Employees might need more assistance with their mental health struggles than the occasional day of self-care. Managers can help by knowing when to step in and how to approach staff.
So many of us are struggling right now: Mental health issues are on the rise among U.S. workers, with rates of anxiety and depression climbing. But some people are struggling harder than others, and may need help beyond the self-care that is getting many professionals through the pandemic.
That said, managers and peers may not know when to step in or how they can help.
“I’ve never seen a time where on a societal level there’s been such anxiety, tension, isolation, depression, and uncertainty,” says Gregory DeLapp, CEO of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. “Everybody is feeling it, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs counseling. What it does mean is you need to be patient, tolerant, and understand that everyone who works for you is under some level of anxiety.”
So when should someone step in? And how can someone help employees get the help they need? Consider these tips.
Watch for Warning Signs
Most employees are a bit stressed right now, but managers should look out for sharp changes in behavior. DeLapp says it will probably show in their temperament, and indicators could include employees being moody, withdrawn, and not interacting with others like they used to.
DeLapp says another sign that an employee might need help is if the individual’s level of emotion doesn’t fit the situation. If they snap at a small request, feel overwhelmed by a routine project, or start crying during a seemingly innocuous conversation, there’s a chance they’re going through something.
It could also show in job performance. Approach an employee who is suddenly unable or unwilling to complete tasks competently—just remember to lead with patience and understanding when you speak with her or him instead of threatening punishment.
Start With a Conversation
When you notice an employee going through a difficult time, your first step doesn’t need to be a call to your HR department. Managers can start by simply checking in with employees, describing the changes they’ve noticed, and reminding them that there are assistance programs available to them should they need them.
To open a line of dialogue, begin with some self-disclosure about your own struggles—it will ease employees into the conversation and help them form a connection with you. By starting the process with a direct conversation, managers can begin helping with a personal touch.
“It will go a long way toward reminding an employee that the employer cares,” DeLapp says. “The days of just sending out a brochure or email [are over]. You’ve got to make it personal.”
Then, based on the employees’ responses, you can recommend further assistance. If employees say they’re OK, give them space but follow up after a few days, especially if the same behaviors persist. If you approach them and they agree that they need additional support, be ready to provide the resources they need, such as a link to your employee benefits portal with more information on your organization’s employee assistance program (EAP).
Share Additional Resources
Managers shouldn’t hesitate to recommend additional help if they don’t feel equipped to handle the issues that an employee discloses. That is the time to get in touch with, or at least recommend, your organization’s EAP, which is designed to help employees with personal or work-related problems that impact their performance and overall well-being.
If your organization doesn’t have a formal assistance program, DeLapp says managers can turn to their HR team for additional help.
“A manager doesn’t have to own this,” DeLapp says. “You’re a conduit to the next step.”
On the other hand, if an employee notices a manager going through tough times, DeLapp encourages employees to address that, too.
“If there’s genuine concern about your manager—every manager has a manager,” DeLapp says. Approaching a manager’s supervisor is one route to raising a concern. Another is to contact employee assistance and express concern about a manager’s well-being.
Develop a Peer Support Program
It’s not just managers who might notice an employee going through a tough time. Associations can take steps to assist staff by creating a peer support program that shows employees what they can do if they want to help a peer.
“Peers can—and I would go as far as to say should—step in and at least offer support,” DeLapp says. The approach he recommends peers take: “‘I can listen, get information, and get tools for you. I can be a conduit to other people if needed. I don’t need to be a therapist.’”