top of page
  • Deb Urbanik

Time is up on stigma around mental health at work.

Start your mentally healthy #reboarding now. - For too long, stigma has kept the subject of employee mental health out of our most important workplace conversations. But COVID-19 demands that we change that paradigm. Two out of five employees report their mental wellbeing has declined and the number of people who rated the state of their mental health in the lowest range (3 or under on a 10-point scale) has doubled since the outbreak began.(1) Combine this with recent studies showing that 88% of employees expect their employer to support their mental health at work(2), and there’s no denying it's time for change. 

Leaders, how will you meet this moment? - Announcing expansion of your EAP or reinforcing HR’s open-door policy won't cut it: less than 20% of employees believe going to human resources would help their mental health concerns at work.(1) Talking with peers or managers is preferred almost two to one.(1) It is time to rethink the way we are connecting about mental wellbeing at work. People-leaders must be given the permission, training and resources needed to have the very conversations that they may have been avoiding in the past. This is not about rolling out a new program. This is a culture play. 

What to do - In our recent article, CEOs, Who Are Your Most Essential Employees for #Reboarding, we shared the surge of support that was needed for HR as they ensure that facilities, operations, safety, benefits and payroll are ready to meet the demands of COVID-19. Preparing for a mentally healthy return to work for employees should be one of HR’s top priorities, but their job is to prepare managers and peers to become the visible front-line champions for your mentally healthy #reboarding. HR leaders should fuel this grassroots cultural shift by creating: Empowerment - Permission to act through demonstrated executive support and encouragement for this effort Expertise - Training for all managers from subject matter experts on listening, empathy, and building psychological safety on teams Tools - A Mental Wellness Playbook for people leaders including:

  • Setting the tone - avoiding language that promotes stigma

  • Recognizing mental health conditions in an employee or peer

  • Listening effectively

  • Directing employees to organizational tools - (EAP, Benefits, ERGs)

  • Providing national or global free local resources (e.g. NAMI, Mental Health UK)

We are certainly not implying that managers take on the role of a therapist. Healing happens with medical professionals. Hope happens with empathetic, well-equipped leaders. Employees expect that their mental health challenges will be met with support at work. This means leaders must create a culture of acceptance, safety to share vulnerabilities, and clear pathways to resources. 

We recognize that due to the historical stigma around mental illness at work, many leaders may feel ill-equipped to approach these issues effectively. We are here to help with advice, customized training and ready-to-use tools. Contact us at: for help. 

Co-authored by Culture, Change, Crisis and HR Consultants: Deb Urbanik, Carolyn Hudson, Ben Cook and Christina Itzkowitz.

Sources:  (1) Qualtrics – The Other COVID-19 Crisis: Mental Health (2) American Heart Association CEO Roundtable – Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis

59 views0 comments


bottom of page