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Mental Health in the Workplace

Lori P. Purnell, MPH, PE and Dana W. Chang

Family issues, health concerns, or financial problems have the potential to cause stress and anxiety, which can spill over into the workplace and lead to a reduction in productivity and performance. It’s important for entrepreneurs and their managers and supervisors, as well as HR professionals, to understand how to identify and address issues stemming from employee stress that show up in the workplace.

Identify Potential Stress Issues

There are some key signs that can indicate your employees may be experiencing higher-than-normal stress or anxiety including:

  • Change in normal behavior, such as becoming uncharacteristically irritable or withdrawn,
  • Change in appearance or hygiene,
  • Lack of focus or concentration,
  • Unusual tension with other colleagues
  • Change in quality of work performance or reduction in productivity,
  • Absenteeism or presenteeism.

These signs can indicate a potential issue, but the earlier business owners or HR professionals identify a particular problem and guide these employees toward helpful resources, the sooner that employee can get the help they need.

Help Employees Manage Stress

There are a few things entrepreneurs or HR professionals can do to help boost morale and reduce stress among their entire team, including:

  • Incorporate wellness breaks to give employees a chance to refocus, such as a walk outside or quick team yoga session;
  • Help employees prioritize projects to manage pending deadlines that may be creating additional stress;
  • Encouraging employees to stay home when sick to help avoid spreading illness among the team; it also gives the employee the time they need to get healthy;
  • Motivate employees to work together as a team to share the workload and avoid some employees taking on too much extra work when others take time off;
  • Educate employees about financial wellness or other related programs that can assist them with budget concerns and enable them to plan ahead for expenses such as summer vacations.

When individual employees show signs of a more serious problem, it’s important to step in quickly when appropriate. While many employees may show some signs of temporary stress, prolonged issues should be addressed as soon as possible for the health and safety of the employee.

As an entrepreneur, make sure to loop in HR and document all interactions with the employee about a more serious issue to ensure all appropriate guidelines are followed. These discussions should be held in private out of respect for the employee and should be compassionate and understanding and take into account the root cause of the issue at hand. 

When necessary, guide employees to available resources, including HR or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can help address or resolve a wide variety of concerns.

Available Resources to Help Workplace Stress

According to a 2014 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 79 percent of all employers with 200 or more employees offer an EAP, yet many employees may not be aware of this service. It is critical that managers, in addition to HR, know about the program in order to recommend it to employees as needed.

To raise awareness, HR teams can provide business owners and employees with materials about the EAP, so they have the information handy if they want to take advantage of this service. An EAP is generally available to employees at no cost to them, making it a free and available resource to help them address concerns throughout the year.

HR and management can follow a number of other steps to help employees who experience difficulties, such as:

  • Encourage employees to keep an eye out for each other and to help one another if they notice a colleague is going through a difficult period. Co-workers are often in closer proximity to other employees on a daily basis and will be the first to notice the key signs of stress, as opposed to Managers and HR professionals.
  • Consider expanding schedule flexibility to allow employees to attend events at their children’s schools or other family obligations. For many people, family is a central focus, so this can reduce the pressure many employees feel that can impact their performance at work.
  • Guide employees toward your company’s financial and physical wellness programs as well as the EAP. Having a resource to help manage money can help with stress related to financial concerns, and taking better care of themselves physically can also have an impact on their mental state.
  • Seek the guidance of an experienced and qualified professional to create a more positive and productive work environment. The result will be a win-win for you, your employees, and your customers.‍

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