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Mental Health in the Workplace

For human resources professionals, addressing mental health issues in the workplace has always been important. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees’ psychological well-being has become even more critical. And seeing the warning signs may not be so easy.

Staying productive during COVID has meant working remotely, socially distancing, and wearing masks, and all these practices have made effective communication more challenging. With those obstacles in mind, below are a few strategies for recognizing and addressing mental health issues at work.

Keen Observation

In recent months, your company has likely had fewer in-person meetings and interactions than usual. Instead, to protect everyone’s safety, you may have opted for more video meetings and emails. The downside to those platforms is that it might be harder to read people. Expressions on video screens are less evident than those across a table from you. However, you still can observe a great deal. For instance, have some employees been late joining video meetings? Or have employees who once were fully engaged in video meetings started keeping their cameras off? Are they making jokes about wearing the same T-shirt for days or enjoying happy hour at noon? Beyond that, have you noticed previously professional employees being rude in their emails, snapping at their colleagues, and seeming impatient?

If you see these or similar signs, it might be a good idea to speak with such employees individually. Do not accuse them of acting unprofessionally or blame them for being late. Instead, merely ask about their work, family, and hobbies. See what answers you receive and go from there.

Performance Review

No matter what your company’s mission is, everyone should have some barometer of performance. It might be sales numbers, customer engagement, or materials produced. Check in on your employees and see if their performance is on par or if it has slipped. If there seems to be an issue, ask if they need more support or resources. Do not criticize or complain about their performance. Instead, be curious. When you show genuine concern, they may reveal personal problems that are hindering the execution of their work.

Critical Conversations

If you begin to suspect that any of your employees need mental health assistance, be careful not to diagnose. Do not ask if they are depressed or if they have been taking their medication. Instead, remind them about your company’s resources, or talk about a great therapist you know. Acknowledge that these are challenging times and they are not alone. It is critical that you let employees know you are here to help.

Also, whether you are a supervisor or an HR professional, make sure your first one-on-one conversation with an employee is not about mental health. It is essential that you build relationships long before problems occur. The better you know your workers, the more likely you are to notice a problem.

Outside Assistance

If you encounter employees who are clearly being disruptive and causing the work environment to be toxic, you need to take action. That might include hiring a consultant to evaluate the team or offering

professional counseling services. However, in extreme cases, you may feel the need to terminate an employee. If you reach that point, it might be wise to consult legal counsel. The experienced employment attorneys at Cotney can review your situation, advise you on your options, and ensure you are following the laws for your state.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.