[Podcast] COVID-19 Behavioral Health Considerations in the Workplace
COVID has had a profound impact on the entire population. Whether employed or not, healthy or sick, social distancing alone or with significant others, most are all dealing with some level of stress, depression or anxiety due to COVID. These feelings are further compounded by restricting us from participating in many activities that could help relieve these feelings such as; taking a class at your local yoga studio, working out at the gym, or enjoying a meal with family or friends at your favorite eatery. Moreover, mental health matters remain taboo in America, often perceived as having negative connotations. When one mentions they are in therapy it is not always seen as a positive step in their overall well-being, instead our typical reaction is, “what’s wrong?”. All aspects of nature are in constant flux working towards homeostasis, or natural balance. Americans are obsessed with fitness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle but neglect the mental health side of the equation. This is like putting a lead ball on one side of a balancing scale and a feather on the other. Poor mental health can lead to poor physical health, broken relationships and may even impact one’s ability to do their job. So, what can an employer do to help?
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, “1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.” That’s approximately 65.64 million Americans based on 2019 population numbers. Employee relations is a key component in leadership and those of us in such positions have most likely coached a team member through issues of tardiness, absenteeism and/or poor performance. But how many of us have truly considered the underlying root cause of these behaviors? Discussing HIPAA protected conditions is certainly not advisable but being human is. Addressing mental health in a positive manner can make a world of difference in an employee’s life. Oftentimes body language is a key indicator to one’s emotions. For example, if you recognize that someone is clearly upset when they arrive to work late, rather than compounding that with a childlike reprimand, or worse, a written warning, perhaps invite them on a walk around the block to “clear their head”. This gesture of human kindness could have a profound impact on their mental well-being, and who knows, they may even open up and discuss what is going on, which will help you improve their mental well-being as well as their issues at work. This is not to say that progressive discipline should be abandoned, rather consider it another arrow in the quiver.
According to Workplace Initiative, Jerome Schultz, PhD states “It’s important for managers to be trained to recognize the signs of emotional distress so they can react in a supportive rather than a punitive way,…” This is a unique concept, but it makes sense to me. Root cause analysis often shows that the underlying cause of an issue is not always what it seems. An employee’s continual tardiness could stem from depression, stress, a difficult relationship, a sick family member, etc., and their respective supervisor would never correct the unwanted behavior without first addressing the underlying issue(s) that lead to that behavior. This is not to say that leaders need to be psychologist and analyze their employee’s problems, but it does suggest that we take a step back and walk in their shoes for a moment. If an issue is identified, the leader has tools to support their employee’s mental health right at their fingertips. Nearly all medical benefit plans offer some level of mental health coverage these days, and if yours doesn’t, consider having it added when you negotiate your next renewal. To enhance your total compensation package, or as an option for smaller employers that do not offer medical benefits, look at adding an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), they are cost effective and provide a myriad of services. With an awareness of employee emotions, combined with these tools, one can initiate positive change in their company, shifting the stigma of mental health to focus on employee overall well-being. Positive mental health can improve employee presenteeism, focus, retention, productivity and overall job satisfaction. Employees are your greatest asset, investment in them.
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