Addressing Mental Health in The Workplace as an Owner or Manager

Addressing Mental Health in The Workplace as an Owner or Manager

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Lately, I’ve been struggling with my mental health. The boom-bust cycle of small business revenue is stressful. Add that to the stress of needing to give the best customer service. As a small business owner, one unsatisfied client can mean I can’t pay myself this month. How can a small business owner or manager address mental health in the workplace?

Addressing mental health in the workplace can be done by offering competitive wages, implementing a proper employee assistance program (EAP), providing regular time off, offering internal training on diversity, equality, and inclusion (EDI), and providing effective performance reviews. As an owner or manager, your role is not to treat mental health but to allow employees to learn options and remove significant stressors.

I’m not a mental health professional, and my tips below come from a human resources point of view. Please consult a proper health professional if you need more support. I recommend reading some of Amazon’s top “Mental Health at WorkOpens in a new tab.” (Paid Link) books if you need more detailed support.

Competitive Wages Can Reduce Financial Stress

Owners and managers don’t have to teach employees how to manage their money, but some things can be done. One way is to increase employee wages to meet or beat the local living wage.

If your employees earn less than the local living wage, they will experience more financial stress. Making below the local living wage means they can’t even afford to pay for the necessities in your area.

Here are some signs that your employees are struggling:

  • They have second or third jobs,
  • They commute to work via transit bus or train,
  • They put side-gig-type pamphlets around the office,
  • They don’t live near work, living in cheaper areas,
  • They opt out of any paid company event,
  • They wear the same clothing to work each day but with some superficial differences and
  • There could be many more signs, so keep your eye open.

All these things add stress to your employee’s lives. Stress can lower their performance for you as they worry about getting to the next job, paying bills, and affording new clothing. Refrain from thinking of each little thing as something you have to solve. If your employees make a little more money, they can solve their problems.

Your wages are not competitive if you pay on or below the local living wage. You will never attract the best performers if you don’t have competitive wages. To get more information, read my other blog article, “Why Should You Pay a Living Wage to Your Employees.”

A Proper Employee Assistance Program Can Support Mental Health

Some benefits programs have mental health support in the form of an EAP in addition to health, dental, prescription, injury insurance, and life insurance.

If you currently have health benefits for your employees, check to see if there is any EAP or mental health support. This may be a simple phone number your employees can call. If you do, that is great, and you should start sharing that number or service around the workplace.

Employees may need to remember to check for a company-funded EAP service when stressed. There is no extra cost to the organization if used, so share it.

If you don’t have any benefits yet, now is a great time to research providers and make sure they have an EAP with mental health support.

In some areas, there may be publicly funded health services that you can direct your employees to. This might be okay as a starting point, but some public services have limits. A private EAP service paid for by the company may be better as a long-term option.

Providing Regular Time Off Can Reduce Stress

Making sure your employees have regular time off is very important to reduce stress and burnout. As an HR professional, I sometimes walk the office and remind employees to take breaks and a proper lunch as a daily precaution against exhaustion.

On the larger scales of weeks, months, and years, your employees need more than a 15-minute break or a lunch away from their desks. The following are different types of time off and how to use them.

Sick Days

Your employees use these when they have a health issue. This is sudden; they must tell their supervisor they will be away. Approving sick days, which you guarantee as part of their compensation, should not be questioned. You should expect your employees to use these days.

This is the expectation that sick days will be taken without prior notice. Then, you must ensure every employee has a backup plan that can be implemented if they’re away suddenly.

Remember that sick days don’t always qualify as only physical ailments. Mental health and self-care issues may be more prevalent in your industry. Stress leads to more significant mental health issues that lead to employee burnout.

If you want to discourage the use of these days, then give an excellent year-end bonus for sick days not used. Consider something like two days’ pay for each sick day not used. Although I don’t recommend discouraging sick day usage, you should encourage it. Hence, they get the time needed to improve their health.


PTO is sometimes called Paid Time Off or Personal Time Off. These are usually above and beyond legislated vacation time. These fill the gap between sudden emergency-type sick days and vacation time.

These are planned days or just a few hours away from work. A day’s notice is usually needed, but you could ask for more days’ notice, maybe even a week. Typically, these are used for personal or family appointments but can be a planned day away from work.

Your employee may want to ensure they get a three-day weekend every month. They may even want every second Friday off if you offer enough PTO.

My wife uses her PTO days to take her mother to appointments and get a few extra days off each month.

Expect your employees to use these days! PTO days are typically considered part of their total compensation, and they accepted this job partly because they get PTO days.

Avoid giving Unlimited PTO if you don’t mean it or feel the need to create conditions or barriers to using unlimited PTO. If your organization is project-based, this may work, as your only condition is that projects get done on time. Suppose employees do daily tasks or are client/public facing. In that case, you will have issues with cover-off plans and alienating co-workers who must do the cover-off.

Like sick days, if you want to discourage the use of PTO, give an excellent year-end bonus for unused PTO. Consider something like two days’ pay for each PTO day not used.
Although I don’t recommend discouraging PTO usage, you should encourage it so they get the time they need away from work stress.

Vacation Days

Vacation days may be a set number of legislated days you must give your employees. If your employees are paid an hourly wage, then you give them a small percentage of money back each payday instead of giving them paid days off. If your employees are salaried, then you would give them the legislated paid days off.

Ensure you understand and follow all legislated rules and regulations concerning vacation days in your area.

Your organization may give more vacation days than what is legislated to help attract good employees. If you do this, treat the extra days the same as the legislated time so you don’t get into any issues.

It is unethical or illegal to deny vacation requests. Still, informing your employees of the worst times to request vacation may be suitable. You may have a busy time of year, so ask employees to refrain from requesting vacation. You should always approve vacation requests as they will improve employee relations and the organization’s work culture.

Allow Creative and Flexible Time Off Requests

Get creative and allow your employees the flexibility to use different types of days off to fit their schedules first. To employees, personal schedules are more important than work schedules. Your job is to ensure you have backup and contingency plans for each type of day off for each employee.

Treat All Time Off Requests Equally

Would a low performer perform better if you deny time off? No. You will naturally train low performers to get better or let them go. Denying days off and treating employees differently will not help in this situation.

EDI Training Can Help Create a Positive Work Environment

Most organizations are based on white supremacy cultural aspects like structure, hierarchy, and speed. This is systemic racism and common in North America, and it’s hard to see or understand why things must change. Pointing out that things are not fair for everyone makes white people, and white males, in particular, feel like they’re being attacked when they’re not.

The more diversity an organization has, the better it will perform because of all the fantastic ideas that can be identified. “Group Think” is when no new or outside ideas can influence the group. This is bad and can lead to loss of market share because the organization is not growing.

The other side of this performance boost comes from non-white and non-male employees feeling better about the organization. Overall performance will increase if everyone is happy to work for your organization.

You may need to hire a full-time EDI Coordinator or meet with an EDI Consultant. Depending on your needs, an EDI expert can point you in the correct direction.

Indigenous Relations

Here in Canada, consider hiring an Indigenous Relations Consultant. The road to reconciliation and understanding the treaties may seem complex. Private businesses must address Action 92Opens in a new tab. of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

An Indigenous Relations Consultant can help by offering the KAIROS Blanket Exercise and other Allyship workshops. Consider LBH Business Services Inc. for your Indigenous Relations needs.

Effective Performance Reviews Can Identify Stress and Mental Health Issues Sooner

Connecting with your employees is essential; a performance review is a great time. Yearly performance reviews are ineffective overall but more so when trying to identify mental health needs. An effective performance review is done monthly or quarterly, is fast, is quantifiable, and includes a one-on-one meeting for goal planning and training needs.

Note your employee’s mood and outlook on their career. If they seem different from a previous review, remind them of any support the organization offers. Remember that it is not your job to identify or diagnose mental health issues. Still, you must note differences and remind them of the support provided.

To learn more about performance reviews, read my blog article, “Easy Employee Review Process.”

What Can You Do Next to Support Mental Health in The Workplace?

Read my blog article “The Hierarchy of Employee Needs” to learn more about your employees’ needs.

For human resources support in Canada, click here to book a free HR needs assessment now. If you’re on a budget, consider joining my Patreon to ask unlimitedOpens in a new tab. HR questions. If you need HR advice sooner, book a consultation via Fiverr here.

Ian Hopfe

Ian Hopfe is the owner of LBH Business Services Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Ian is an Indigenous Human Resources Consultant. He has over ten years experience in HR and over fifteen years experience in management. All blog articles on this website are written by Ian unless a guest writer is indicated on the post.

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