The Importance of Supporting Employees in the Workplace
From time to time I post a guest blog when it contains important information. Today's blog is by Charlie Fletcher. You can contact her at: [email protected]. This blog was first posted in October but got caught off so I am reposting it.
Mental wellness is seeing a lot of attention in the employment landscape as of late. This can only be a positive thing. When businesses help to ensure their employees can maintain their psychological and emotional health at work, everyone involved stands to benefit. Businesses gain from a more engaged, happy, and potentially innovative workforce. Not to mention that for every $1 invested in work-related mental wellness programs, there tends to be a $4 return in health and productivity.
Yet, it’s important that you as a business leader recognize this isn’t just about allowing occasional mental health days. Further, the commercial advantages can’t be the primary motivation for acting. Your company’s efforts need to be driven and guided by clear ethical imperatives. By developing your mental health program around these elements, you and your workers can be confident that your teamwide mental wellness efforts come from a strong and authentic place.
One of the most important ethical considerations when it comes to workplace mental health is maintaining strong support structures. As a business leader, you need to recognize that you can’t dismiss an employee’s mental health as having nothing to do with you or your company. Your culture and operations impact employees in significant ways. Therefore, you have a responsibility to provide sufficient resources and support.
This ethical consideration should include a commitment to make resources accessible to all employees. Your workers shouldn’t feel as though they need to ask permission or seek additional accommodations to utilize the mental health tools your program provides. They should have full autonomy of usage. As such, your human resources (HR) department needs to make frequent accessibility reviews of the support tools you offer.
It’s also of ethical importance to ensure the support tools and structures you offer are both consistent and improving. Your employees must be able to rely on the fact that effective resources are available to them whenever they need them. There should be no circumstance in which mental health resources are available for a limited period, only on working days, or withdrawn completely. You should also commit to learning from your staff about how your program’s resources can improve and what other tools are relevant to them. This can help you build a truly employee-centric program.
It’s important to note that there are various contributors to workers’ mental wellness. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed distinct shifts in anxiety. The way people experience anxiety may differ, as well as what triggers their symptoms. Some of these shifts have been due to employment uncertainty, socioeconomic inequality, burnout, and balancing work and childcare duties. Each of these aspects could be exacerbated or addressed with workplace scheduling. As such, one of your company’s ethical duties is to approach working hours in a fair and balanced way.
The first ethical consideration here is to mitigate overtime or cultural pressure for employees to work beyond their schedules. This doesn't just lead to burnout. It can also spark ongoing anxiety surrounding performance and career progression. The suggestion that those who can’t work extended hours lack commitment also particularly damages those with families or physical health challenges. By ensuring all employees are encouraged to maintain strict schedules, your company is removing an element of the employment landscape that is particularly toxic to mental health.
It should also be an ethical priority to adopt schedule flexibility. Providing some leeway for all workers to make reasonable schedule adjustments or changing their place of working can relieve unnecessary mental pressure. This should include consideration for working alternative hours or operating from home. Your efforts here show you aren’t insisting on mentally taxing strictures for arbitrary reasons. However, it’s important to make sure there is balanced access here to ensure all workers have equal opportunities to take advantage of flexible schedules.
Right to Privacy
Mental health has become a common part of public discourse, which is almost always a positive thing. In many ways, it’s essential for more people to be open about their needs in the workplace environment. However, this doesn’t overrule the ethical responsibility your business has to help employees maintain their privacy and confidentiality in the workplace — particularly surrounding their psychological or emotional wellness challenges.
Your company can start to achieve this by building protocols surrounding employees’ ability to safely communicate their real-time mental health needs. This could include sending direct messages or emails to HR or managers via encrypted channels should workers need to take mental health breaks. It can also be wise to provide workers with access to confidential helplines or telehealth counseling services for immediate assistance. Giving them secure spaces to make these calls can also bolster workers’ privacy surrounding their mental welfare.
A vital element of privacy protocols is also handling information responsibly. While there may be some paperwork involved in providing individual workers with effective resources, anything medically sensitive should not be retained indefinitely. As such, your business needs to develop strict protocols surrounding the secure disposal of any documentation containing private information. Utilizing paper shredding professionals that understand legal and ethical compliance aspects can ensure you avoid any data mishandling issues. This also ensures mental health information isn’t accessible to other employees that may bully others or hold discriminatory views on the subject.
A behavioral trigger or stressor is any stimulus that impacts our behavior. They are an action or situation that can lead to an adverse emotional reaction. Triggers are individualized experiences that vary widely from person-to-person. A trigger can impair judgment and some people may lack insight about their reactions. In the context of mental illness, referring to triggers usually means something that has brought on or worsened symptoms.
Triggering events can happen in the workplace and contribute to emotional stress. These may be due to the challenges some employees face because of the demands of their jobs. Stress triggers include work duties, overload, boring, or repetitive work. Employers can deal with these by continuing to monitor the workload.
Employers need to be sensitive to issues related to a work-life balance. Employers must trust employees to do their work/empowerment, and steer employees in a direction rather than impose their own view. Employees need to feel supported by management and receive useful feedback from them and colleagues to make their job easier and more rewarding. This includes to provide supportive/constructive criticism, operate in a "no blame" culture, have a problem-solving approach, be flexible, and support employees' request for time off.
CEOs need a fresh approach to counter the stressors of jobs in today's modern workplace. Being known, publicly and privately, as a fair, decent and compassionate business leader who maintains high standards and employee satisfaction is desirable to many. Achieving the status of being respected by others is a key factor to the CEO's well-being and that of employees.
Maintaining strong mental health protocols is not just a commercial advantage, it is also an ethical responsibility. As such, your company needs to attend to key ethical considerations in its actions. This includes keeping avenues of support accessible and consistent for all workers. It also involves adopting fair scheduling to reduce anxiety and pressure. While it can be important for employees to share information about their mental wellness needs, it’s equally vital to treat their information with confidentiality. By investing time and energy into creating a strong and ethical mental health program, you are cultivating a supportive and positive workplace culture for everyone.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on October 17 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.