Am I Damaging My Employees’ Mental Health? (7 Things Employers Are Doing Without Realising)

Apr 12, 2021

If an employee has an accident and breaks their leg, they’ll get time off and well wishes.

What about mental health?

Often, employers can find mental health tricky to navigate in the workplace, which often leads to issues going undetected and employees feeling stressed, invalidated and scared to approach the topic themselves.

From leaveism and absenteeism to not talking about mental health, there are a number of factors that can be detrimental to an employee’s wellbeing.

Here are seven ways you might be damaging your employees’ mental health without realising.

 

  1. You promote hustle culture

We’ve all seen the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ type of employer and the metric micromanager before.

Overemphasising work, metrics and profitability can be a one-way ticket to employee burnout and absenteeism – employees feel obligated to show up to work, but struggle to be productive due to poor mental health.

The reason? Hustle culture attaches self-worth to workload.

It promotes a culture that leads employees to believe their performance at work is more of a priority than their wellbeing.

How can you avoid this?

Try to avoid congratulating employees who stay late when it isn’t necessary (especially when they don’t get paid for overtime), and similarly, don’t demonise those who leave exactly on time.

Make sure employees know when they can have breaks throughout the day, and discuss long hours if you see it becoming a trend.

 

  1. You don’t disconnect

Leaveism is a term for when employees feel unable to disconnect from work due to an increased use of technology, which leads to burnout.

The biggest contributor? After hours emails/messages.

Nobody is saying that having a stroke of genius after working hours and wanting to share it is fundamentally bad, but it sets a dangerous precedent – employees feel obligated to respond, which continues an endless cycle.

How can you avoid this?

Don’t regularly send after hours or weekend emails, as it implies after hours work and correspondence is expected of employees.

Especially avoid giving hard deadlines for the next day in a late night email, which puts an employee under immense stress and pressure, leaving them unable to wind down at the end of the working day.

If an email does need to be sent after hours, specify that it doesn’t require a response until the next day to establish clear boundaries.

 

  1. Making it all about work

You are there to work, but that isn’t all there is to a job.

By only chatting to employees about work, it draws a line that makes them feel unable to socialise, which can be detrimental to their mental health.

Particularly with newer employees, not allowing room for socialising can lead to feelings of isolation and create a disconnect between employees.

How can you avoid this?

It’s simple – ask someone questions about non-work related things!

Whether you’re asking about what they did at the weekend or even what they’re having for dinner, opening the door for casual conversation can significantly lift the burden of constant work related conversations.

 

  1. You don’t offer opportunities for progression

Employees are less likely to find value or fulfilment in a job they don’t think they can progress in.

It’s not seen as a priority, yet offering opportunities for additional training, certifications and professional development can bring a sense of pride and fulfilment for an employee.

Try not to make employees feel like they’re ‘stuck’ in one position without the potential for any development later down the line.

How can you avoid this?

Implement regular opportunities to offer employees additional development/progression.

Of course, this would be optional – but the chances are that most employees would appreciate the opportunity to develop their skillset and in other areas of their work.

 

  1. There’s no flexibility

In the age of hybrid working, there are few acceptable excuses for inflexibility in the workplace.

Employees should be able to have room to move when it comes to working hours, break times and also in their ability to take mental health days.

If you continually emphasise a 9 to 5 day for each employee and put pressure on them for attempting to step outside of it, it’s not just unfair to them, it’s also unreasonable.

Circumstances can change, and an employee shouldn’t feel a sense of dread at the prospect of asking their employer for time off or a change in their core working hours.

How can you avoid this?

Whether it’s in the initial onboarding process or throughout employment, you need to make it clear to employees that they won’t be penalised if things need to be adjusted.

There will naturally be rules and boundaries to this flexibility, but being too rigid is likely to do more harm than good.

 

  1. You don’t make space for individual employees

Put away your pitchforks! We aren’t demonising group check-ins!

However, when absolutely no time is spent having one-to-ones, it can seem impossible for an employee to feel like they can share how they feel on a bad week, because there’s no room to do so.

This can lead to ‘reactive’ mental health responses after an employee has reached crisis, rather than proactive.

How can you avoid this?

Where possible, make space for one-to-ones so that employees can have more privacy to discuss anything on their mind.

Make it clear to employees that these meetings are in a judgement-free space and that it’s confidential, so they know they won’t be penalised.

 

  1. You’re unintentionally stigmatising mental health in the workplace

We’re not saying you have to disclose your mental health history to employees.

The issue arises from not talking about mental health at all.

It can be difficult to approach and understandably, employers may feel as though they aren’t qualified to have these discussions – but by avoiding them entirely, it sends a message that employees shouldn’t talk about it, either.

How can you avoid this?

Be open and honest about mental health by encouraging discussions, resources and training around it.

Promoting taking regular breaks, work/life balance and one-to-ones will foster a more positive culture around mental health.

 

Final thoughts

A lot of these issues are unintentional, but small changes can ensure that instead of employees feeling undervalued, burnt out and as though their mental health isn’t a priority, they feel validated and seen.

 


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