Your employees probably don’t think twice before calling in sick for a cold or a doctor’s appointment. Why should they? Their reasons are valid.
Now think about this: Has anyone at your workplace openly taken a day off for their mental health or left work early for a therapy session?
The answer is likely a no.
Mental health, despite becoming increasingly common, is still kept under covers, especially in professional spaces. Studies have reported that 26% of adults who took a day off work because of a mental health problem lied about why they were out of the office, while 58% aren’t comfortable telling their boss if they were diagnosed with a mental health issue. BBC cited fear, shame, and job insecurity as the main reasons why people experiencing mental illnesses suffer in silence.
How does mental health affect the workplace?
Given that we spend more time at work than we do at home, having an environment that promotes positive mental health is essential for employee well-being. Being able to openly share about your condition and efforts to seek help is part of it.
If that’s not reason enough, not acknowledging an employee’s experience with mental illness will have an impact on your companies bottom line, due to a loss in productivity and damaged professional relationships. According to Harvard Business Review, employers lose as much as US$17- 44 billion each year to depression. On the other hand, employees are happy when their mental illnesses are acknowledged in a positive manner. A happy employee is 12% more productive than unhappy ones.
Organisations like Unilever, EY, Barclays, and Adobe recognise the benefits of creating a positive mental health environment for their employees. These organisations have invested in developing structured and holistic programs to provide employees with requisite support they need to care for their mental health at work and even at home.
Steps to create a positive mental health environment at your workplace
Much of the effort in promoting mental health at work starts with acknowledging and addressing the stigma around mental illnesses. While mental health may seem like a daunting topic to tackle at the workplace, taking baby steps can make the effort more manageable. Here are some steps to guide you along:
1. Assess the situation and invite suggestions
Start where you usually start with new initiatives: research. Begin by identifying areas of the workplace that might signify a decline in employees’ mental health such as staff turnover, sickness absence, and performances.
Don’t be afraid to include your employees in this initiative. After all, they know best what elements of the workplace has an adverse impact on their mental health and the likely initiatives to make it better for their mental well-being.
If you want candid feedback and suggestions, we strongly recommend gathering this information through anonymous surveys.
Some questions you can start with:
1. How do you feel coming to work?
2. Are you experiencing any mental health issues?
3. How comfortable are you in talking about your mental health issues at work?
4. Do you feel threatened to share about your mental health issues to your manager or boss?
5. How supportive do you find your manager with regards to your mental health issues?
6. How supportive do you find your colleagues with regards to your mental health issues?
7. What initiatives would they like to see with regards to mental health promotion at work?
2. Start with smaller initiatives
We understand mental health is not an easy topic to talk about. It’s worse when you are trying to get employees to open up about it in their professional space. Instead of immediately delving into deep and difficult conversations about mental health, start more casual efforts to get your employees warmed up to the new initiative.
Ideas to consider:
One of the simplest efforts to kick this off is using a mood meter. Start a live poll for your employees to vote on how they feel coming into work every morning or during midday.
Get creative with the mood meter by adding images to the polls; cute animals and funny animations usually help to both lighten the mood and give employees a quick midday pick-me-up.
Set aside some time for one-on-one sessions with your team. Have open discussions on workload and projects they are currently taking on, but feel free to also talk about how they are doing in general.
3. Create a safe space for honest conversations
"It's not enough to just hang up posters with a [helpline] phone number to reduce stigma and encourage people to get help," she said. "We have to have people talk about it in a workplace setting -- through trainings and informational sessions -- and be able to offer suggestions from a place of knowledge."
- Donna Hardaker, workplace mental health consultant, in an interview with Huffpost.
1. For sharing sessions, take a page out of EY’s WeCare programs and let a member of the senior leadership kickstart each conversation on mental health by sharing their personal experiences. Seeing leaders share their vulnerabilities will reduce stigma and encourage others to voice out their own struggles too.
2. Invite mental health experts to give talks or host panel discussions that tackle various mental health issues to provide more educational conversations about mental health where you can learn together.
3. Use more creative approaches such as screening movies and documentaries about mental illnesses to start informal discussions on the struggles of those experiencing any form of mental illnesses.
You can complement each approach with anonymous Q&A platforms like Pigeonhole Live to create a safe space for these conversations, so that employees can share their thoughts with confidence.
4. Provide education and training
Most people don’t intentionally say things to hurt or offend others, but ignorance can have an adverse impact on your staffs’ professional relationships and mental health. Think about phrases like “Why are you so bipolar today?” or “Cheer up, don’t be so depressed all the time.” Even if no malice was intended, callous remarks can still make those experiencing mental health issues feel attacked, unsupported, and alone.
Education is crucial if you are looking at creating a sustainable culture change at your workplace. Make sure both management and staff go through requisite training on language to avoid at the office. You can also sign your staff and management up for mental health first aid training, so everyone is able to provide initial support to those experiencing mental health and guide them towards seeking professional help.
5. Take the lead in prioritising mental health
Be more explicit about encouraging employees to take days off for mental health or work with HR to make it a policy.
Work with employees experiencing mental illnesses to regularly review their workload and ensure that it’s manageable.
Allow employees experiencing mental illnesses to have more flexibility in determining their working hours and breaks.
Implement mindfulness exercises or events regularly at your workplace.
Find insurance plans that support mental health pursuits for your employees.
Find more suggestions for implementation here.
Talking about mental health is important, but without tangible support, your employees will not see a noticeable change in the culture of your workplace.
Pigeonhole Live recently partnered with the Singapore Mental Health Festival to provide a safe space for discussion on various mental health issues during the eight panel discussions that took place. We recognise the power of an anonymous Q&A platform in encouraging people to confidently share their experiences and opinions about highly stigmatised issues such as mental illnesses. And we strongly believe that with meaningful conversations, we can fight stigma whether at the workplace or in society.