How to Advocate for Employee Mental Health

The mental health of employees is not only a matter of ethical consideration, but also a significant factor in workplace productivity. According to the CDC, depression alone can interfere with the completion of physical job tasks 20% of the time, and reduce cognitive performance 35% of the time. However, workers’ compensation benefits often do not extend to mental health issues, since it can be difficult to furnish proof of the non-physical injury and lead to rejection of the claim. The absence of this resource can make it potentially expensive for employees who miss work and cannot file claims; such missed work or on-the-job productivity losses can also cost employers.

It is incredibly important for employers to be aware of how they can be mental health advocates in the workplace.

1. Begin With a Conversation

Establish an understanding with your employees that you are dedicated to mental wellness in the workplace, and start a dialogue about it. It is important that this is a sincere rather than symbolic gesture, and that it comes across as such. Ideally, this conversation starter should take many forms, both in terms of medium and content. 

Use meetings, email, messaging systems, or any other communication channels used in your workplace to ensure that employees are aware of any workplace and community resources that they may be able to leverage to support mental health, as well as how they can access these resources. This is something that should also be addressed in the employee onboarding process. 

It is important that this outreach, the means of access, and the referral process are all handled with confidentiality and compassion in mind. 

2. Take Advantage of Human Resources

The goal of human resources is to find, retain, advocate for, and maximize the value of human capital in the workplace. Therefore, the promotion of mental wellness in the workplace should ideally be guided by and/or led by your HR department. They should be best equipped to handle mental health advocacy in a way that takes ethical duties, relevant employment laws, and other considerations into account. They should be involved in every facet of this process, including conception, in order to make the advocacy plan as effective and appropriate as possible. 

Furthermore, it is already a basic function of human resources to help employees understand their rights and resources in the workplace, as well as how to leverage them. Those rights and resources range from legal parameters such as those that pertain to civil rights and discrimination, to private, elective considerations, such as community resources. A comprehensive advocacy plan can maximize the value of this pool of resources and knowledge. 

3. Provide Mental Health Resources

As previously mentioned, employers can promote employees’ mental health by providing listings of mental resources such as counseling services, programs, and communities, especially those that are covered or discounted through company benefits. Additionally, you can provide free access to informational resources such as relevant seminars and self-assessment tools, as well as more directly functional resources, such as quiet spaces within the office.

4. Check-In With Employees 

It is also important to actively check in with employees on a regular basis regarding mental health. This should be done both by regularly reminding and updating employees about available resources, and by meeting with them privately to speak with them about their wellbeing within the company. 

Additionally, employers should be aware of the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health, so that they can gently direct them toward helpful resources. Keep in mind that it is important to compassionately broach the discussion, and not to pry. 

5. Encourage Work-Life Balance

Poor work-life balance can be a common source of stress for employees. Therefore, it is important that employers promote and facilitate a healthy work-life balance, and request feedback on how to do so more effectively. In addition to promoting work-life balance in your work culture, it is also helpful to provide appropriate benefits that promote work-life balance, such as sufficient pay, reasonable hours, and opportunities for time off. 

6. Make Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations are not only helpful for employees, but in some cases are a matter of legal necessity. ADA regulations mandate reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. These accommodations should allow employees to do their work without additional inconvenience. 

For example, an employee with a visual impairment in an office environment could be provided with text-to-speech software. If you are uncertain whether a condition falls under the purview of ADA-mandated reasonable accommodations, the HR department should solicit legal resources and/or direct the employee in question to an appropriate healthcare resource. 

7. Address Mental Health Deterrents 

It is important to be proactive rather than reactive. As much as possible, you should anticipate the potential causes of poor mental wellbeing in the workplace, and do your best to circumvent them. Again, reasonable work hours and benefits are one way to accomplish this. However, this can also be done by cultivating a positive work culture, and by requesting employee feedback and taking it seriously. 

Employers should constantly be looking for opportunities to improve the work environment, whether that means changing workflow, adjusting negative management techniques, or providing additional benefits. What is needed to promote mental health in your workplace will, to a degree, be unique to your company and its employees, and therefore the pursuit of a positive workplace should be an ongoing pursuit that develops in collaboration with employees. 

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