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How HR at SMBs Can Support Employees Through Mental Health Struggles

How HR at SMBs Can Support Employees Through Mental Health Struggles

If you work at an SMB without mental health support resources, you may feel limited in seeking a solution to your workforce's mental health struggles. As a result, employees are not getting the support they need. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In honor of this month, we interviewed Kevin Lee from MindClub America to learn more about how HR at SMBs can support their workforce through mental health struggles. MindClub America is a behavioral health organization focused on helping employees achieve mental fitness. 

Did you know that the number of individuals facing mental health struggles tends to be way underreported? According to MindClub, the following statistics on mental health in the workplace are true, but the numbers could be even higher: 

  • 1/6 people experience mental health issues in the workplace. 
  • 1/3 employees feel that mental health support in the workplace is inadequate and would like more support from their employers.
  • More than half of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment.
  • Only 38% of employees feel comfortable using their company’s mental health services.
  • It is estimated that 50% of work-related ill-health is related to stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • $1 invested in quality mental health services can yield $4 in return.

Additionally, SHRM research also found that one in three U.S. employees believe their mental health is negatively impacted by their jobs, which indicates that the workplace contributes greatly to the U.S. mental health crisis.


Signs and Symptoms of Employee Mental Health Struggle 

HR and managers can keep an eye out for certain signs and symptoms that may help them identify employees who may be struggling with their mental health. An employee may be struggling with their mental health if they: 

  • isolate themselves or withdraw socially
  • seem hopeless
  • are frequently late, miss meetings, or miss entire workdays without an explanation
  • threaten to quit
  • are abnormally indecisive 
  • frequently go to the restroom 
  • have frequent mood swings
  • seem really tired 
  • complain about a lack of sleep, or look like they haven’t slept 
  • lack an appetite 
  • abuse drugs or alcohol
  • decline in productivity

However, sometimes, an employee’s mental health struggles are not outwardly visible. Many people can mask their emotions very well, or they may be in denial. Employers shouldn’t wait until something tragic happens to start having conversations about mental health and providing mental health resources. 

Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms mentioned above are not sure indicators that an employee is struggling with their mental health, but if these symptoms persist, they can be. As a general rule of thumb, organizational leaders can use their best judgment and converse with team members when they recognize a sign or symptom. Even if the employee isn’t currently struggling, asking open-ended questions shows them you are open to having those conversations and that you care about them beyond what they can do for your organization. 


Why Provide Employees With Mental Health Services? 

Undeniably, mentally fit employees can complete tasks more efficiently, stay on task, and exceed job requirements. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of “$1 trillion per year in lost productivity.” Thus, although mental health can seem completely separate from business, the two are actually closely intertwined. As Lee puts it, “The employer gains when the employee is [mentally] healthy.” 

A mentally healthy workplace leads to: 

  • Increased levels of productivity
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Improved relationships
  • Lower turnover rate
  • Less absenteeism
  • Better customer service 
  • Reduced healthcare expenses 

MindClub predicts mental health support will reduce an organization’s overall healthcare costs by 20% over time. Additionally, they found that $1 invested in quality mental health services yields $4 in return. This is because mental health is directly connected to physical health. For example, depression often leads to substance abuse and vice versa. A person who has untreated depression will almost certainly develop a physical ailment that will require healthcare costs. 

If you lack the resources to provide mental health services, know you don’t have to invest much money to start a workplace mental health initiative. Check out our blog on selecting the right EAP for your SMB

You can do plenty to get the conversation going until you can offer a more “official” benefit. 


How Can HR Promote a Mentally Fit Workforce?  

As workplace leaders, HR pros often set the tone for the rest of the organization and can be an integral part of the solution. Here are 10 things HR can do (for free!) to promote a mentally fit workforce: 


1. Emphasize Anonymity: Employees who seek mental health support fear losing their jobs or not getting that promotion. Knowing their privacy is protected, they are more likely to use their benefits. 

2. Coach Managers and Lean on Their Support: As an HR professional, you need the support of your leadership. According to Amy Gilliland, who led a very successful mental health campaign called “How are you, really?”, mental health is not an HR problem–it’s a totality of the business issue. This means that all organizational leaders are responsible for leading mental health initiatives. Improving company culture around mental health has to happen from the top down; everyone on the team must be willing to discuss mental health. HR can also mandate mental health training for managers that incorporates hypothetical scenarios to help managers feel more equipped to detect the signs and respond to employee changes. 

3. Be Intentional: When you notice an employee exhibits signs and symptoms of mental health struggle, talk to them. Often, the employee isn’t even aware that their personal struggles are starting to impact their work, and it can take a simple conversation to help an employee get started on their wellness journey. Managers can preemptively address work or performance-related burnout by asking employees: “How are you feeling about x, y, and z?” Employees may not be comfortable opening up those conversations themselves, but, if they know you want to know, they may feel more comfortable sharing. 


4. Provide Space and Time: If you can, give employees an hour during the day once or twice a week to take care of themselves, talk with their therapist, or attend a support group.  

5. Clarify Priorities: Don’t make employees feel guilty for taking time away to care for their mental health. Prioritize mental fitness in the same way you would prioritize physical fitness. Ensure employees know you’ll keep the job going while they care for themselves. To help ensure your workforce recognizes mental fitness as a priority, consider hosting monthly Lunch & Learns, where you bring in a speaker to shed light on mental health issues. 


6. Help Employees Create Meaningful Connections: Especially in a post-COVID world, many employees feel isolated and lack the human connection conducive to mental well-being.  As HR, you can help employees form those connections in the workplace by encouraging them to start different clubs around the organization. For example, at BerniePortal, we have a soccer club, a book club, and other programs pioneered by employees. Although there are no immediate fixes for your workforce’s mental health struggles, this can help. 


7. Be Positive: Encourage employees to look at seeking mental health support in a positive light. A positive company culture will leave everybody believing in the importance of working on their mental health. Kevin Lee from MindClub America encourages every employer to “create a culture that makes people realize that everybody struggles, so why not get some help?” HR can create a culture that gives all employees the space and permission to admit that they are all dealing with mental health struggles. When employees feel they have permission not to be okay, they will be more likely to seek the support they need.

8. Encourage Employees to Take Advantage of The Summer: There’s no better time to go on that beach vacation. You can encourage employees to take advantage of their PTO and be totally present throughout their time off!

9. Set an Example: Megan Poinski, a writer at Forbes, emphasizes the importance of leaders setting an example for their employees. They can do so by planning those summer vacations for themselves and, more importantly, being open about their excitement!

10. Promote Emotional Intelligence: Dr. Travis Bradberry and Dr. Jean Greaves, co-founders of TalentSmartEQ, believe emotional intelligence is the number 1 predictor of success. In their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, they write about how people are rarely able to “accurately identify their emotions as they happen” and that the link between EQ and earnings is so direct that “every point increase in EQ adds $1,300 to an annual salary.” You can teach and promote emotional intelligence at your organization by having an expert host a workshop for your employees or by providing EQ assessments that help employees recognize gaps. Ultimately, an emotionally intelligent workforce will have increased self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills, which are all conducive to positive mental health. 


Additional Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up to date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • Resource Library—essential guides covering a comprehensive list of HR topics
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics
  • Community—the HR Party of One Community forum, a place devoted to HR professionals to ask questions, learn more, and help others


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