Employers are far from powerless when it comes to helping employees develop and maintain mental health. Here, Graeme Cowan, author of Back from the Brink, shares seven things to do when creating mental wellness programs and resources:
Make sure people can access resources anonymously. Because studies show that 86 percent of employees are unwilling to discuss their condition with workmates, Cowan recommends providing workplace resources—including a mental health policy, wellness program, and intranet materials—that can be accessed anonymously. Whether available via an organization’s intranet or downloadable in the form of a smartphone app, these resources must be both practical and evidence-based. To accommodate different learning styles, multi-media delivery would be optimal.
Make it easy to seek help in person, too. Cowan encourages leaders to promote the availability of Employee Assistance Programs and provide regular stories of how these services have helped others. They should also consider how peer support programs could be created so that every team member has a trusted colleague who can provide support and practical advice on mental well-being strategies. (Think of these mentors as “mental health first aid officers.”)
Provide a list of competent mental health professionals. A big regret for depressed individuals is that they didn’t get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan earlier. One reason people delay getting treated is because it can be very difficult for a depressed person to make a decision regarding what kind of professional they need to see. If companies assemble a panel or list of suitable mental health professionals that employees can feel comfortable going to when they need assistance, that’s a big help.
Provide ways for employees to get exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 30-minute brisk walk improves your mood 2, 4, 8, and 12 hours later compared to those who don’t exercise. So consider incorporating exercise into the workday. Have walking meetings rather than sitting meetings. Encourage people to get outside and, if possible, walk in nature at lunchtime or during breaks. Form an office softball league. Etcetera!
Offer tools to help employees develop mental resilience. Employees with a positive mood are 31 percent more productive, sell 37 percent more, and are 300 percent more creative. Clearly, it’s good for your company’s health, as well as your employees’ health, to help them develop mental resilience. You can help them by teaching time management and stress management techniques. Perhaps you could even offer periodic classes on meditation, yoga, or tai chi to encourage the pursuit of inner peace! And whenever possible, be generous with flex time and time off to help your people switch off, relax, and regenerate.
Discover and use employee strengths. Employees achieve the greatest fulfillment from work when they’re using their strengths. Tom Rath’s (Gallup, Inc.) book Strengths Based Leadership finds that employees who use their top five strengths on a daily basis are 600 percent more likely to be engaged at work and 300 percent more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Furthermore, in his book Flourish, Martin Seligman provides numerous case studies highlighting how recovery from mental illness can be enhanced by coaching people using their strengths. And of course, ensuring your employees are doing work that is truly engaging and that they actually like to do is great for companies, too. Not only will employees be more productive, but their work will be of a greater quality.
Do not punish or penalize employees who are struggling. Employers need to be very careful how they address employees who are struggling with a mental health disorder. Certainly, they should never harass, yell at, or otherwise mistreat people who are underperforming because of their struggles (or allow anyone else in the organization to do so, either). Yet an employer’s duty goes further than just refraining from abusive behavior—the most important thing leaders can do is to constantly display a caring, compassionate attitude. The employer should have an open and honest discussion with the person to determine whether she can fulfill all the duties in her job description. Remember, this discussion is not an opportunity to make the person feel bad about her performance. It is an opportunity to work out a plan that helps everyone move forward in the best possible way.
Graeme Cowan is the author of Back from the Brink: True Stories and Practical Help for Overcoming Depression and Bipolar Disorder (New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2014, www.IAmBackFromTheBrink.com). He is also a speaker who helps people build their resilience, well-being, and performance. Despite spending most of his career as a senior executive in Sydney, Australia, with organizations like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and A.T. Kearney, Graeme had struggled with depression for more than 20 years. Graeme reemerged with not just a best-selling Australian book series to his name but a new attitude toward the way individuals approach recovery.