Employee Mental Health – A Compassionate Managers Guide

02.15.23Baylee Davies

Employee Mental Health – A Compassionate Managers Guide

Concerns around employee mental health and well-being have become more pressing as employers have been confronted with the challenge of keeping employees focused on their work through the disruptions of the last few years. How does an employer deal with these issues compassionately so their employees can thrive in the workplace and in turn the organization can reach its business objectives?  There may also be legal issues involved since mental health concerns could be protected by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) with additional protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California.

According to the 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 71% of employees often feel tense or stressed out during the workday.  Nearly three in five employees said it was severe enough to affect their job performance. Adding in a changing environment including remote work, family pressures, and new technology, many employees struggle to keep up with the pace of change. The data from the APA’s 2022 survey is showing the same trend and includes that 81% of employees are looking for workplaces that support mental health when looking for future job opportunities. 

Employers are seeing the impacts on business through high turnover rates, employees frequently calling out sick, reduced effectiveness and high levels of burnout. While it’s easy to see these outcomes, it can be difficult to see how much better someone’s business would be if employees’ mental health were to improve. A June 2022 study titled “What Employees Need to Know About Mental Health in the Workplace” published by McLean Hospital showed that 80% of those who have tried effective interventions including therapy, skill building and medications have shown improved effectiveness and satisfaction at work. 

Do you know how your employees are feeling? Have you done an employee engagement survey in the last year or do you gather employee feedback through exit interviews when they leave your company? SDHR Consulting can assist with these types of surveys and help you to uncover issues as well as develop overall strategies to keep your employees feeling their best.

So what can an employer do to help their employees who may be in this situation?

  • Lesson the stigma associated with mental health issues by taking employees’ concerns seriously and not assuming it is ‘all in their heads’. Managers must show the proper care and concern the employee needs in this situation so both can move forward in a productive manner. Some employees may feel they are admitting weakness by bringing their struggles to your attention. Sometimes an objective outside perspective on their situation can be more helpful than they realize.
  • Related to the above, it is not a manager’s role to act as an employee’s therapist. Even if the manager’s job is that of a trained therapist or counselor. An objective outside person can provide more effective interventions without any conflict of interest or other complications that may arise out of a manager becoming their employee’s confidant. In addition, most managers are not trained to handle these types of potentially serious situations which may make them worse.
  • Many employers offer health insurance to employees and this can be a good source for mental health therapists who can assist employees with an objective plan for the future to overcome their mental health struggles.
  • Offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can be a cost-effective way for an employer to give employees the option to talk to a professional about issues. Check with your insurance broker, health insurance carrier or life insurance carrier for affordable options that may be available to you.
  • Consider encouraging employees to take the time off they need to rest and recharge. This can be through your normal paid time off policies. However, some companies such as SDHR Consulting offer their employees time off specifically to focus on their well-being through programs called Enhancing Emotional Agility.
  • Other solutions focused on the well-being of employees such as an active wellness program, flexible work schedules, hybrid work arrangements and a commitment to diversity equity and inclusion can also help reduce employee mental health challenges.
  • Sometimes an employee may find a coach useful for building their work skills so they can be more productive. A coach is not normally trained to handle more serious mental health issues but can assist an employee in developing skills such as effective communication, relationship building, customer service, etc. that can help lessen the stressors the employee may feel in these areas. Another option could be to offer your employees workshops on these topics. SDHR Consulting has several training workshops references on our Training & Development webpage that help your employees to develop the skills they need to be effective and productive.

What if the employee says they need more serious interventions? 

Sometimes an employee may not be able to work through their mental health struggles while also juggling their job duties. There are several scenarios that could occur if this turns out to be the case.

  • The employee may be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) if a healthcare provider says they need time off work due to mental health issues. The employee should be offered the opportunity to take a leave of absence under these laws if they are eligible. Employees must have worked for the employer 1250 hours over the past 12 months and be with a company that has 5 or more employees (CFRA) or 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius (FMLA).
  • If an employee needs time off work but is not eligible for CFRA or FMLA, they should be offered the opportunity to take a medical leave of absence. The ADA views this as a reasonable accommodation offered by the employer.
  • Maybe the employee does not need time off work but needs an accommodation to continue to perform their job duties. Employers are required to engage in the ‘interactive process’ when assessing whether the accommodations being requested are reasonable.  The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) provides a helpful tool, “Request For Reasonable Accommodation” to assist employers with this process. 
  • While the forms provided by the CRD can be useful to track and document the interactive process, it is important that an employer actually talks to the employee during the process. If the process is only managed via forms and emails with no verbal communication, this can send up a red flag to the CRD or EEOC that the employer is not really serious about working with the employee on developing a good solution to the issue.

Assisting an employee with overcoming mental health struggles can be a rewarding but confusing area for an employer. Particularly when it comes to the interactive process and determining what may be a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s particular situation. Contact us and we can help walk you through the process of developing a successful plan so your employees and your business needs are considered. This can help an employer retain and maintain happy and healthy employees!