How can employers effectively support employees in the areas of emotional and mental health?
Collective trauma refers to the emotional and mental reactions to one or more events that affect an entire society or community. Over the last three years, many have grappled with multiple forms of community trauma, including the impact of a global pandemic, volatile and polarized political climates, and the pervasive issue of police violence in this country. And, while we may not readily know to what degree, many of us are keenly aware that we have been impacted—emotionally, mentally, or both.
As we continue to define the essential nature of work within this new normal, leaders have strategically framed many conversations around physical safety and maintaining safe and healthy working environments. Though these measures are essential, this overarching collection of social issues has presented organizations with a unique opportunity to also re-envision and re-strategize around necessary actions to better support employees’ emotional and mental health needs, as a part of this rebuilding process.
How Americans See Their Employer as a Source for Emotional and Mental Health Support
Today, there is an onslaught of emotional and mental health needs from employees. According to the most recent University of Phoenix Career Optimism Index, nearly half (48%) of Americans say that they need support and resources for managing their emotional/mental health needs, as well as 44% reporting that they have actively sought out emotional/mental health resources to help them manage their work-related stressors. Additionally, according to a recent Harris poll, nearly 23% of workers said their employer had introduced new emotional/mental health resources in the last three years. However, there is a noted disconnect in this area, with approximately 40% of workers noting the absence of any emotional/health-related benefits.
As organizations continue their quest to meet the emotional and mental health needs of employees, here are some suggestions:
■ Become a ‘Safe’ Leader: Safe organizations are usually led by ‘safe’ leaders. The characteristics of a ‘safe’ leader include reliability, empathy, the ability to reassure, and transparency. This also includes the ability to challenge stigmas around emotional and mental health and create brave spaces where employees feel comfortable discussing emotional and mental health without judgment.
■ Make Emotional and Mental Health a Part of the Conversation: Employers can promote awareness about the importance of emotional and mental health and stress management. Leaders’ opportunities to speak to employees about the rising rates of emotional and mental health issues can open the door to better processes and policies and can set the tone and culture of organizations by showing that they care by encouraging people to take care of themselves and to share what they’re doing as well to stay healthy and well. Also, are conversations about emotional and mental health a part of organizational strategic planning and development? While intentions are good, it is important to understand the outcomes and impacts of these efforts.
■ Check the Pulse of Your Employees: How do you know you are effectively supporting employees in the areas of emotional and mental health? What are the additional needs of your employees in this area? While we may introduce policies, practices, and resources to support emotional and mental health in the workplace, it is important to seek to understand the effectiveness of these efforts. This may be accomplished through formal means, such as annual employee surveys. This understanding can also be obtained through informal conversations within the organization.
■ Reinforce Inclusivity as an Organizational Requirement: Inclusive tenets regarding the inclusion of mental and emotional health as a priority should not only exist within policy and procedure, but they should also actively live within the behaviors, values, and mission of the organization. This requires that each member of the organization be held personally responsible for actions related to creating a respectful and inclusive environment.
The importance of what society has learned over the past several years regarding emotional and mental health amongst employees, and the rising rates of healthcare issues burgeoning currently, ensures that many organizational strategies should be centered around the creation of better pathways for supporting the emotional and mental wellbeing of all. As we continue to seek comprehensive solutions for mental and emotional support, workplaces should recognize their roles as key stakeholders in this process. By supporting emotional and mental health needs, organizations can create safe places for continued growth and development.