Caring For Your Employees Mental Health In 2020

Each October brings World Mental Health Day, and serves as a great reminder of the impacts of mental health. 2020 may be an especially challenging year for your employees so it’s important to keep in mind the importance of their mental health. Keeping employee wellness at the forefront of your business helps your employees know you care about them! This kind of engagement helps employees have strong relationships with their managers and builds a team around mutual respect and trust! HR Generalists, Germaine Townsend, and Heath Lundy walk us through everything managers need to know about supporting their employee’s mental health. 

Encourage Employees To Use Their PTO

Most of us look forward to a yearly vacation to unplug, relax, and take a step away from work. But this year with travel limited and vacations canceled we’re all staycationing instead. It’s important for managers to encourage their employees to use their PTO to avoid burnout and recharge. 

In 2020, many employees are worried about the security of their jobs as things remain uncertain. Managers can help their employees use their PTO in three main ways:

  • Lead by example! Lots of employees are worried about the security of their job in these uncertain times. Seeing their managers take time off may put them at ease about taking their own time off of work. 

  • Create a culture where time off is valued for every employee. This includes having regular conversations about the importance of PTO, and ensuring that managers don’t “vacation shame” employees that request time off. Making your employees feel like a burden for using their allowed PTO can lead to unnecessary stress.

  • Change how you codify time off. Heath says “if your vacation policy allows employees to cash in their vacation time, rather than use it, they may be opting into taking the cash instead.” Instead, you can opt for a “use it or lose it” policy, or combine sick time and vacation time together. Different PTO policy structures can make a big difference for businesses and their employees. 

Mental Health And The Workplace

In 2016 the CDC reported that 1 in 5 Adults over the age of 18 have a mental health condition. While no manager should discuss any employee’s personal health issues, “in today’s workplace not bringing up mental health care is irresponsible,” says Germaine. “It’s important that employers promote awareness of mental health issues and the importance of stress management.”

In the workplace, the ADA prevents employees from discrimination based on their mental health, it’s also possible for mental health issues to trigger FMLA. HR and managers should know not to bring up mental health in a job interview. For positions that require a mental health review, it should be included in the job description, and be conducted by a doctor. 

It’s also important to keep in mind your employee’s mental health when it comes to disciplinary actions. Does an employer need to accommodate an employee breaking workplace rules because of their mental health? Heath says it depends. “Violent or threatening behavior is always allowed to be disciplined, according to most courts. I would suggest to always have someone aware of the laws, like your HR representative, review employment decisions for employees with mental health disorders before presenting it to the employee.” Also remember that any medical information you become aware of will be considered private medical information and cannot be used when making employment decisions about the employee (promotion, demotion, firing, and so on).

Provide A Safe Space for Conversations

Although more of our communication is happening over Zoom rather than in-person, it’s still important to give your employees the freedom to talk with managers about how they’re feeling. This year has highlighted the prevalence of mental health issues as diagnoses of depression and anxiety have risen during COVID-19. 

“As a manager, one of the most important things to remember right now is that your employees are pretty isolated,” Heath says. “You may be one of the few people that’s in contact with them”. Make sure that your employees know that you have a listening ear, and make sure you’re “providing employees a safe place to share,” says Germaine. 

When these conversations happen, take a deep breath and make sure you respond in a respectful way. Dismissive statements or actions can be damaging for your employees and can prevent them from reaching out again. Instead, validate their feelings, and offer to help in any way you can. 

Action Items For Managers

This year is particularly stressful for many people, however, managers should always keep an eye out for their employee’s wellbeing. If you notice an employee is struggling there are several ways you can help.

  • Check-in with all of your employees regularly. Make sure they know you’re available when they need you and follow through on that promise!

  • Always include employees, even if they seem withdrawn.

  • Learn more about mental health from resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and

  • Always approach conversations about mental health with care, and ensure that people’s feelings are validated. 

  • If you feel someone may be a danger to themselves or others, be sure to notify emergency services immediately.

Listen to Germaine speak on this topic below:

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