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Localizing mental health initiatives in the workplace

August 14, 2019

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Many workers struggle with stress or mental health diagnoses like depression or anxiety, so some employers are expanding wellness programs to provide more mental health support. (Photo by ThoughtCatalog via Unsplash)

As technology extends the workday well past the typical 9-5, many American workers regularly feel stressed. Earlier this year, when Chicago-area mental-health center Yellowbrick surveyed 2,059 working adults between the ages 23 and 38, the results found that almost a third (57 percent) struggle with mental exhaustion daily or multiple times per week.

In May, the World Health Organization classified burn-out as an occupational phenomenon. While 24/7 accessibility via email can contribute to burn-out in white-collar jobs, this concern isn’t limited to office workers. A recent Vox article explored the risk of burn-out in low-wage jobs.

Burn-out can take a mental told but it is not considered a mental illness. Still, employers are increasingly also realizing that when employees struggle with stress or issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, it contributes to lower productivity and higher absenteeism. As a result, some employers are taking greater steps to destigmatize talk about mental health in the workplace or provide support to employees who may be struggling.

In the past, employer mental health initiatives might have included Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) where employees could access free or subsidized counseling, but some are taking these programs a few steps further.

For example, Employee Benefit News reports that Barclays launched video campaign called “This is Me” and Unilever offers workshops to help employees recognize signs of mental health distress. The Wall Street Journal reports that other companies are discouraging employees from using email while on vacation or outside of business hours to hopefully lower their stress.

Questions for localizing mental health initiatives in the workplace

What employers are your area are offering more robust mental health programs? Are they mainly large companies or smaller ones?

Nonprofits sometimes don’t have the biggest budgets for employee benefits but some recognize the toll that helping professions can take on individuals. Can you spotlight a few different programs? Are these programs driven by employee feedback? HR departments? Ideally, talk to employees who are participating rather than just HR or management.

Who actually benefits from these programs? Ostensibly, they’re for the employee’s benefit, but certainly some employers have their own best interests at heart, especially when it comes to monitoring employees’ health.

Rather than lauding any employer who claims to destigmatize mental health issues, take a skeptical look at their motives. Perhaps get outside employment experts to weigh in on what makes these programs beneficial to employees or not.

When are employees protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act? When and how should an employee reveal a mental health diagnosis to their employer?

Consider talking to a local employment lawyer about when employers are required to make accommodations for employees with mental health issues. While depression or PSTD might be protected under the ADA, burn-out or job-related stress may not be. Smaller employers may not be subject to the same requirements. What else should readers know?  


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