Managing Mental Health At Work

Mental health is having a moment. Quite a few moments, in fact.

While a colleague’s depression or a supervisor’s PTSD or the rainmaker’s substance abuse issue or the CEO’s anxiety that prevents her from sleeping may have been swept under the proverbial rug in the past, people are speaking up and out increasingly at work about mental health.

It’s about time too.

We’ve seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on employees’ mental health, especially moms on allostatic overload and caregivers. We’ve talked about how employers can destigmatize mental health and the efforts of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the federal anti-discrimination laws, to educate employers about mental health conditions in the workplace.

And, of course, I’ve posted on so many occasions about accommodating employees with mental health conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), leading by example, and talking authentically with teams about mental health.

Now, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is wading into this mental health conversation in America’s workplaces.

The DOL issued a news release yesterday explaining its “public education campaign on the importance of mental health-friendly workplaces.”

At the heart of the “Mental Health at Work: What Can I Do?” campaign is a public service announcement that highlights how everyone in a workplace setting – whether you are a CEO, manager, co-worker, or an employee who voluntarily identifies as having a mental health condition – can promote workplace well-being. These roles can range from setting the tone for an inclusive workplace, to providing and requesting assistance and accommodations, to being a source of support to peers and colleagues.

I, for one, am here for it.

The campaign’s materials include posters, behind-the-scenes video interviews, workplace mental health resources, and tips for tailoring the PSA to an employer’s own workplace.

Here are some of the resources posted by the Campaign for Disability Employment PSA:

I love a toolkit. I really do. It helps employers more easily scaffold an issue and facilitates implementation.

Woman, Emphasizes, Work, Overworked, Addictions

Part of this toolkit includes the “4 A’s” of a mental health-friendly workplace, which include:

  1. Awareness, creating a supportive culture;
  2. Accommodations for employees who need them;
  3. Employee assistance; and
  4. Ensuring access to treatments.

Employers can use this toolkit to foster inclusivity and support for employees.

Mental health conditions are ubiquitous in society, and the workplace is no exception.

While employers are not therapists, they can and should provide support. Why?

A supportive and inclusive workplace culture is essential to a productive, healthy workforce. According to Mental Health America data47 million Americans or 19% of the U.S. adult population are experiencing a mental illness. Moreover, the 2021 Mental Health at Work Report found that 68% of millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left jobs for mental health reasons.

And attrition is expensive y’all.

Employers seeking to retain talent and avoid #TheGreatResignation at their own workplaces must consider how they and their supervisors respond to employees that disclose mental health issues, disorders, or conditions.

Mental health matters. Indeed, as DOL Secretary of Labor Walsh said:

Today, one in five working-age Americans has a mental health condition. As America recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health-friendly workplaces will be more important than ever. …This timely public education campaign reminds us that we all have a role to play, and that we all benefit from flexible, supportive workplaces that promote good mental health.”  

I, for one, am going to dig into this toolkit and share some nuggets with my clients. Let me know if any of these resources particularly resonated with you.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.