COVID-19 brought employee well-being at the top of companies' priority list, in ways The Philippine Mental Health Law and the rising rate of depression among the working age could not.
During the past year and half, not only have we seen how challenges to mental health significantly impact team members' engagement and performance, we've seen how more people see wellness support as top consideration when choosing a workplace. Our current crisis illustrated the value of not being attached to our phones 24/7, refuted overtime as a badge of honor, and championed safety to show vulnerability as a more viable alternate to "keeping a game face" when mentally unwell at work.
But because employee well-being programs are relatively new to many organizations, many companies do not know how to start. Some get stuck at the level of mere compliance to law, and wonder why mental health programs do not quite work. But like most interventions, an attitude shift needs to happen for everyone to benefit from a well-thought out workplace mental health program. Mental Health in the workplace is more than one or two literacy workshops, it is an ongoing campaign to create a mentally healthy culture.
Unsure how your company can start? Consider the following 7 ways your company can support your team's mental health.
1. Create a mental health policy.
The premium on mental health must be placed in writing, and disseminated to all. A mental health policy should emphasize an organization's commitment to ensure that employee well-being is protected at all times. Clear language against discrimination for mental health reasons as well as protection of confidential information must be outlined in said policy, along with consequences for violations of both. The policy can also list point persons/committees in charge of developing company mental health programs, reviewing other company policies in terms of their promotion of psychological safety and wellness, and addressing grievances related to mental health at work.
2. Equip leaders and managers in having the conversation about mental health.
Culture building often gets the most traction if it starts at the top. On-board leaders regarding the business case for supporting mental health at work, and equip them with skills in supporting their team's well-being. At the minimum, these skills should include listening with empathy, providing reasonable accommodation, identifying red flags for more serious mental health concerns, and making referrals. Awareness of some leader behaviors that add to a toxic workplace, including bullying, is also critical to creating mentally healthy teams.
Best Practice: Invest in well-being of your leaders as well, so that they can appreciate the value of mental health and would be more eager to champion the workplace mental health cause.
3. Review roles, tasks, and turnaround times.
Our team members recognize the hypocrisy of being asked to take care of one's mental health, while receiving unreasonable deadlines and workload. Leaders and Human Resources are encouraged to review Job Descriptions and working conditions to ensure that it creates healthy levels of stress. This is specially important as the company explores new ways of working e.g. telecommute or on-site work with high level of precaution.
Consult team members if they find their work energizing or energy-draining. Cost-cutting on manpower and dumping too much on one person backfires in the long run, as employees in chronic stress are more likely to have high absenteeism, high presenteeism, and regular sick leaves.
4. Invest in Tiered/ Bespoke Mental Health Literacy programs.
Educating our team members about mental health is very important, and this process should start as early as week 1 at work. At the very least, tips on how to protect one's well-being, resiliency skills helpful to thrive, and indicators of more serious mental health problems should be included.
Tailor-fit the program to the unique needs of all AND particular subsystems. Have a generic program fit for all, but identify subgroups in your company that would require extra support. Frontliners, for example, may need more frequent and more intensive well-being programs than back-office workers. Employees who are single parents, are working from home all alone, or have disclosed a disability may also need additional resources.
And ideally, mental health literacy builds on its early foundations. The concept of well-being is broad, and a continuing program where upskilling is the goal is more effective than a one-time intervention.
5. Create a system for regularly checking-in/screening for mental health concerns.
The Philippine Mental Health Law mandates companies to implement procedures aimed at early detection of, and early intervention for employees with mental health concerns. This can get a bit tricky though, as companies should also ensure that employees' privacy are protected, and their right to not disclose a mental health condition if they do not want to is respected.
Anonymous surveys is a good start to get a feel on how everyone is doing, especially among remote teams. Including mental health screening in the annual company medical check-up is also helpful, but ensure that a separate medical team or a third party psychosocial services provider conducts the assessment, with succeeding consultations following the screening kept private between employee and provider. Regular well-being check-ins can also be institutionalized, but use non-intrusive questions, psychoeducation, and gentle invitations to avail of support services to respect client boundaries.
6. Provide access to professional mental health services.
Companies should also be able to connect employees with mental health needs to professionals who can provide more intensive care if needed. This includes life coaches, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other allied professions. If possible, companies can subsidize in full or in part said mental health care, but if not, a referral list that includes providers who offer free or socialized rates can be considered. Companies can work hand-in-hand with mental health providers should employees decide to request for work accommodations for mental health concerns.
7. Remember that there are plenty of paths towards mental health.
And don't forget, mental health programs are not just addressed by psychological or pharmacological interventions. Conceptualize employee mental health within holistic well-being. Programs designed to assist basic needs and security (e.g. financial literacy programs, financial support systems amidst crisis, access to vaccine), physical wellness (e.g. exercise breaks, yoga), mental wellness (e.g. meditation, learning new skills), social needs (e.g. company socials, virtual watercooler breaks, family day), spiritual needs (e.g. prayer groups, interventions aimed at discovering purpose,), and environmental wellness (e.g. nature-friendly workplaces) are also mental health programs in the end.
If you would like to know more about designing and implementing a workplace mental health program for your company, you can message CPPS WORK through email@example.com.