Picture this…it’s a workday morning and a colleague arrives at the office sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. She will likely be met with several rounds of “It sounds like you’re feeling miserable”, “How long have you felt this way?”, and “Can I bring you some tissues or chicken soup?”
Now, picture this…that same colleague arrives at work that morning, and in fact several mornings, seeming lethargic, not her usual chatty and sociable self, distracted, irritable, and down. What might her co-workers say?
For some, the answer is….nothing. No words of concern, no questions about how she’s doing, and no offers of help. And that’s often because when it comes to what may be a mental health concern, most co-workers are far less comfortable discussing the situation than if it’s a physical health concern like a cold.
However, the topic of mental health awareness is increasingly becoming part of the conversation when it comes to what employees want and need from their workplaces, and with good reason.
The statistics alone are staggering. According to Mental Health Works, an initiative of the Canadian Mental Health Association:
- In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem.
- 500,000 Canadians miss work every single day because of mental health problems.
- Mental health accounts for 30% of all disability claims and 70% of disability costs.
- Mental health problems cost the Canadian economy $51 billion each year.
Improving mental health awareness and support in the workplace can lead to healthier and more productive employees and, as a result, more effective and profitable workplaces.
So, what does this mean for employers?
First of all, we cannot and should not take the view of “It’s none of my business” when it comes to employees who may be struggling with their mental health.
They may need and want your support. And we cannot simply chalk up performance concerns to employees’ bad attitudes or poor work ethics because there may be more going on. We must take the time to talk to employees person to person, consider if a mental health concern could be behind the performance changes, and find ways to help the employees be successful at work.
While there is no specific script for this process in the workplace, here are some tips that can help:
- Pay attention to changes in employees’ behaviour. What are you noticing that is different from their typical performance? Is someone frequently late? Missing deadlines recently? Not working well with others in the past few weeks?
- Be open to conversation. Talking with a team member about your concerns is just that – a conversation, not therapy or you trying to solve all of the person’s problems. The changes you have seen may or may not be the signs of a mental health concern, and the only way you will find out is to talk about it.
- Avoid asking employees if they have a mental illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder. Employees are not required to disclose this, and mental health is about more than whether or not someone has been diagnosed with an illness. It is about how the person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour are affecting his/her everyday life, including performance at work.
- Consider what employees may need to be successful at work, which may include making changes to their duties at this time as well as encouraging them to seek out supports and resources, such as a family doctor, counsellor, or your organization’s Employee Assistance Program.
- Educate the entire workplace team about mental health. Courses like Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Works, lunch and learn sessions, and presentations about stress management, work-life balance, and similar topics are a great start for increasing awareness and understanding.
Remember that when people are experiencing mental health concerns, recovery is both likely and expected if they get the proper supports, including support at work.
In fact, success at work can play a major role in people improving and maintaining positive mental health and thriving in the workplace.
If you would like more information about mental health and help to create and maintain a positive and supportive workplace, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association Halton Region Branch. We offer presentations and courses about mental health, including Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Works, and can customize sessions to fit your needs and timeframe. Contact Denis Olivier, Community & Corporate Mental Health and Addictions Educator, at 289-291-5435 or email@example.com.