3 Employee Mental Health Issues HR Faces and How to Tackle Them

Mental health in the workplace is a top priority for human resources professionals these days. And it is no wonder, after the stress, uncertainty, and disruption we’ve seen over the last two and a half years. The workplace and work-related risk factors can affect mental health, which in turn can affect morale, productivity, recruitment and retention, and much more.

Because of the importance of workplace mental health, HR leaders and employers are paying attention: nearly 90 percent are prioritizing addressing stress and burnout, according to recent research.

This makes sense, because employees are struggling with an increase in challenges to mental health over the last few years. According to recent Mental Health Index data, depression is nearly 90 percent higher than it was in fall 2021. Rates of PTSD, addiction, and substance abuse are also higher. Mental health issues are widespread, too: according to the CDC, nearly one in five working-age adults will face a mental health disorder in their lifetime.

Across industries, and in companies of all sizes, leaders are looking to HR for guidance on effective mental health support that can be offered to employees. Here are three ways HR can help to support employees who may be struggling with mental health challenges.

Create a safe space

One of the most serious barriers to good employee mental health is also the one that is within a company’s control to change: culture. Employees may not feel comfortable sharing their struggles with mental health out of fear that they will be stigmatized or penalized. This discourages many from seeking effective support and help, especially when they need it most.

While culture change cannot happen overnight, leaders and managers can take steps toward promoting a culture that welcomes discussions and supports those who are struggling. In the interest of opening conversation, managers, leaders, and other employees can share their own experiences in one-on-ones.

Companywide communications can include information on mental health—and even benefits—to signal that mental health is a topic that can be discussed in the workplace.

Promote mental health resources

Data shows that half of employees don’t fully utilize their benefits, and up to 80% may not read or even open benefit materials. HR can be a resource to guide employees toward available benefits, especially those that may prove effective in supporting better mental health. HR departments should evaluate the benefits they have, including what support for mental health is covered under the primary plan, any supplemental benefits, and the employee assistance plan (EAP), if offered. Information on benefits can be included in companywide communications or shared out in specific live and virtual events. In addition, managers can be briefed on existing benefits regularly to be able to share them with employees who disclose their struggles.

Prioritize healthy work-life balance

Even before the pandemic and remote work, digital communications and devices were contributing to an always-on work culture that blurred the lines between work and home. It takes its toll. Emails sent outside of “regular” business hours imply an immediate response is expected; ever-increasing workloads create increasing strain on workers. Many companies are taking active steps to counter these stressors and a round-the-clock expectations, by including communications in email footers and training managers on how to model good work-life balance for their teams. HR can offer support by opening discussion around current expectations and what could be done to normalize a healthy balance.

HR professionals can lead when it comes to support for mental health in the workplace—and the benefits are real, including greater loyalty and higher engagement with lower turnover. What are you seeing in your workplace? What measures are you taking to support better employee mental health?

DallasHR is the third-largest SHRM affiliate chapter in the nation. With more than 2,000 engaged HR professionals, the Chapter has been Advancing the Value of HR since 1939 through innovative education, valuable networking events and providing opportunities to share best practices with others in the field of HR. The HRSouthwest Conference powered by DallasHR, is the official Texas SHRM conference and one of the largest regional HR events in the U.S. Visit us at Dallashr.org, hrsouthwest.com and follow us at #dallashr, #hrswc.