The subject of mental health and its relationship with the way we work is ever-present in the media headlines. A softened stance around hardened hearts has led to a new wave of empowerment for employees who are recognizing that it’s okay to not only feel, but to heal.
Despite a cultural shift in the understanding and support of what it means to be feeling the variety of emotional pushes and pulls we’re regularly facing in society, many are still struggling with the stigmas, both externally sourced and self-imposed, surrounding mental health and taking a mental health leave.
Employees suffering from mental health is ubiquitous, and something all companies should be taken seriously if they aren’t already. Being proactive in identifying which employees might be exhibiting signs of mental health struggles can make a difference not only to your organization but to the life of a human.
Exhaustion can manifest itself in several ways and is often overlooked as a serious indication of mental health. Physical exhaustion, depending on the employee’s responsibilities, could be represented by constantly feeling tired or by just not having the energy to complete the physical tasks required for the job. Mental exhaustion can be much trickier to identify in others, but the behavioral signs range from a decline in performance and difficulty in managing responsibilities.
Further, failing mental health can impact sleep as the sleep foundation reveals that sleep is tied to a number of specific mental health conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders. If an employee can’t sleep at night due to anxiety, for example, then they may wake up unrested and the cycle of exhaustion is at risk of continuing.
Another indicator that an employee at your organization is showing signs of mental health concerns is an uptick in absences from the office. If an employee feels sluggish at work that’s one thing, but if the sluggish behavior becomes prolonged and that behavior transitions to not being able to show up to work, there’s enough smoke there that there could be a fire that needs addressing. If mental health is contributing to an employee missing time at work, the end result could mean termination for the employee, further exacerbating the condition.
The anxiety and stress associated with mental health problems mean many people get frustrated or irritated easily. Regardless of what Snickers commercials might lead you to believe, irritable behavior can be a sign of much more than being hangry, and deserves attention beyond milk chocolate, peanuts and corn syrup. If an otherwise mild-mannered employee is suddenly starting to clash with colleagues or become confrontational when expressing ideas, this could be a sign that a mental health leave is in order so that the employee can take time to heal what’s ailing their mind.
Staring at a computer for 8-10 hours a day can be enough for even the mentally strong to feel disconnected from reality. Add to that the increase in remote work opportunities and you can find employees feeling removed from the human equation altogether. If an employee is showing signs of indifference where there used to be fire, or disengages from your work culture altogether it could be a sign of something more serious.
If you notice your employee is having a difficult time focusing, solving problems, or is easily getting confused, it could be a sign of a mental health issue. In this particular instance, an employee might not even recognize that there could be an underlying problem relating to their mental well-being. If they are aware, they might feel extra stress if they start to believe that their mental condition is making things worse for them. We all make mistakes and we all lose focus, but when it becomes a prevailing theme in an employee’s behavior there’s likely a more serious cause.
Discovery Mood points out that many people with mental health issues find it difficult to keep up their appearance and may have poor hygiene habits, dress inappropriately at work. Look for noticeable changes the appearance of your employees as that might shine a light on a much bigger issue surrounding their mental health. It’s important to note that this behavior might have nothing to do with work as many external factors can contribute to mental health struggles, but a mental health leave could do wonders for an employee who seems to be struggling with their appearance.
This one seems obvious, but it’s important. When an employee tells you or anyone in their organization that they need a mental health leave, believe them. In order to qualify for job-protected mental health leave they’ll need a note from a therapist or a psychologist, though some organizations offer paid mental health leave that doesn’t require a letter in writing from a professional.
If an employee tells you they need a mental health leave and they either haven’t or won’t seek a professional opinion, it should be suggested that they take any sort of personal leave or vacation time they’re given from the company to help with their condition.
It’s important to keep in mind that for most people suffering from a mental health issue, it’s not how they’d choose to live their life. Even if you don’t understand what’s going on, you must be empathetic to their concerns, issues, and personal problems. Never discriminate against someone with a mental illness and be sure to have your conversation in private.
It’s important to have a plan, to provide your employees the freedom to speak openly about what it is that is making work troublesome for them. Depending on how that meeting or conversation goes, it’s imperative you allow them the opportunity to seek help if they are agreeable to it.
*Note: Content within this blog was not written by a mental health expert.
Tilt is leading the charge in all things leave of absence management through easy-to-use tech and human touch. Since 2017, our proprietary platform and Empathy Warriors have been helping customers make leave not suck by eliminating administrative burdens, keeping companies compliant, and providing a truly positive and supportive leave of absence experience for their people.
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