Since the pandemic started, there have been direct and indirect requests to organizations to be keen, mindful, and responsive to their employees’ mental health.
It’s one thing to hear about this and implement some preventive and curative measures of making the workplace environment safe and healthy for all and another to respond appropriately when one of your employees opens up about mental struggle.
So, how can you best support such an employee who has informed you about a mental condition?
a. Listen without judging or concluding
Our personal and professional lives are intricately connected. This is why sometimes personal struggles, no matter how well they are covered, can affect our performance in workplace.
As a business leader, your work may be primarily managing human capital, managing, and steering the organization forward. This however, does not mean that is all you will handle day after day. You may have to work with employees who are battling grief, depression, anxiety, etc. Your response in such a case is vital as it will determine the direction of the organization as far as mental health is concerned.
Listen without judging or concluding. Allow them to share their side of the story. Do not compare their confessions with the outward appearances or someone else’s case. For instance, telling an employee that he/she does not look like they are struggling because of stellar performance or has never taken a day off or because someone else had a similar challenge and was able to overcome without taking a leave is insensitive. Such statements may be direct or indirect and may sometimes occur unconsciously, hence the need to be mindful.
b. Understand their greatest fears where the job is concerned
One reason why we remain silent about mental struggles and suffer for months is the fear consequences after disclosing. Will I lose my job? Will I be delineated? Will I get sympathy looks over and over? Will I lose consideration in a lucrative opportunity that I have been eyeing for months?
These are genuine concerns. If they go unanswered, the person can struggle even more. Providing answers can help your team to seek help quickly and break stigma about mental illnesses.
c. Help where you can
Where mental health challenges are concerned, our coping mechanisms vary. Some people are able to get back on track by seeking professional help, venting, resting, or making adjustments in their lifestyle. Also, companies have different capabilities of helping their employees. Ask your employees how best to help them deal with the challenge rather than choosing a standard way.
Also, depending on the nature of cases that are brought to your attention, know whether to choose a collective care program or individual. For instance, group chats would be effective when there are many concerns of Zoom fatigue but unsuitable for an employee’s case of divorce.
d. Take care of yourself too
In the spirit of extending compassion and love, you too can be affected if you constantly listen to stories of mental struggles. While working from home, many people are at risk of being stressed and anxious due to: financial struggles, uncertainty, being confined with aggressive family members, breakups, divorce, etc. and bringing such matters to light.
As a leader, taking care of your mental health will help you to be of benefit to others. Self-care can be anything from taking a break from listening to the cases and suggesting professional services instead or educating yourself about different coping mechanisms.
e. Advocate for discretion
Another reason for silence about inner struggles is fear of what others will think once they find out. Nobody wants to be a spectacle of pity. Your employees may not approach you to disclose their mental struggles, but may approach someone else who is available.
Sometimes we quote people’s struggles to console, but end up directing the wrong attention to such them.
Advice your leadership team to be discreet whenever such sensitive matters are brought to their attention. In cases where other team members come together to help one person, inform them about stigmatization and how to prevent it.
f. Be flexible and patient
Understandably, your main concern is on performance and financial growth. So the idea of allowing your employees to take a few hours off each week for therapy may not have been in your calendar. There is however need for flexibility because there is no standard time of overcoming a challenge. If you must make major adjustments to keep operations flowing, such as delegating tasks to others, do so without cutting off your employee.
g. Beware of indirect discrimination
Mental health is a complex subject; a well-intended move can be misinterpreted. For instance, you may choose not to consider an employee who is grieving the loss of a child in a community event centered around children to give him/her space to heal, but this can be misinterpreted as presumption that they are not suitable for the task. On the opposite, suggesting such a task can be seen as insensitivity of immersing them in an environment that is likely to hurt them even more.
Knowing exactly how to treat someone who is struggling is a challenge, but at all times, try to include them in company projects rather than avoiding. Let them know what you are working towards and give them an opportunity to choose.