The Blue Elephant In The Room

How are you really feeling? It’s okay not to be okay. Take care of your own mental health.

We’re asked this question or hear these statements nearly every day. It seems engrained in us to check in on others to see how they’re doing and to remain invested in societal mental health.

Yet recently, an SAP Canada report showed that employees are looking to engage with their managers at work about their mental health but aren’t sure how to go about starting that conversation.

If you’re a small business owner, you may not have an HR department to depend on to manage these conversations, or you may be the manager for all your staff.

Don’t worry! We’ve pulled together information that can help you encourage these delicate discussions and prepare you for what you need to do next. After all, investing in the productivity and wellbeing of employees in an investment that will keep repaying you by retaining staff and demonstrating your commitment to their overall health.

In an interview with Human Resources Director (HDR), Dr. Jarik Conrad, senior director, human insights and HCM evangelism at Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), said the following process is a good start to help employees reveal existing mental-health issues.

“First of all, employers need to do everything they can to increase the likelihood that employees will feel comfortable enough to come forward and seek help,” Dr. Conrad told HRD. “Proactivity is the key. When an employee makes that revelation, the employer will be in a better place to respond instead of reacting. Secondly, don’t be alarmed or surprised. Mental health challenges are common, and, the odds are, you have employees who are experiencing them. Finally, work with the employee to provide any requested reasonable accommodations for them to continue to be successful on the job.”

Stigma surrounding mental health still exists, so it’s important to know the best approach when dealing with issues in the workplace.

Katy Kamkar, clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, discussed what needs to be done to help reduce this stigma in Canadian HR Reporter in March.

“The more we are able to talk about it, the more we are able to normalize the conversation about it and to ensure that no one suffers in silence and to seek help, to seek support. And we certainly know that there are effective treatments available.”

We do know that the mental health needs of Canadians have been on the rise in terms of more reports; we are seeing depressed mood and anxiety,” Kamkar said. “We do need to engage in continuous work in terms of providing education and to further work on reducing the stigma.”

Where do you start? Well, Mood Disorders Society of Canada has launched an interesting national anti-stigma campaign that might help. It’s called Elephant In The Room. By displaying a blue elephant on your desk, in the line of view while participating in virtual meetings, and/or putting up posters in your workplace, you can show staff that it’s a stigma-free environment where it’s safe to talk about mental health. Visit the site for more information, to purchase an elephant, or to download printable posters.

But that’s not all. Employers have come to understand that what works best for staff and themselves is knowing that help is available when needed and striking an equilibrium between work, home, and personal time.

“A healthy balance between work demands and a sense of control and resources and training are important. Flexible work conditions, as much as they can be [made] possible, we know is a protective factor and [it’s about] having the sense that one is perceived as being valued, that one’s work is being recognized,” concluded Kamkar.

And one way to make employees feel valued is through investing in a robust, scalable benefits plan. Many plans have added mental-health options and made it easier to adjust benefits so that staff has access to benefits they want and need now, like Employee Assistance Plans, while remaining affordable for even the smallest business owner.

May 3-9 is Mental Health Week in Canada. This year’s theme is #GetReal about how you feel. Name it, don’t numb it. It’s a great time to reduce the stigma around mental-health conversations by communicating your own feelings or to make employees aware that you’re open to talking about mental health. Visit the website for more information or to download the toolkit.

“It’s important not to pressure employees to disclose any diagnosis, but make sure they know the company will support them if they choose to do so. Encourage leaders to open up about their own experiences, serving as role models for others to feel comfortable sharing,” advised Dr. Conrad.

Now’s the time to be the example for your staff to follow. We’re always going to be dealing with employee and our own mental health. The best we can do as business owners is create safe places to talk, provide resources and support, and let staff now that they’re not alone.

We are the experts with benefits solutions for small business. It’s all we do. So, when you’re ready to invest in your employees, business, productivity, and yourself, talk to us first.

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