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These 8 Companies Know the Impact of Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health issues like depression and addiction impact employee performance. What is your company doing to help?
These 8 Companies Know the Impact of Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace
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“R u ok?”

The power behind this simple question was life-changing for Bill Schlegel, an executive director at EY in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Related: How I Put My Mental Health First (and How You Can Too)

"My story is a story that ultimately included my wife taking her own life. After that, I could not function in my day. I literally was grinding to a halt trying to manage the demands of the job with the reality of my life,” Schlegel told me.

It wasn’t until being asked those three simple words that Schlegel realized the tremendous support he had at the firm. He found co-workers who even were willing to help him think when life became too overwhelming for him to do so himself.

Schlegel continued, “EY walked me through the different opportunities to understand what was happening, and the resources available to me. I am okay because EY helped me be okay. "

At EY, “r u ok?” isn’t simply a question, but rather an entire program launched to help those dealing with mental illnesses. 

The program raises awareness, provides educational tools and engages employees to get help. It encourages employees to support colleagues struggling with mental illness and addictions correlated with those illnesses.

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, there's no time like the present to start a similar program. For additional ideas, here’s a look at how five other companies approach mental health in the workplace:

Educate managers

Just like any workplace issue, the first step in addressing mental health is education. Providing managers with information and resources helps them better recognize signs and symptoms of varying conditions and diseases.

Laurie Brednich, CEO of HR Company Store, LLC in Phoenix, held training classes to teach managers how to identify and appropriately support employees with mental health issues.

Related: Managing Your Mental Health as an Entrepreneur

Brednich told me, “Supervisors want to help, but because of all the laws surrounding HIPAA and privacy, they are not sure what they can and cannot say to an employee. By hosting this training, we provided them with the tools they need to help their team member appropriately.”

Sit down with management and discuss their major concerns about addressing mental health issues with employees. Based on this feedback, schedule training and offer continual support to help managers feel comfortable recognizing and dealing with employee situations.

Offer telehealth options

“Mental health doesn’t have a schedule, and it’s often hard to find time in one’s schedule to see a therapist. Offering the option to set up text or even FaceTime sessions entices everyone to keep their mental health in check,” David Reid, CEO and co-founder of EaseCentral, in San Francisco, told me.  

Offering telehealth not only provides more options regarding mental health treatment, but also limits the uncomfortable explanations employees must give management about their absence.

To help reduce employees’ anxieties about exposing their need for help, Jeff Williams, senior director of business development and PR at BetterHelp in Sunnyvale, Calif., believes in giving the option of online counseling.

Williams told me: “Online counseling solutions enable more employees to feel comfortable reaching out to get the help they need because it’s low cost -- ours is free to try it out when referred via an employer --, they can do it privately; it’s available from anywhere and at any time; and people feel more able to open up about their problems when shielded behind a computer or mobile screen.”  

Offer counseling -- online and/or offline -- to everyone on your team. Take it a step further by setting aside a half hour each day for employees to take care of their overall wellness. This gives time for online counseling sessions, taking a walk, or even unwinding with yoga.

Create safe, relaxing places

Unfortunately, many mental health problems stem from stress. By creating safe spaces where employees can go on a daily basis to relax and decompress, employers can proactively avoid more serious issues.

Knowing the amount of noise, clutter and stress in its employees’ lives, Regions Hospital, one of HealthPartners’ seven hospitals, opened its Center for Employee Resilience.

“The center is the largest space in Minnesota dedicated solely to making it easier for hospital employees to relax, restore and renew. It has a quiet, spa-like feel and is open 24/7,” Megan Granger, a communications consultant at HealthPartners in Bloomington, Minn., told me.

Create a safe and quiet place for employees to take a moment out of their day -- whenever they find it necessary. This can be a small office area or even a beautiful garden outside. Make a variety of guided meditations and visualizations available to help employees reset, refocus and relax by taking just 15 to 20 minutes out of their hectic schedule.

Take advantage of tech

Employers often forget to incorporate every area of health into their employee wellness strategy.

Bill Deehan, senior vice president of sales at Colonial Life Living Business in Columbia, S.C., told me, “Employers need to expand the definition of well-being to include mental, emotional, social, financial and physical health. We need to adopt a more holistic approach that recognizes these connections as well as those between employees and the workplace.”

Because well-being directly impacts mental health, it’s important to help employees focus on their entire wellness journey. Create a supportive team environment with a platform like Happster. Allowing employees to send positivity through a peer recognition system increases confidence, happiness and co-workers' comfortability with one another.

Fun team challenges are another way to increase teamwork while also bringing excitement to health and well-being. With apps like Count It, individuals can see their own progress and challenge other employees or companies to exciting fitness battles.

Lead by example

When employees see company leaders taking ownership and charge of their mental health, they’ll be more likely to open up about their own issues.

After suffering from mental burn out, Kevin Barnicle, founder and CEO of Controle in Oak Brook, Ill., discovered Transcendental Meditation (TM).

Barnicle told me, “In the third year of my business, I started to burn out mentally from all the exhausting work and demands associated with running a fast-growing startup.

“I was desperate for an answer, as exercising and a proper diet -- two of the things I was doing to support my mental health -- were not doing the trick. So I signed up to be taught how to meditate through Transcendental Meditation,” he continued.

Because he personally benefited from the program, Barnicle began offering to pay half of the cost for employees who wanted to learn and begin practicing TM. He has since noticed employees have better focus, less stress and, in turn, more creative thinking abilities.

Barnicle knows helping employees’ mental health status isn’t just about bettering the company.

“Those three components will not only spill into their personal life, but also their professional life,” said Barnicle. “So it is a win-win-win-win for them personally, their families and loved ones, the company and our customers.”

Related: You Could be Having a Digital Mental Health Crisis Without Realizing It

Encourage leaders to open up about their own mental health challenges. Use these experiences and lessons to help decide what services, techniques and benefits the company can offer to help employees face their own mental health issues.
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