How to Communicate Mental Health to Your Employees

Managers Can Help Employees Who Are Experiencing Stress

••• Image © Thomas Barwick / Stone /Getty Images

Mental health in the workplace is an important issue. Companies have realized this for a long time, and many have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can help employees with mental health. But, in light of an ongoing public health and economic crisis, employee mental health has been at the forefront of office problems.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted at the end of March 2020 found that 45% of adults say the pandemic has affected their mental health, with 19% responding that it has had a “major impact.” In the subsequent months, it’s unlikely that these numbers have dropped.

Some of the impacts of mental health issues can carry over into the workplace, and businesses need to learn how to help their employees. Mental health can be a highly sensitive topic, so make sure you approach a discussion around stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues with compassion and care.

Effectively Initiating and Navigating Mental Health Conversations

When employees are trying to do their job from home, managing their children and household, and worrying about their own physical health or the safety of others, the stress can mount. Bosses and HR need to be prepared to speak with employees about their needs, which can include mental health situations. While a manager or HR professional should never assume the role of a therapist, they can—and should—ask how people are doing.

Effective communication is essential; While every manager may not have a good picture of the future, telling employees what you do know and what’s available is helpful. 

For instance, let your employees know that you and the business understand this is a difficult time, and help is available. Let them know what support the company can provide such as work flexibility, EAPs, time off for mental health days, and encourage people to make use of these opportunities. 

As you initiate and navigate mental health conversations, there are certain important guidelines you should follow.

  • Talk to employees about how you can support them 

  • Make yourself available 

  • Check in about workloads and support needs

  • Try to diagnose them

  • Tell them how to handle their own mental health

  • Assume people want more or less work

Employee Assistance and Protections

Remember that laws are enacted that govern employee mental health, plus you may have company policies and a health insurance plan that covers the mental health issues of employees. If you have an EAP, make sure you refer people if they appear to be struggling. Ask your healthcare broker for help in understanding in-network mental healthcare providers.

Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) still apply. An employee suffering from a mental health issue may be eligible for coverage under one or both of these laws. Under the ADA, that means employers are obligated to find a reasonable accommodation, which can be anything from extra breaks to time off. 

Because of ADA protections, you also cannot discriminate against or punish an employee who needs an accommodation for mental health issues—the same way you cannot, for example, take similar action against a worker for having cancer. Under the FMLA, meanwhile, employees can take intermittent leave to get the mental healthcare they need.  

Due to emergency legislation passed in response to the crisis, employees may be eligible for pay while caring for their own children. While childcare isn't directly related to mental health, it can cause substantial stress, and financial assistance may be necessary to support an employee.

It's essential to know of any federal, state, and local laws that apply to your business. If you're unsure, check with your employment law attorney.

Devising a Support System

When employees are working from home, or changes in business patterns make communication more complicated, make sure you have protocols in place to check in with people and increase your communication.

Regular check-ins with employees can help you make sure that they are being supported. Acknowledge that people experience stress in different ways, and by doing so, you can then help your workers to understand what those stressors are so that they can look for signs within themselves. 

Another key goal is to maintain a sustainable workflow. If people are working from home when they usually work in the office, you may have to adjust workflows in order to maintain engagement and productivity on your team. If you're working with minimal staff, or you're overwhelmed with work and are designated as an "essential business," be flexible to the needs of the business and the needs of the people.

Most Importantly...

Be sure to take time out for yourself and your own needs. You can't support your employees if you're completely stressed out. If you're suffering from a mental health crisis, get the help you need—from a mental health professional, your physician, or let your own boss know that you struggle. Together, managers and employees can help everyone out to get through a tough time.

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Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and ​employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.