It's Time to Check in with Your Employees About Mental Health

Today’s post comes to us from the Executive Director of The Workforce Institute, Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there’s perhaps no better time to reiterate the importance of checking in with your employees.

The past two years have been incredibly disruptive at best, if not utterly devastating, for millions of people. They’ve lost family members, friends, coworkers, jobs. Their lives have been upended, either personally, professionally, or both. Maybe they’ve changed roles, jobs, or careers altogether.

Maybe they’re new to your organization. Maybe they’re thinking about leaving, or they’ve already left and have boomeranged back to you. (We’ll be exploring those topics, and some surprising new research on pandemic-era job quitters, in depth at The Workforce Institute this week. Stay tuned!)

In any case, it’s time to check in with your people. It doesn’t have to be formal, and it can take many forms, just so long as it actually happens. Here are a few tips to help get the conversation started.

Work on Establishing Trust

As leaders, we must recognize that not everyone is going to feel comfortable opening up to their managers — about work, and especially about life. We have to start by establishing trust with our people, so they view us as more than just managers, and as caring human beings who genuinely care about them as humans.

Realize it will likely take time to build trust with your people, and it can happen at different paces with different individuals. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t connect with your employees right away.

Find out how your team members prefer to communicate, and then meet them where they’re most comfortable. Some prefer in-person meetings, some prefer video chats (and, after two years of virtual meetings, some may prefer to shut off the camera). Some prefer chats over coffee or a casual walk and talk.

A 1:1 should be just that — tailored to individual styles and preferences that will help facilitate the most productive conversations and the best overall results.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

You can’t have an honest conversation or get to the root of any concerns, unless you’re willing to engage in a dialogue.

Whenever I start a 1:1 with my team members, I first ask, “What’s on your mind?” I intentionally avoid the typical “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” kinds of questions, because those are all-too-often met with a simple “good,” “fine,” or “nothing” autopiloted response. That can kill a conversation before it even gets started!

Once the conversation does start, give your employees the space to talk. Listen intently. Take notes. Ask follow-up questions. Recognize that, sometimes, employees just need to vent. Don’t take it personally. Instead, address their concerns directly or escalate them to the appropriate parties, so action can be taken to fix any issues before they become bigger problems.

If you’re part of a much larger organization or 1:1 conversations seem implausible for a number of reasons, then employee surveys can help here. The same ideas apply: ask open-ended questions, let your employees provide feedback, and be sure to listen and act upon their responses as necessary.

Provide — and Promote — Wellness Resources

When it comes to mental health benefits and wellness resources, what you offer will likely depend on the size of your organization. But, no matter your size or financial capabilities, you owe it to your employees to be committed to their mental health and wellbeing.

Offering an employee assistance program (EAP) is a great starting point. Work with your healthcare provider to see if there’s an existing program offered through your coverage, or explore the most viable options to best serve your people.

Mental health is personal, so let your employees take the lead. Ask them what types of benefits would be most impactful. Maybe it’s a better paid-time-off program or more flexible work hours and schedules. Maybe it’s employee resource groups (ERGs) or online resource hubs created by your people, for your people.

At UKG, we recently launched a central hub for mental health resources, called Mind Matters. This employee-sourced internal site features articles, videos, personal stories, and tools that cover the full spectrum of mental health, from support to flourish.

No matter what you offer, remember: Benefits are only effective if people use them. Be sure to keep your employees informed about any new offerings, plans, updates, or perks available to them. Partner with your internal communications team to help spread the word, and if you have success stories from employees who’ve used your benefits, share those stories — this inspires others to take advantage of the offerings and helps increase awareness.

The topic of mental health at work isn’t always the easiest to navigate. But that doesn’t mean we should just avoid it at all costs. Now is the time to start — or continue — this critical conversation.