “private” troubles. That is why HR managers need to recognise it early on and do their best to stand behind their employees: not only to keep on board valuable workers – but also to drive change across the business and broadcast the right corporate values, fostering an inclusive workplace culture. This would be particularly appreciated by Millennials and Generation Z. In fact, Gen Z sees the work ethic and work-life balance as some of the main priorities, and modern HR strategies should be adapted accordingly.
How can HR managers approach mental health issues?
HR professionals’ primary objective is to ensure that employees feel comfortable at work, and there are plenty of steps you can take to create a healthier workplace. Here are just some of the them:
- Increase awareness about mental health in the workplace
HR managers have an important opportunity to endorse mental health awareness in the office and debunk misconceptions that may arise. Start by informing your employees about resources where they can find useful tips on mental health (for instance, UK organisations’ sites like Mind and Time to Change ). Provide contact information of psychologists to encourage those who are struggling with poor mental health to reach out to professionals. Be open: start an inclusive dialogue about mental health through various seminars, involve guest speakers, invite your staff to participate in formal or informal conversations, listen carefully to their feedback. Consider organizing internal support groups or create an anonymous online portal through which employees can connect with you or other managers to express their worries, inform about excessive stress level, and ask for help.
- Invest in targeted education that supports mental health
One of the key strategies is to provide your staff with training opportunities designed to boost problem-solving techniques, as well as strengthen conflict resolution and communication skills. As said in the Harvard Business Review, “trainings are imperative for all employees — and especially managers — to learn how to name, normalize, and navigate mental health at work”. Managers should be properly trained to recognize the first signs of mental illness, severe workplace stress, burnout, heavy workplace fatigue, bullying, and other problems that may occur.
- Use inclusive language
Language matters: certain words or phrases used in a joking manner (like calling someone “crazy” or defining something as “insane”) can turn out to be harmful to individuals who struggle with inner afflictions. So, try to educate the staff members around you to be mindful of their language. Eliminate stigmatizing language from your own vocabulary – lead by example.
- Reconsider your benefits package
To support the mental health agenda, HR professionals may alter the company’s wellness benefits packages by introducing new initiatives. Keep employees both physically and psychologically healthy with a sound approach. Provide fresh fruit for a healthier routine in the office. Promote sporting activities by distributing gym passes, organizing yoga or pilates courses, shiatsu sessions, correct posture lessons, trainings on relaxation and meditation techniques. Focus on fostering employees’ stress reduction by providing them with a room for recreation and socializing that will also serve as a nice place to drink coffee together and share healthy meals. Consider giving out promos for sessions with nutritionists. Another useful benefit is an opportunity to follow leadership courses (for instance, the ones dedicated to women).
What can HRs do to support employees’ mental health during the coronavirus times?
Given the news about the recent worldwide spread of the Covid-19, supporting staff with general anxiety around coronavirus is the core challenge that most employers have to face as a result of the outbreak. In this situation, HR managers must urgently recognise that anxiety paired with uncertainty over things such as the future of employees’ jobs, are all normal human reactions to the crisis. What can an HR manager do? Organize virtual social sessions, such as online coffee breaks or remote shared activities, to engage and motivate your staff and help them stay connected. HRs should also ensure managers are having regular video or telephone calls with the people to respond to all queries and solve uncertainty. Cascade short empathetic videos from leadership team to motivate employees while working remotely. “Practice “responsible sharing” of reliable and accurate health information; avoid sharing of emotionally-charged news stories which may arouse unwarranted fear in employees”. And, finally, consider shaping this difficult time into an opportunity to further educate your personnel – provide extensive eLearning sessions and trainings: in this way, employees will perceive the Covid-19 period not only as a tough burden, but also as a chance to slow down and invest in their self- and professional development.
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