How Managers Can Learn to Talk About Mental Health

BY Emily Nonko | August 02, 2022

It’s increasingly clear that the workforce is not okay. More than 40% of adults are reporting diagnosable mental health conditions and an estimated 50 percent of people with depression never seek help. Managers, who are often the first point of contact for these employees, are rarely trained on how to identify, talk about, and address their mental health.

Managers, however, are the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to workplaces holistically addressing those needs. They just need to know what to do.

“First and foremost, it’s okay to talk about it,” said David Malmborg, the VP of marketing for Nivati, an employee mental health and well-being platform. “Something that managers really need to understand is that it’s okay to talk about mental health.” (When onboarding new clients, Nivati will distribute stickers that say “Therapy is Okay” and “Self-Care Isn’t Selfish,” along with other messages promoting conversations about mental health.) Once managers are given permission to have these conversations, there are concrete strategies to ensure these conversations lead to meaningful care across the workplace.

Secure Buy-in From Leadership 

There’s increasing buy-in from companies to invest in mental health: according to a 2022 State of the Workplace Mental Health report, 92% of companies said providing mental health support for their people became a higher priority for their company in 2021. “HR really wanted more mental health benefits but the C-suite was not ready to invest in that,” said Amelia Wilcox, founder and CEO of Nivati. “But it’s been going on long enough that now the C-suite is concerned.”

Yet leadership support has to go beyond investment. “Executive teams need to lead the charge and lead with empathy,” said Malmborg. At organizations where leaders embrace mental health practices, talk about these issues openly, and are candid about their own mental health needs, Nivati has seen that employees utilize its well-being platform at levels three times higher than companies where CEOs don’t engage. “Executives can be a huge catalyst for conversations that go on in the office,” Malmborg said. “And I recommend you bring your executives to the table when having that conversation about mental health.”

Trust Your Employees 

Both executives and managers might need to shift their perspective as they enter these conversations to fully trust employees as they open up about mental health. Leadership teams don’t question physical health concerns, but often don’t treat mental health needs the same way. When an employee confesses they’re unable to get out of bed because of anxiety, managers need to trust them and give them the space to care for themselves, just as they would for a physical health issue.

Amelia Wilcox, founder and CEO of Nivati (Photo courtesy of Nivati)

Understand the Signs and Symptoms

It’s important that managers understand the different signs and symptoms of poor mental health. “You don’t need a mental illness to experience burnout/stress/anxiety/hopelessness,” said Haeli Harris, the lead mental health clinician at Nivati. She pointed out that mental health struggles can impact our emotions, thoughts, behavior, and physical health. They can result in difficulty concentrating, exhaustion, and other symptoms. And they results in an estimated 200 million lost work days per year due to anxiety and depression.

Harris suggests that managers learn how to recognize the common signs of depression, anxiety and ADHD, the three most common mental health issues in the workplace.

Be Sensitive to Communication About Mental Health 

Once managers pay attention to the signs and symptoms, they should be prepared on how to talk with struggling employees. To start, managers should understand that confidentially is crucial to establish a position of trust.

Addressing the topic should also be treated with care, so that the worker’s feelings are validated, but not necessarily their assessment of their situation, which could be colored by those feelings. “Validation is important, but there’s a difference between validating the person and validating the scenario,” said Malmborg. “Training on validation, and how to validate the person and not the scenario, is incredibly important.”

Finally, the Nivalti team recommends affirming talking points. For example: “How are you coping?” or “Has work been stressful for you lately?” or “What is concerning you today?” They should avoid accusatory or dismissive statements such as, “Why don’t you snap out of it?” or “It’s in your head” or “Look on the bright side.”

Know Your Resources

Managers should also receive training on the resources available at their workplace. “This is one of the most important things to know–we don’t want managers giving solutions or advice, but they need to know where they should be pointing people to,” said Malmborg. This might be an Employee Assistance Program, an employee-wide wellness program, or a specific staff member. “Every company is different,” Malmborg said, and as leaders fine tune the company’s resources, they must keep managers in the know.

Encourage Mental Health Best Practices and Tools 

“Always encourage everybody in the company, but especially leaders and managers, to have mental health best practices,” Harris emphasized. Wilcox adds that talk therapy is only one solution and that employees have diverse needs. Nivalti’s platform also offers resources on life coaching, meditation, yoga, fitness, massage, nutrition, sleep, and personal finance. “The idea is to offer holistic mental health solutions,” Wilcox said.

Other tools, Harris said, include following mental health resources like the Nivati blog, the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Psych2Go. Employers could also facilitate regular one-on-one sessions between managers and employees.

Prioritize Self Care and Mindfulness

Beyond workplace resources, managers can encourage their employees to regularly practice self-care and mindfulness. Self care might include exercising, relaxing, journaling, or turning off the phone to unplug. A mindfulness practice can include breathwork, meditation and yoga. “We know that when employees regularly practice mindfulness they have reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Harris said.

Perhaps one of the most important components to this practice is a workplace that encourages its employees to set healthy boundaries. “This can really come from the leaders, setting boundaries between you and work and creating that healthy home/life/work balance,” said Harris. She recommends setting a schedule and creating a routine; turning off notifications during off hours; keeping at least one day a week work-free; making a “commute,” even if it’s just a walk after the work day; and working and resting in different spaces if you’re at home.

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this story, Nivati.

Emily Nonko is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to writing for From Day One, her work has been published in Next City, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and other publications. 


Belonging for Everyone: Reimagine the Future of DEI

Without taking diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) training seriously, workplace inclusion will not improve. Cultural bias could corrupt the company, making it unsafe and undesirable for minorities in certain roles within a company. Companies deciding that DEIB is unimportant could see higher turnover rates than their competitors who utilize this training to support and accept their employees without judgment. At From Day One’s Dallas conference, Renu Sachdeva, head of client solutions at Talking Talent, North America, spoke to the importance of DEIB training in the workplace, especially in the midst of pushback. For Sachdeva, pushing work around DEIB forward is a driving point each and every day. She shared the story of Botham Jean, who was murdered by an off-duty police officer in 2018. Botham, who went by Bo, was a colleague of Sachdeva. Bo’s murder drew attention to racial biases, being that he was an unarmed Black man, killed in his own home. “Bo is a huge part of why this work continues to be so important to me today,” said Sachdeva. Despite the recent positive steps forward in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, there are still many hurdles to jump over to reach the end goal, says Sachdeva. Many business leaders are already seeing budget cuts and reluctance to these initiatives. But this training is vital to understand the significance of inclusion for the long-term success of companies. Additionally, more workers consider it table stakes when considering a place to work.Renu Sachdeva, head of client solutions at Talking Talent, North America, led the thought leadership spotlight “94% of people in a survey said that it is very or somewhat important to them to feel a sense  of belonging in the workplace. And yet 75% have said that they felt excluded in some way,”  said Sachdeva. With a percentage so high, why would a company not want DEIB training within their organization? Satisfied employees means more productivity and higher retention rates. Talking Talent’s approach to DEIB is rooted in two beliefs. First, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is for everyone. Second, you have to fix the culture. Saying DEIB is for everyone means that no particular ethnic group or cultural background is  excluded from the conversation. It should be at the forefront of the employee lifecycle, and practice in recruiting efforts, onboarding, and performance reviews. Rather than offering training as a one-time solution, it should be an integral aspect of the overall employee experience. Inclusive leadership and allyship training for current and future leaders ensures that each leader has the necessary skills to invite diversity and inclusion into the company. Sachdeva says that employees who get promoted may have exceptional technical skills, which is why they get promoted in the first place. Yet, they have not gained the managerial skills to foster inclusion and guide people underneath them as a strong leader. Each organization has its unique risks if effective inclusion is not a priority. Pushing the work around DEIB forward is a necessity, and can propel engagement and success, says Sachdeva.Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Talking Talent, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Mary Jones is a freelance writer out of Ohio. Her work is featured in several publications including The Dallas Express, NDash, and The Daily Advocate.

Mary Jones | June 13, 2024

The Secrets to Boosting Remote-Team Productivity and Performance

To attract talent, employers need to offer remote and hybrid work, yet also need to create innovative arrangements that work for both the individual employees and the organization. Employees tend to think they're more productive working from home, yet research indicates that's not always the case. How to bridge the gap and ensure optimal performance?“Leaders need to know how to support these distributed workforces in ways that don’t just ensure that they’re physically at work every day, but that they’re performing their best in a sustainable way,” said Sarah Altemus, productivity lab manager at ActivTrak. “This will be a real differentiator for organizations,” she said during a From Day One webinar.ActivTrak provides interactive dashboards and modern software to help employers and managers gain insight into maximizing remote and hybrid workplace productivity. These tools help measure utilization, identify signs of individual burnout, summarize daily and weekly goal progress, and develop more balanced workloads.Leah Ivory, solution consultant at ActivTrak discussed key dashboards and reports that  provide employers and their managers with the tools to identify key results areas, measure individual productivity, measure team utilization, and spot opportunities to reestablish workload balance and engagement.ActivTrak’s software integrates direct email communication to foster coaching discussions among managers and individual team members to strategize performance plans and solutions to engagement challenges.Their one-stop dashboard provides a 30,000-foot organizational and team management system using graphs and charts that can be broken down by department, region, or group. It should be referred to daily to track engagement levels in real-time and over the previous 30-day period to measure goal progress. Users can also see team productivity metrics for every member and weekly utilization trends. Other insights include workload balance reports, coaching and personal insights, and more.These innovative tools help strategize high productivity in remote and hybrid settings. In 2024, most businesses have adapted to offering remote and hybrid work to keep talent. However, without referring to data there is no assurance that investing more in remote or hybrid work policies will be sustainable.Employers often omit key insights by looking at traditional outputs that deliver results like production, revenue, and quality. Altemus says that insights into the inputs, like how employees work, how to use technology, how processes are adapted, and how training influences behavior, offer valuable insights into optimizing remote and hybrid work performance combined with output insights.Sarah Altemus of ActivTrak led the From Day One webinar (company photo)“What happens when we don’t track the inputs is we put ourselves in a position where maybe we overhire, and when we overhire, we’ll have low utilization elsewhere in the organization. We buy technology that goes underutilized and have higher technology costs as a result of it.”Analytical tools revealing personal insights get to the root of the inputs: they identify who is overworking or underworking, who works better and where, and more information that gives employers and managers the opportunity to address the oncoming burnout or disengagement of a team member. Goals can be restructured and more personalized to improve productivity.The ability for managers to access the personal insights of every individual team member presents a highly personalized one-on-one coaching opportunity to strategize a performance plan supporting their upward mobility based on their projects, location where their productivity is the most efficient, or restoring their workload balance.“We’re really committed to being an employee-centric tool, empowering employees with their own data or providing the right level of information to the right level of people in the organization. We’re making sure that executives have access to the data they need for decision-making and managers are able to be effective,” said Altemus.Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, ActivTrak, for sponsoring this webinar. Stephanie Reed is a freelance news, marketing, and content writer. Much of her work features small business owners throughout diverse industries. She is passionate about promoting small, ethical, and eco-conscious businesses.

Stephanie Reed | June 12, 2024

The No-Cost Solution to an Expensive Problem: Employee Turnover

Employee turnover is too expensive for businesses not to find alternative solutions. The Society of Human Resources Management reported that it costs up to 9 months worth of an employee's salary to replace and train someone who leaves their position. On a broader scope, it’s a prevalent issue causing businesses to lose a trillion dollars yearly according to Gallup.R.W. Holleman, director of strategic accounts at DailyPay, cautions that employee turnover is equally detrimental to a company’s financial stability and employees' successful workplace engagement. “The cost of employee turnover is not just a concern for HR departments,” Holleman said in a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s Dallas conference. “It’s a substantial burden on the financial health of the company, impacting the productivity of every single employee.” How can businesses stop spending more money, plunging deeper into debt, and begin reducing employee turnover? Holleman highlights a key employee benefit that addresses the leading cause of workers leaving their positions and offers a direct solution. Earned Wage Access: Solving Financial Burden Financial hardship is the leading cause of stress. In 2020, Purdue University cited survey results from CreditWise, revealing that people experienced more stress and anxiety over finances than work.. However, bonuses and pay increases aren’t an immediate solution for businesses nor employees. Businesses taking out more loans increases financial burdens and does not solve the core of the economic hardships of employees: the need for quick pay. Without access to quicker pay, workers must look for other side hustles and careers that provide same-day access to the money they need. “It’s not necessarily how much they have or how much they’ve earned. It’s about the access to the funds when you need it the most,” Holleman said.R.W. Holleman of DailyPay led the thought leadership spotlight in Dallas “The American worker is being challenged like never before to pay those bills on time. They don’t wait. They’re bouncing from job to job. They’re taking on gig jobs.”The solution is to provide Earned Wage Access (EWA), where employees access their pay as they earn it. EWA does not require taking out loans and is not an advance. It is money employees have already earned, making it a cost-effective solution for businesses and an inclusive benefit for all employees. An impressive 95% of DailyPay clients who previously relied on payday loans reduced their use or stopped altogether, and 97% of clients experienced less overdrafting, saving more than $600 yearly, according to research done by DailyPay. Other notable statistics include reducing turnover by up to 73% and 73% of participants citing they feel more confident managing their finances overall.An Empathetic Solution “Think of a time [when] you were at a grocery store. Have you ever had your card decline?” Holleman asked. “We’re managers, directors, VPs, executives–we got our life going and figured it out. But what about others,” he said, citing other life stages like college, where financial security is less common. The strain on all resources when organizations have to replace employees is apparent: advertising, reviewing applications, interviewing, recruiting, onboarding, and training costs money and time. Consequently, the employee workload increases with a loss of expertise from occupied managers, risking customer relations and creating an environment of uncertainty among teams. EWA exemplifies a win-win situation: it provides financial wellness that sustains employees, helping them stay committed and engaged in their current positions instead of taking more sick days or switching to gig jobs entirely for quicker pay. EWA saves businesses from spending around $45,000 to hire and train a replacement for a previous employee making $60,000 yearly.“It empowers them and provides them the flexibility they need over their finances. So they can bring the best version of themselves to work. And in turn, it can help your company be the best version it needs to be.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, DailyPay, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. Stephanie Reed is a freelance news, marketing, and content writer. Much of her work features small business owners throughout diverse industries. She is passionate about promoting small, ethical, and eco-conscious businesses.

Stephanie Reed | June 11, 2024