Mental health has been in the spotlight for years, but the pandemic has punctuated how much that conversation revolves around work. We have experienced shifting attitudes regarding work-life balance, schedule flexibility, and even the role that managers have in intervening in employee well-being.
But unless you’re a licensed mental-health clinician, you probably aren’t qualified to manage the emotional struggles of your team members and shouldn’t attempt to play therapist. With the demands of managers regarding productivity, morale, and development already on your shoulders, you need some help when it comes to employee welfare.
Here are four tools that managers can offer to employees when they are struggling, plus some extra tips to create a mentally healthy environment for your team.
- EAP: Employee Assistance Programs are offered through employers to employees to provide free mental-health assessments, counseling, and referrals for both workplace and personal problems. An EAP can be used to address a wide variety of issues, from addiction and substance abuse to grief counseling, stress, and psychological disorders. Most large companies provide an EAP (eapassn.org) and it is an employee benefit that is given independent of health insurance enrollment. EAPs are notoriously underutilized, so if you haven’t heard of this benefit check with your HR team to see if your organization offers these services. Although EAPs limit the number of sessions an employee can get (the average limit is five sessions), they are a great beginning to an employee’s mental health journey. If you feel that an employee might benefit from a licensed therapist, give them a brochure for your EAP. If your company doesn’t currently offer an EAP, start suggesting it for your next benefits cycle.
- Mental health apps: There are a number of mental health applications that you can recommend or provide to your employees. Although they are not a substitute for sessions with a licensed clinician, not all employees are comfortable or have the need to see someone in person. Some people just need a little bit of extra help navigating their daily moods and stressors. Apps are an easier way for individuals to get comfortable checking in with and adjusting their emotions with guided exercises. According to Healthline, the best overall mental health app is Moodkit. There are others specific to individual needs, such as Talkspace for therapy, Headspace for meditation, iBreathe for stress, MindShift CBT for anxiety, and Happify for a mood booster. Calm is also available to purchase on the team or business level and has a content library to address mental fitness. Apps can be a less daunting option for employees not willing to take a step towards professional help. Having a few of these app recommendations on hand or pre-paid subscriptions available is a show of good faith that you are invested in your team’s wellbeing.
- Therapy: There is no substitute for good health care coverage. A health plan that includes comprehensive mental health services including affordable access to therapy sessions is paramount as you provide resources to employees. Mental illness is illness, and some people will simply be unable to improve without therapy and/or medication from a licensed physician. As a manager, it is not your place to dictate whether or not someone goes to therapy, so a good rule of thumb is to make therapy a suggestion that is optional. Therapy will only work if the individual chooses to be there based on their goals and desires, so frame your suggestion with comments like “This is just a thought and by no means a requirement” or “It is entirely up to you to do what you like with this information”.
- Sick days: Sick time comes in many varieties. Your company may have separate vacation and sick day banks, maybe you offer general PTO or unlimited PTO, but one principle you can start enforcing on your team is to apply your sick day policy to mental health days. That means that if an employee is allowed to call out with the flu within an hour of their shift and receive no penalty, they should be able to do the same for their mental health. Simply having this policy and reminding your team about it will help employees feel supported and they will return refreshed.
Often, we turn to tools as a response to mental-health issues brought to our attention far too late. Here are some additional tips we suggest to have a more proactive approach to mental health on your team.
- Learn more about mental health. There is no one best place to start, but if you simply begin educating yourself you are going to notice early warning signs of depression, anxiety, abuse, etc as they arise. You will be better equipped with knowledge to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health resources. For a basic overview, the CDC provides information that can get you started on your mental health education. For a more in-depth dive, you can purchase and read Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace.
- Understand your company’s health plan so that you know what is available to your employees. They may think that getting help is too costly when in reality it might be very affordable. While you can always refer your employee to HR, if they come to you first it’s probably because they have a closer relationship with you. Know the resources your organization provides and practice explaining them so you are prepared.
- Make sure that the environment at work is not toxic or abusive. Check in with your team. Having some work-related stress is normal and even healthy; it keeps us productive and active. Too much stress is counterproductive and harmful.
- Mental and physical health is so intertwined that the habits of one greatly influence the outcomes of the other. Self-care is not just addressing the mental side with relaxing baths and meditation. Self-care includes exercise, healthy diet, and restful sleep in one’s daily routine. While it is probably not appropriate to discuss people’s personal habits in team meetings or one-on-ones, you can model healthy behavior, have speakers at brown bag lunches, and initiate a monthly wellness focus for your team.
It is increasingly necessary for managers to be aware of employees’ emotional state. Knowing what can be done and how to do it can be difficult, but having a toolkit of mental health resources will aid you in those efforts. Understand the resources available to your team, share those resources without pressure to use them, and ensure that your team culture is not detrimental to employee wellbeing. Although we cannot eliminate the stresses that come along in life, we can be the help that someone needs to move forward positively.
If you're looking for more tools and tips for your role as a manager, consider enrolling in our Manager Essentials program!