Managing the Mental Health of Your Workforce and Why You Cannot Ignore Issues
There’s no other way around it, employees mental health at the workplace is the business of employers. At a time when most of us are becoming more aware and understanding of the different aspects of mental health, the onus for companies to take initiative on addressing similar circumstances within the workplace seems more pronounced that ever. For organizations, this is about leading by example, ensuring employees are comfortable having open conversations about mental wellness and reaching out to those who need it. Last July, an email exchange between an employee and a CEO went viral in a positive way. In the email, the employee openly shared that her leave of absence was a way to address her mental health. Incredibly, the CEO came to respond in support of the staff and even encouraged the rest of the organization to be more open about the topic. “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,” Ben Congleton said in response to one of his employees at their live-chat platform. How does mental illness affect an organization? Traditionally, employers often address signs of stress and depression by giving their staff privacy without directly probing on the issue. However, many cases have proven that an individual’s mental health can carry to the workplace in many ways. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 43.8 million adults in the United States experience mental illness in any given year. Also, both the National Business Group on Health and the World Health Organization indicated that mental and behavioral health conditions make up as much as $100 billion in direct costs for employers. Unfortunately, indirect costs, such as lost productivity and a rise in disability claims, can push those figures even higher. The employer’s legal obligation. While the monetary loss should already be a convincing motivator to rethink the approach of mental illness in the workplace, employers may also have a legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to refrain from discriminating against—and to make reasonable accommodations for—individuals with mental illness. An individual with disabilities is protected under the ADA, and a mental illness is considered a disability if it “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This definition is to be considered broadly, so many employees with mental illness will likely have protection under the law. Mental health is bigger than what it seems. Individuals with mental health illness don’t always acknowledge their condition, which is often the reason why it has a tendency to get worse over time. However, some companies cannot afford to take this issue in stride, like in the field of transportation, where workers are responsible for the health and safety of other people. Conclusively, it’s critical for organizations to create a culture within the workplace that will allow employees to address stress and mental illness in a way that is comfortable for everyone. After all, a healthy and confident workforce is more likely to deliver a strong performance and spread positive behavior among their colleagues.