Part of our Mental health and well-being series

Photo of a couple trying to manage the stress of work-life balance.

Employee mental health: Personal and family stress

Remain keen on your employees’ work-life balance needs and do your best to support them. Personal lives in many cases have gotten only trickier for employees—or have been completely upended.

1. Enable flexible schedules.

Home schooling or elder care may require more employee time or mental space. If possible, provide more accommodations, such as flexible time or compressed workweeks, to help employees maintain a sense of control and not feel overwhelmed.

2. Refer serious issues to professionals.

The pandemic has driven a probable rise in domestic abuse. Ensure your workplace has all the proper connections to the appropriate professional agencies and officials to help respond when personal stress evolves into dangerous trauma. Provide convenient access to professional counseling, whether through your employee assistance program (EAP) or another channel.

3. Respond to natural disasters.

Workers this year have coped with a variety of climate disasters such as forest fires or hurricanes. Your business should have support plans in place—emotional as well as monetary/relief efforts—appropriate to your regional risks. The Small Business Administration is among the sources offering emergency guidance.

4. Try telehealth.

Social distancing and lockdowns have increased isolation and created a “treatment deficit” for employees in need, says Dr. Steven E. Pratt, senior medical director for Magellan Health. But there’s also been good adoption of telehealth resources, including by EAP providers, to help bridge the gap.

5. Try “reflective listening.”

Managers can use the basics of “reflective listening” with employees to help alleviate stress. This is a method of asking questions that helps people identify their own internal motivations. As a manager in conversation with the employee, “roll with the resistance,” Pratt says, and lead with empathy rather than immediate criticism or recommendations. For instance, if an employee tells you they’ve been drinking too much during the pandemic, don’t immediately say, “You really should stop drinking.” People are more motivated to make changes in their lives when they recognize the need for themselves rather than being told by someone else. Encourage them and give them space in the conversation. They’ll be likelier to fill it with their own self-realization of their behavior’s underlying causes. Say something like, “Yeah, it’s really been hard. I understand.” In terms of both mental health and everyday work, coaxing employees rather than directly leading them to solutions can be a powerful motivator.

6. Keep talking about it.

Here’s some good news: The rising conversation around mental health also is reducing stigma. Workplaces should encourage and be a part of this for the health of their employees. Twenty percent of American adults experience some type of mental illness, and there are effective treatments.

How to help stamp out stigma

Magellan Health recommends these steps to encourage a more open and accepting environment for everybody, including those who may face mental health challenges:

  • Talk openly and honestly about your own experiences with mental illness and addiction.
  • Educate yourself and others about the facts of mental illness. Mental disorders are treatable just as physical diseases are, and people with mental illness are not to blame for their condition.
  • Recognize the signs of mental illness and seek professional help when needed.
  • Show empathy for those living with mental health and substance use disorders (while of course respecting workplace privacy laws and norms).
  • Be aware of your attitudes and language used to describe mental illness and people with mental illness. Jokes and name-calling are hurtful and perpetuate demeaning stereotypes.

What's next

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other professionals on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.​

Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Co., a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.