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5 Steps for Creating a Mental Health-Friendly Work Culture

Source | www.shrm.org | Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP

In a tight labor market, employers can improve their ability to hire and retain qualified workers by supporting mental health programs in the workplace.  

“We all know someone who has struggled with a mental health condition,” said Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia at a Department of Labor (DOL) panel discussion with mental health experts. The DOL event took place at the end of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“We are in an extraordinary period right now for the U.S. economy and American workers,” Scalia added, noting that the current unemployment rate for workers with disabilities is the lowest on record.

“Employers are anxious to attract and retain skilled workers,” he said, and “workers with disabilities can offer employers the right talent, right now.”

The DOL’s mission is to help foster, promote and develop the welfare of the nation’s workers. “Part and parcel to this is promoting a mental health-friendly work environment,” said Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella.

Panelists noted that when workers struggle with mental health conditions, the signs are not always apparent, and even when a condition is disclosed, there may be a stigma attached. Panelists said employers can create a mental health-friendly workplace by focusing on the “4 A’s,” a framework advocated by the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN). One panelist suggested adding a fifth “A” to the plan.

1. Awareness

One in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences a mental health condition each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Work is a critical component of recovery for someone who is experiencing a mental illness or a mental health crisis,” said Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary for the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Manager education is a good way to support mental health wellness in the workplace, according to EARN. Managers can be trained to recognize the signs of mental health issues and to create a supportive and inclusive environment.

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