Three Strategies to Improve Workplace Mental Health

The number one health threat that impacts
American workplaces is mental health. Billions of dollars are lost due to diminished
productivity, presenteeism, and medical care. Many employers are uncomfortable dealing with
employee mental health issues and may only do so as mandated by laws such as the Americans
with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The reality is, however that most employees
will at some point in their tenure, struggle with a mental health issue. As such, what can employers do to effectively,
humanely and legally manage such conditions? According to E. Kevin Kelloway, President
of the Canadian Psychological Association, a three-pronged approach is most effective
at managing this challenge. The 3 steps are, prevention, intervention,
and accommodation. From a purely legal compliance perspective,
the ADA mandates certain action steps that may involve some degree of intervention and
accommodation. Generally, Employers are not mandated to improve
workplace conditions in order to boost employee mental health. However, with the associated high costs of
mental health disorders, a comprehensive strategy makes good business sense to support employee
mental wellness. First, Prevention. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure. Preventive actions may cost the least AND
have the greatest positive impact on both employees and the BOTTOM LINE! Prevention includes:
Analyze workplace practices and environmental issues that may unnecessarily stress employees
– Eliminate Policies and expectations of workers that lead to burnout! Fostering a culture of wellness that includes
policies and resources that boosts employee’s personal physical and emotional resilience
through nutrition, physical fitness and rest. Also, Positive Relationship development between
workers to engage them and provide meaningful workplace supports, and
Training of employees and especially managers to recognize signs of stress and effective
ways to manage them. The second action step is Intervention. 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. Health and welfare benefits to provide employees
a foundation of support for personal issues. 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. The third action step is Accommodation. Accommodation of mental health issues includes
steps mandated by the ADA, as well as optional action steps that may improve employee performance,
even if it is not covered by ADA: First, an essential element is Leadership
that supports appropriate disclosure and reasonable accommodation to support employees’ ability
to continue working as they manage their mental health challenges. Leadership support will allow a Workplace
culture that makes it safe for employees to appropriately disclose their needs for accommodation. Interactive discussions with employees as
mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act to identify reasonable accommodations
that enable the employee to continue working. These action steps are a brief overview of
tactics cited in research articles; by no means is it all inclusive. And in no way is it appropriate for employers
to attempt to diagnose or define treatments of an employee health condition. Seek professional medical guidance as necessary. For assistance with addressing employee mental
health issues in the workplace, Employers Council offers members resources, legal guidance,
sample policies and HR best practices. Call us today.

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