Just under one in five Americans suffer from mental ill-health in any given year. It’s a statistic that surprises many people because, as a society, we don’t talk about it very much, and people are often afraid to admit that they’re having problems. This is doubly unfortunate because in many cases, it doesn’t need to be as debilitating as it is. Support at home and in the workplace makes a big difference to how well people can manage their symptoms and how quickly they can recover. It’s important that you know how to respond effectively as an employer to help your employees and minimize workplace difficulties.
Reducing the risks
Mental illness among staff can damage productivity, but in many cases, this is preventable. Often, the roots of the problem lie in stress. If you focus on dealing with this by making sure that employees are not pushed beyond their capacity, coming down hard on bullying and allowing days off for people who are really not coping, you can do a lot to prevent the development of chronic depression or anxiety, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. This means that your employees will be happier, healthier, and more productive, and they’ll be less likely to need long periods of time off work.
Dealing with past trauma
Mental illness can often develop as a result of trauma in an individual’s past – anything from child abuse to being in a car crash. Even events that don’t seem like a big deal to other people can have a seriously damaging effect on people who just weren’t ready to cope with them. People in this situation may experience ongoing stress and feel panicky when exposed to reminders of their experience. This means that it’s important to take it seriously if they ask for certain triggers to be avoided. Often, they can get better over time with the help of therapy. You should never press them to talk about their trauma, but assuring them that you will be supportive can be a big help.
Dealing with present trauma
Some kinds of trauma just go on and on. Dealing with an illness in the family, a financial crisis, or a messy divorce, for example, can cause ongoing stress and make it difficult to cope at work. To support an employee, you’ll need to discuss individual needs and try to arrange the workload and work schedule around them, bearing in mind that they may change over time. You can often find tailored advice through websites. A visit to divorceforce.com can help you work out how best to support an employee facing the end of a relationship, and bereavement, debt advice, or divorce support groups can also be useful.
Dealing with addiction
Often, you will first realize that an employee has problems due to a deterioration in performance and the appearance of odd behaviors. This is particularly common in the case of alcohol, drug, or gambling addiction, which can overwhelm people so quickly and completely that even they don’t realize what’s happening. A sympathetic but firm response from an employer is often key to making them face what’s happening. While only they will ultimately be able to change their behavior, a supportive work environment can do a lot to help addicts recover, and knowing that they still have career prospects can help them to see that there’s a future worth fighting for.
Making room for difference
Unemployment rates among people with long-term mental illness are shockingly high, and experts say that this has as much to do with prejudice as with inability to work. Though most big companies have equality policies that aim to include people in this situation, they’re not very good at changing their procedures to accommodate them. Often, small businesses can do better. Again, it’s a question of recognizing people’s individual needs and providing the right support, which could be as simple as rearranging tasks among employees so that they can avoid tasks that they can’t cope with and do more of something else. It’s also about educating others on your team so that they don’t feel uncomfortable about working with someone like this and can see the person rather than just the illness.
Learning how to manage mental health issues in the workplace means that you’ll find it easier to hold on to employees and help them make the most of their talents. You’ll have a larger recruitment pool to draw on, and you’ll find that your employees respond to your support with greater loyalty and enthusiasm. It’s not just a matter of being charitable but also about understanding the benefits for everyone involved.
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