In a time of crisis and unrest, EHS professionals are in a unique position to help support employee mental health. Find practical strategies and tips.
Despite this being a year that will go down as memorable for all of the wrong reasons, 2020 will also be remembered as a time where we stepped up to take care of one another.
In the face of the pandemic and national unrest, organizations have begun to place a greater emphasis on the mental health of their employees. After all, no matter the size, industry or scale, a company’s people are its most vital assets.
Although mental health care has traditionally fallen into the domain of HR, times have changed.
Mental Health in EHS
Health has always (literally) been at the center of EHS, and it’s come to mean much more than hard hats and safety boots. Over the last decade, mental health has gained recognition as a pivotal factor in employee wellbeing, productivity and happiness. It’s been proven: a happy company is a company firing on all cylinders.
Regulatory policies have shifted accordingly. In Europe and in South America, there are now employer requirements related to employee psychosocial stress and anxiety. This means employers must consider, evaluate and mitigate the psychological risks present in the workplace, in a process that looks very similar to traditional occupational risk management.
These psychological risks can appear as:
- Having employees work excessive hours
- Stressful, high-pressure work environments
- Insufficient workplace ergonomics
- Poor communication channels with management
- Lack of employee confidence in workplace Health and Safety measures
- Aggressive or inappropriate social dynamics
Most of these are areas where EHS can step in and partner with HR to help make a positive change. Even in the U.S., we’re seeing companies (especially in the tech industry) make strides towards HR and EHS synergy in the name of mental wellness.
Mental Health in the Time of COVID and Uncertainty
Over the last year, companies’ commitment to their employees’ mental health has been tested to say the least. Feelings of isolation and uncertainty, along with health concerns and civil unrest are taking their toll on a national level.
Some employees are dealing with the sudden transition to working from home, and the myriad of work/life balance complications this entails. Others are still going into work and grappling with their own feelings of uneasiness, recognizing that they need to keep working and supporting their families while also inherently putting themselves at risk.
Now is the time where EHS leaders can take action to build alignment and partnerships that help push forward company-wide mental health initiatives.
At Antea Group, mental health in EHS has been our focus for some time and we have a number of successful strategies to share:
Free, easy-access therapy
Most of us stand to benefit from therapy, but it can be daunting and confusing to seek out. At Antea Group, our employees are given access to online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 24/7 to help unearth, re-frame and re-organize their thoughts through a positive, empowering lens. Along with excellent participation levels, we’ve seen a decreased stigma around mental health company-wide.
The internet makes therapy more easily and discreetly accessible, and making online therapy services available to your employees and their family members can make the difference in a time where stress can be weighing heavy. For those who may not have internet access at home, employers might consider providing it or finding other ways to make these vital services conveniently available.
Digital self-help resources
Along with therapy sessions, tele-health services like LearnToLive.com also provide a wealth of digital resources to help tend to and bolster mental health. Tools like instructive, interactive programs, self-help audio recordings, and helpful articles and videos have allowed Antea Group’s employees to have mental health support that works at their own pace. Services like Learn to Live, Life Assistance Program, and Doctor on Demand offer an array of online support options and can pair well with an increasingly remote workforce.
Taking time to reach out
During these times, reaching out and checking in is doubly important. Your employees have parents, children, loved ones, and the mental stresses that come along with caring for them during a pandemic. A simple check-in message can make people feel valued when things are shaky. It also gives your employees a chance to voice any fears or stresses, which can itself be relieving and foster a sense of family within your organization.
People are unique; their reactions and coping mechanisms vary significantly. Employee surveys are a valuable tool to get a pulse on the mental health of your organization. Opening avenues of employee feedback can make your team feel connected and supported. Ask them what they need, how they are getting along, and how your organization can better be there for them. Surveys can be informal and discrete, and can help EHS, HR and leadership identify and act on potential ways to ensure team well-being.
Prior to embarking on employee surveys, be sure to plan how you will communicate the survey highlights back to your employees — closing this feedback loop is critical.
Finding ways to come together
With a team that may be connected only by the internet, the sense of distance may not be limited to the physical aspects. It’s important that your employees feel a sense of togetherness and unity despite the physical separation. To replace the high-fives, shared snacks and in-person small talk, try implementing online happy hours and coffee breaks. In cases where it’s possible, consider encouraging an in-person socially-distanced event like a picnic lunch where people can see each other without a screen. This can make a huge difference when it comes to combating feelings of isolation and disconnection.
Put simply: In a time where uncertainty has become a part of daily life, employee mental health won’t remedy itself. This is when EHS professionals can step up and make a difference in supporting their team.
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