By Michelle Bucaria, Chief Human Resources Officer, Teladoc Health
The World Federation for Mental Health has established October 10th as World Mental Health Day, and since 1992 it's been a day for education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. During that time we've seen society make great strides in positively promoting the conversation around mental health. But what about in the workplace, where the majority of people will spend one-third of their adult life.
We had a hunch but wanted the facts. So we commissioned an international study with the UK-based market research team at Ipsos MORI and learned that mental health stigma is well entrenched in our workforces and impacting both medical outcomes and employers bottom lines. 82% of those with a diagnosed mental health condition did not confide in workplace management, and younger employees - who are fueling our workforces -- reported notably poorer mental health than older workers.
So, what is the role of HR leaders and executives in light of this data? How do we constructively help our employees around the globe, when we already know well the facts behind wellbeing at work and the impact on productivity and absenteeism rates. It's clear that a special focus on workplace mental health is paramount.
Elevating the mental health dialogue to the workplace
At Teladoc Health I am fortunate to lead the human resources (HR) team at a global healthcare organization where mental health discussions are not only encouraged but are complemented by our mission to provide access to high quality care for people worldwide. We know it was our responsibility to open up the conversation and as an organization, have set out to understand how workplace mental health was affecting employees globally and what can be done to solve it.
From our mental health awareness month Town Hall in May, personal perspectives were shared by our company leaders, inspiring a sincere outpouring of employees looking to support conversations about mental health here at the workplace, and in other areas of their lives. This response, while moving was not surprising, when you consider that globally, 45% of employees say they would be more likely to seek mental health support when they need it if there were to be more open conversation in their workplace on this topic.
But it's critical that we're engaging in these conversations in the right way, and mindful that the need for mental health support is driven by conditions and triggers far and wide, from personal relationship difficulties to grief, addiction, stress, the diagnosis of an illness and PTSD.
Empowering employees starts here
What we now know is many employees are willing to have the dialogue about mental health. It's time for us as employers and managers to help normalize the conversation. While as HR leaders we must balance personal privacy, equal opportunity and protections for those with disabilities, the right benefit design provides opportunities to create meaningful conversations & programs on mental health:
- Raise awareness. The first step to eradicating stigma is normalizing the mental health conversation. Discuss it in your organizations; ask your senior leaders to have a voice on the topic in your town halls, on your intranets, blogs, social platforms and company emails. For example, to raise awareness of the importance of mental health amongst our Teladoc Health workforce, we partnered with the non-profit organization Give an Hour and their Campaign to Change Direction. Together, we educated our employees on how to recognize the5 signs of emotional wellbeing, and encouraged them to pass on that education to others -- friends, family & coworkers.
- Remind them of the benefits available to help. As HR professionals, we are in the unique position to be able to make a difference in the lives of so many people through our benefits structures. Communicating often with employees about available services like virtual care, or EAP benefits, can put access to care within reach at the moment they need it.
- Educate managers on how to have meaningful discussions. When employees are ready to talk, managers need to be prepared to listen, and respond. Offering training can prepare employees for how to appropriately respond to questions and provide the guidance for setting the stage for a safe conversation. To support this vital dialogue, we've created a resource to help managers have that discussion. How do you respond in a supportive manner when an employee approaches you? How to direct them the care they need? This guide is a valuable resource that I encourage you to review and share within your organization.
As we recognize World Mental Health Day, it's an opportunity to pledge support for the mental wellbeing of employees globally. Tackle stigma head on, by creating a benefits structure with resources that enable access to quality care, while empowering your employees to feel comfortable discussing their mental health at work. Employees will feel heard and in turn, contribute to an even more productive, efficient workplace environment.