Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace: 6 Takeaways From Last Month’s HR Forum

On November 16, 2022, Keystone Partners hosted our first live HR Forum in the Chicagoland area. The HR Forum, Addressing Mental Health: How Are We Showing Up For Our Employees to Recruit, Retain, and Grow Our Workforce?, was moderated by Matt Abbatacola, Vice President at Keystone Partners. Our esteemed panelists included Alexa James, Chief Executive Officer at NAMI Chicago, Bernie Dyme, President and CEO of Perspectives, Ltd., and Tracy Billows, Attorney and Co-office Managing Partner at Seyfarth Shaw. A lively and informative discussion touched upon many aspects of mental health in the workplace, a topic that has been put in the spotlight in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to share some key highlights and takeaways for those who may not have been able to attend.

  1. Creating a culture of safety and wellness in the workplace is critical.

Bernie stressed the importance of creating a culture of safety in the workplace and baking behavioral and mental health into everything that you do, all of the time. That is what makes a workplace somewhere employees feel safe and a place that we listen to each other so that we can hear and try to figure things out.

Our panelists discussed the importance of creating a philosophy of wellness in the workplace. This is what cultivates an environment where people feel comfortable enough to speak up, ask for help, be open and honest, and get the help and services they need. Tracy explained that it’s important to share what resources your organization has and to also think about what else you can do within your organization that could be supportive or could build resilience, and things of that nature. And while it starts with leadership, Alexa explained that you can find ambassadors who have good mental health literacy and are good at this.

  1. How to create a culture of safety when your entire workforce is remote.

One audience member asked about creating a culture of safety when your workforce is entirely remote. A large component of accomplishing this task is having the ability to read body language and other non-verbal cues that signify how a person is doing. Of course, when working in a completely remote environment, you can’t see the body language that would signify whether a person is struggling.

So, how can organizations and HR teams think about creating those bridges when you don’t have the luxury of in person contact?

  1. We need to have more of the “tough” mental health conversations that most people are avoiding at all costs.

We are afraid to have tough mental health conversations for several reasons. It may be because people just don’t want to offend someone or they may not have the skills to do so, they don’t want to feel uncomfortable, they don’t know how to empathize, it invokes something in them or triggers their own pain, or they just honestly don’t ask because they don’t want to know.

  1. There is a big difference between sympathy and empathy, and sometimes it is more important to simply try to listen and understand rather than attempt to solve the problem.

Tracy explained that empathy is trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Trying to see things from their perspective. It’s not about me or what I would do or how I would handle it, but rather trying to see the world or situation through someone else’s eyes and meeting them at their level.  It’s important to listen carefully to understand what it is they are saying to you and to see it from their perspective and support them at their level, not your level. According to Bernie, empathy is a lack of judgment.

  1. If we want to connect with people, we need to stop asking how they’re doing and focus on something more personal and informative.

Alexa shared some advice on not asking the generic question, “How are you?” to colleagues, but instead asking them to share something good that happened to them this past weekend. Or in a one-on-one meeting, asking a colleague about the biggest challenge they faced last week which is far more informative to see how someone is doing.

  1. Both the benefits and disadvantages of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) were discussed.

EAP programs are in place to provide people with prevention, early intervention services, and intervention services. As Bernie explained, they’re also there to help organizations deal with their culture around wellness and behavioral health. It’s easy access for people who might have an issue. It needs to feel safe and comfortable, which has been an issue at times.

We are so appreciative to our panel for taking the time to bring the important topic of mental health in the workplace to the table. Here at Keystone Partners, we look forward to continuing the discussion by highlighting resources and sharing information that will shed light on this important topic in the months to come.

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