Beef up your mental health and employee assistance programs to keep workers safe.
Your employees are under pressure–constant regulatory and policy changes to deal with, family issues, financial concerns, and more. You may think they are coping, but are they? Stress and pressure can push people who already have mental illness such as depression to the brink. You need to be able to recognize signs that someone may be hurting.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate has jumped 33% between 1999 and 2017, and the rates were significantly higher last year, especially among men. Your older employees, as well as your residents, are not risk-free. Older adults (people over age 65) make up just 12% of the population, but they account for 18% of all suicide deaths.
Employers can’t assume that their workers and safe and happy, and a growing number are acknowledging urgency to address mental health. Currently, 70% of employers say they are taking some action on this issue or plan to do so within the next two years. These actions vary from working to erase the stigma of mental illness to partnering with outside organizations for mental-health support.
Whether your organization has started the journey or not, HR can take the lead. As part of your workplace mental health and safety efforts, consider some steps:
· Be aware of individual risk factors, such as prior suicide attempts, the suicide of a close friend or family member, and/or presence or history of mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Encourage workers to ask for help without fear of judgment or punitive action. Watch for signs that someone is struggling, such as being withdrawn and/or sad, crying, losing weight, or loss of interest in work or people.
· Ensure your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EAP) provides support and counseling for those with suicidal thoughts, and make sure that workers are aware of these services and how to access them.
· Offer suicide intervention training to select managers and other staff. Provide awareness training to all managers and team leaders.
· Provide suicide prevention education to employees, and reinforce this with posters, articles in company publications, etc.
Unfortunately, even when employers do everything possible to prioritize suicide prevention, tragedies sometimes happen. When an employee, family member, vendor, friend, or even a resident takes his or her own life, it is essential to provide support and comfort to everyone in your organization. Crucial steps include:
· Approach the situation with compassion. People must have permission to take care of themselves, whether that means time off, counseling, or something else.
· Listen to employees as individuals. Realize that some people will be able to return to work quickly, while others will need time to heal. Some may need to vent anger, guilt sadness, or other feelings; a support group may provide a safe venue for these individuals to express their emotions.
· Consider activities that might benefit everyone and encourage bonding. For instance, a therapy dog organization may be willing to bring in animals for comfort and support. Or you might provide group meals with a balance of comfort foods and healthy options.
· Make sure everyone in the organization—from top to bottom–has access to counseling and other services. Don’t assume that c-suite executives and upper level managers wouldn’t need or welcome support or help.
· Apply HR policies to help surviving family members with practical matters, as appropriate. Follow up with survivors over time, and help them find financial or other guidance they may need.
· Be sensitive to anniversaries, birthdays, and other events connected to the deceased. Be prepared to provide extra support on those days, and acknowledge the loss or remember the person in some way.
Model respect, empathy, and kindness, but don’t ignore your own need to grieve or vent anger or other feelings when a death occurs. Seek help if you need it, and follow common sense steps such as getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, and spending quality time with family and friends.
For some additional resources, check out the Center for Workplace Mental Health.