Since 1949, the United States has been observing Mental Health Awareness Month during May. The observance was created to highlight multiple aspects of the fight against mental health conditions. These conditions range from diagnosed bipolar disorder to unrecognized depression. In the workplace, mental health conditions and overall emotional wellness can be lost in the shuffle.
Worse yet, they can be exacerbated by the work employees are asked to do and the environments in which they’re asked to do it.
When young, I suffered from depression, but for years, I was able to manage it. During the last few years I worked for a municipal entity in my home city, however, it began again to rear its ugly head. Why? My employer didn’t know how to build an engaged workforce. Being part of an engaged workplace does as much, if not more, for employees’ emotional wellness as the national Employee Assistance Program’s mental health education.
Here’s how you can work emotional and mental well-being into your employees’ daily work lives.
One of the biggest issues employees have with their jobs and their well-being is the feeling that management and leadership are not aware. Employers’ lack of awareness isn’t just about who doesn’t know who else is taking pens from the office supply room. It’s about being aware that mental conditions are all around us. Even if you think your employees are happy, consider that as of 2014, one in five adults in the U.S. has dealt with a mental health condition.
Even if your employees don’t disclose their conditions, because they are not legally required to do so, your employees might still give signs of emotional distress. While active listening is one of many valuable management techniques, you can also extend this to watching nonverbal cues.
If an employee is already struggling with a mental condition, such as depression, and then she doesn’t feel as if she’s being fully engaged at work, she will continue to disengaged. The more management is aware of the signs, such as loss of productivity, increased absences, etc., the more you can help to re-engage that employee.
Once you’ve expanded your awareness of creating more engagement for your employees’ emotional well-being, it’s time to put that into action. In 2015, Michael Wald discussed the results of the OPM’s Employee Viewpoint Survey. One statistic regarding satisfaction is telling: only 35 percent of those who answered were satisfied with opportunities to get better jobs in their organizations.
Career development is essential to increasing employee engagement and thus retention. I began a graduate degree while still employed by a government agency. Because my employer was unwilling to be flexible so I could take classes in person, I completed my MBA online. Working on my own career development was one of the most empowering things I ever did. My self-esteem was the highest it had been while working for the municipality.
Then it took a dive again. This was because while my employer was aware of what I was doing and how the inflexibility affected my scheduled, it wasn’t aware of what all that was doing to my desire to come to work every day.
Thus, it wasn’t proactive about engaging me or improving my mental health. Most government agencies react to mental health, just like many private companies do, pointing employees to the EAP or to other assistance programs. While the program is essential, it is often touted as an opportunity to discuss things on a whistle-blower level.
Instead, mental health in the workplace is about balancing wellness with engagement. Employees who feel heard, valued, and supported in their jobs are going to be emotionally better than those who aren’t. When we aren’t, we find places that will offer that to us.