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How to Recognize and Address Mental Health Issues Among Employees Keep these ideas in mind for spotting and appropriately addressing concerns on your team.


Although you may not be in the same room, working physically side-by-side with your staff these days, it's in a manager's best interest to have a sense of how their employees are handling stressors both inside and outside of work. With the dramatic shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have likely had to take on more responsibilities during their normal working hours than usual. Some employees may have to juggle parenting, teaching, and caregiving responsibilities on top of their typical workload, which can be incredibly stressful and mentally straining.

According to a recent study by The Hartford, employees have reported that the pandemic has caused stress factors to shift from the workplace to more personal reasons. Although workload and work/life balance remain the top stressors for employees, according to the study, debt, caring for family members and the social/political climate are all weighing increasingly heavy on employee's minds.

Even in today's work-from-home scenario, it remains a manager's priority and responsibility to be in tune with how their employees are handling those outside stressors. Here are some ways managers can spot and help to alleviate mental health stressors and concerns among their employees:

Conduct check-ins with your employees.

If you haven't yet, now is the time to check in, on a personal level, with your employees, says Adele Spallone, vice president of clinical operations at The Hartford. "Employees are potentially dealing with fear surrounding the virus or bereavement due to the loss of a loved one from the virus. And on top of that, there are many blurred boundaries on work-life balance," says Spallone, who is also a licensed behavioral health counselor. "It's important for employers to check-in and to understand the individual challenges that each employee is facing."

If you detect a change in patterns from your employees, It might be a sign that they are being impacted by the stress of this pandemic. "If employees are falling behind with their workload, or they are calling in with an unusual amount of unscheduled absences, those are strong indicators that someone is struggling," Spallone says. Setting up a one-on-one phone call or Zoom meeting with your employees can offer them the opportunity to share their concerns or anxieties in a private, safe space.

Not only can it build trust between you and your employees, it can also offer insight that you may not be able to gain in a group meeting or call. Spallone encourages employers to ask questions like, "How are you doing today?" or "What can I do to help?" These questions may seem forthright, but they can serve as a gateway to conversations that may be intimidating for employees to initiate without prompting. "You want to make sure that you encourage employees to engage in open dialogue," Spallone says. "That might be difficult for some people but initiating the conversation and creating a safe environment to share is a great place to start."

By asking these questions, managers can begin to demonstrate that they have an inclusive environment in which employees can be open about their concerns. According to The Hartford's recent research, a majority of employers (68%) believe they foster an open and inclusive work environment that encourages a dialogue about mental health, but less than half (42%) of U.S. workers agree.

During these private check-ins, some employees may feel hesitant to discuss their concerns or situations at home. This could be for a variety of reasons–embarrassment, fear of losing their job, or it could even be cultural custom. Offering an outlet such as an anonymous survey or the opportunity for an employee to privately write responses to some of these more delicate questions is an excellent alternative to what can be an intimidating conversation.

Practice validation, empathy, and flexibility.

Nothing can be more discouraging to an employee than a manager or employer writing off their needs or concerns. In a time of escalated uncertainty and anxiety, it is crucial for managers to acknowledge the increase in stressors for their employees and that each individual employee faces a unique set of challenges. "Managers need to validate their employees' experiences and express that what they are going through, they don't have to do it alone," Spallone says. Even offering personal examples of the challenges you are facing and how you are coping with them can help validate employees' concerns or experiences.

"Communication with empathy is critical, too," she adds. Your employees are humans with emotional and mental needs and practicing communication with empathy not only can help you to connect with them, but it can also better assist you in devising the appropriate strategy to ensure that their needs are met.

This also means being flexible when employees communicate what they may need from you. Katie Dunnington, head of Absence Management at The Hartford, says, "Every workforce is different, and for those who can, it is important to let employees know they can have the flexibility to do what they need to do. For example, if an employee needs to block their calendar so that they can help onboard their kids with remote learning or to see a doctor if they need to, employers need to let them know that this is completely acceptable."

Inform employees of the resources available to them.

Even under normal circumstances, many employees do not fully understand their benefits until they need them, Spallone says. Managers can help alleviate anxiety by educating them on the benefits and resources that are available to employees both through the company and externally.

"This is a great opportunity to re-educate employees on what is offered to them, and if there isn't something that the company offers, where can they find the help that they need," Spallone explains. For example, organizing meetings or presentations with Human Resources regarding their health insurance policies, opening up Q&A sessions on how to access their benefits, and encouraging engagement in wellness programs or employee assistance programs are excellent places to start.

And if employees should need something that your benefits may not include, sharing articles, blogs, and other resources such as reputable research can be valuable too. "Employers should gauge the engagement and feedback with these types of things to filter what is important to their employees. You should only share things that are accurate and useful to them," Spallone advises. There are a host of free mental health and wellness applications and telehealth resources available, and employees simply may not be aware they exist, so curating a comprehensive list of these can be another thoughtful and cost-effective option.

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