How Managers Can Facilitate A Healthy And Productive Conversation About Mental Health In The Workplace
Thanks in part to many brave, outspoken individuals like Ellen Degeneres, Chris Evans, and J.K. Rowling, the topic of mental health is no longer something we shy away from in the mainstream.
This wave of communication is far different from instances in the past, when mental illnesses and disorders like depression, anxiety, and mood disorders were kept under wraps and hidden from the public eye. This rapid change has made it possible for people to come together, share their stories, and even be vulnerable enough to ask for help. But some places are more inclusive to these ideals than others.
The workplace is one area in particular that operates as a safe space but often does not do enough to address its close relationship with the mental health of its employees.
On the contrary, employers will generally do what’s best for the company — even if that means sacrificing an employee’s mental stability or pushing that employee to the brink of a panic attack or stress overload if it meant incrementally increasing profits. At the end of the day, it’s just business, and we as business people and professionals understand that, but there is definitely a line.
Luckily great managers really get it.
They comprehend what’s needed to not only make sure results are happening for the company at large, but also that the company’s employees who are the ones making those results possible are also given the space they need to reflect, move at their own pace, and breathe.
Most of the time all it takes is having an open dialogue about these things.
Here are examples of when and how good managers will facilitate that dialogue with employees so that it’s both healthy and productive.
1/ When an employee seems anxious.
Good managers have the propensity to spot this type of situation when it occurs. Rather than yell or judge the employee for their apparent inability to “handle” the stress or “separate” it from the practical nature of the working environment, they simply set up some time with the employee and gently ask if something is going on. They do this because they’re emotionally intelligent enough to know that the days of an individual’s personal life being distinct from his or her professional life is no longer – every facet of our lives is interconnected now.
So when an employee seems stressed out, whether that has to do with work or life outside of work, it still impacts work; therefore a conversation is needed. Warmth, patience, and understanding are all characteristics that will be required in order to help that employee open up and express what’s currently going on.
Following the conversation the manager may encourage the employee to work from home; the manager may also take it upon his or herself to call upon a staffing agency to help shift around some of the assigned tasks to a temporary hire, if that’s what necessary to move forward.
All in all, good managers understand the complexity of the work-life balance and even more so its complications when one’s mental health is at stake. They make it their prerogative to move the company forward while also catering to their team members’ well being. Progress and health can coexist. In fact, one actually benefits the other.
2/ When an employee seems depressed.
On any given day, most managers will encounter moments when they notice their employee appearing visibly sad or depressed.
In general, managers will give their employee some level of space, hoping that the distance will give their employee time to recover from the lull or down period. What effective managers do, however, is they move closer. Rather than creating distance, they mitigate space.
For instance, they can reach out and offer a helping hand by simply sending a gchat or slack message like, “Hey, noticed you seemed a little down this morning. All OK? If you need an hour or two to get settled with anything, in or outside of work, feel free to do so. Here to help!”
What that does is indicate to your employee that you are fully present and willing to not let him or her sit in shame. You’re not going to wait for your employee to come to you because you don’t expect that; you expect yourself to take that first step in recognizing how depression impacts work and offer your assistance.
Many managers have the tendency to think of their employee’s depression as if it’s something that’s not their problem, so they navigate through their day unaffected by it thinking “it’s not their issue to solve.” While that isn’t entirely inaccurate — we all are adults and have to hold ourselves accountable to some degree — it’s certainly not the best approach if you want your employee to be . Support your employee to rise out of the depression.
It may not be your job, per se, but it does affect your job, and it surely affects your employee’s life.
3/ When an employee appears indifferent or unenthusiastic one week and energetic the next, as in a cyclical nature.
Mood disorders are fairly common among adults in the workforce. An estimated 4.4% of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some employees can and will show signs of having a mood disorder.
What’s key for an employer is to not make any outlandish assumptions, i.e., just because one person’s mood appears to have its apparent highs and lows doesn’t mean that that person has a mood disorder. Instead of assuming, managers should do their research into what types of disorders exist.
They should come to note that mood disorders such as Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, and Cyclothymic Disorder are complex and contain multitudes. Each disorder type ranges between its level of elatedness, hypomania, and depression.
While the recommendation is not for a manager to approach an employee with questions to uncover the status of that person’s mental health, the manager should be open in stating certain beliefs during larger meetings to make someone with a mood disorder feel more safe.
Some of these statements are, but are not limited to:
- “I want to encourage you all to always feel comfortable asking for help. If our insurance benefits do not sufficiently cover mental health treatment for those of you who want to seek it, let me know. I want us doing everything we can to make you all feel as if you have all the resources you need to get the help you want.”
- “Depression is normal. Having a change in moods is normal, too. We are all human.”
- “No one should feel afraid to speak up about what they’re going through, in or outside of work. We are a team. We are a family. We are in this together.”
Additionally, managers should come to assess the landscape of their employees’ emotions.
Know what make them tick. Know what make them happy.
The more information, the better equipped a manager will be in ensuring their employee’s success, and thus their company’s success as a whole.
If managers take these steps to make their employees feel more comfortable about mental health in the workplace, the hope is that we will all come closer as a society and grow together.
© New To HR