4 Ways Your Workplace Can Be Proactive About Mental Health
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Many organizations are struggling with addressing mental health at work, but most of the time the focus is on managing issues that already exist. Rather than waiting to see signs that employees might be struggling with poor mental health, doesn’t it make more sense to be proactive and protect our mental health when it’s good? While making your workplace a truly psychologically safe and healthy environment takes a good deal of time and strategy, there are plenty of easy places to start when it comes to being proactive about employee mental health. Read on for four simple ideas to get you started.
1. Think EFAP First!
In my experience working as a consultant with companies of varying sizes in various industries, I’ve noticed a commonality among many about how the EFAP is perceived by employees. An Employee & Family Assistance Program is an incredible resource for your team members as well as their spouses and dependant children. Low utilization rates sometimes gives management the false impression that all is well and nobody’s using EFAP services because they don’t need it. It’s more likely that employees don’t fully understand what the EFAP can be used for. Make it clear in your workplace that the EFAP is a resource staff can easily take advantage of when they’re well. Depending on the package your organization uses, your EFAP may offer programs on resilience, stress management, maintaining good personal and professional relationships and more. If an employee is going through a tough time, they can and should tap into their EFAP to access support early on to help maintain their wellness.
2. Promote Community Resources
Outside of the EFAP, are you aware of other resources availability in your community? Unfortunately not everyone will feel comfortable using the EFAP so while you’re working to break down those barriers make sure your organization profiles any available community supports. Your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch (click HERE and navigate to your province and closest city/town) and hosts some fantastic, low-cost or free educational workshops on understanding anxiety and depression, mindfulness, supporting loved ones who are struggling with their mental health (including young children) and more. If you live in a province that has access to 2-1-1, their website (click HERE) is a great place to find other resources in your geographical area.
3. Facilitate Early Intervention
Do your team members have the necessary skills and training to recognize signs that a co-worker might be a little out of sorts? Are they equipped to initiate conversations about mental health in a way that’s sensitive, workplace-appropriate and effective? Those who have heard my keynotes or participated in training sessions have heard me say, “If you take just one thing away from our time together, I hope it’s this: you do not have to be a mental health professional to support someone who’s struggling.” It's the truth! Training programs like Mental Health First Aid (find an upcoming training HERE) can prepare employees and members of the public to recognize the very early signs that someone’s feeling a bit stressed, or feeling a little down. Everyone in your workplace should be attuned to these signs and be confident in their ability to address these issues as soon as they notice them, rather than waiting until the person’s struggles are having a more significant impact at work.
4. Foster Healthy Workplace Culture
I’ve talked a fair bit about workplace culture and its impact on employee and organizational wellness in previous blog posts so I won’t exhaust the point, but remember that in most workplaces psychological health and safety comes down to cultural norms rather than availability of resources. I’ve seen companies with the “Rolls Royce of EFAPs” struggle with low utilization rates and obscenely high absenteeism because of unhealthy cultural norms. If people are afraid to acknowledge mental health issues in themselves and others, feel uncomfortable talking about mental health in broad strokes, and put stock in misconceptions informed by stigma such as mental health problems signifying personal weakness… these are issues that need to be addressed. Conversely, workplaces where people are already comfortable talking about mental health are well positioned to take their employee wellness initiatives a step further and focus on building resilience to minimize risk of psychological distress. Make sure your workplace culture is one where mental health is talked about openly and isn’t a taboo subject.
Think about your own work environment. How can you start bringing focus from being just reactive to taking a more proactive stance? What proactive initiatives do you already have underway? Let us know in the comments below!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.