Supporting Minority Mental Health
How Employers Can Emotionally Support Employees of Color
While July officially marks National Minority Mental Health Month, supporting employees’ mental health and wellness should be a year-round priority. Studies have shown that minority groups, particularly Black Americans, have a greater likelihood of experiencing serious mental health issues than the general population. In addition, these populations have been disproportionately harder hit by COVID-19 and continue to face barriers erected by racism and discrimination. All of these factors make it crucial for employers and managers to pay special attention to the mental health of their minority employees.
So how can your company’s leadership better emotionally support employees of color?
Allow for flexible schedules.
Finding a mental health professional and attending regular sessions can be time-consuming. And while the onset of telemedicine has opened up more options, it can still be difficult to make appointments for services outside of normal business hours. Providing the option for a more flexible work schedule can help! Allow your staff to come in late or leave early for therapy and other mental healthcare appointments, and let them know that they don’t need to provide an explanation to do so. In this way, you let your employees, particularly employees of color, know that they are respected, trusted, and valued in the organization.
Encourage use of mental health and employee support services.
It’s important for employees to feel like their company’s leadership is not just talking the talk when it comes to mental health. Send out regular reminders of your company’s benefit policies and resources, and give employees explicit permission to take advantage of all of them. This includes everything from taking their PTO to utilizing your Employee Assistance Program.
If you feel comfortable, share your own experience with receiving mental health support. This can help normalize the use of EAPs and other services and ensure your employees that you fully understand and support their wellness needs. Make sure all employees understand that EAP services are 100% confidential and that using them have no impact on their job.
Ask how you can help.
When it comes to figuring out how to support your employees of color, it’s best to go to the experts – your employees themselves. Go beyond generalized check-ins and vague statements of support. Instead, ask direct questions about how your employees are doing and what you and the organization as a whole can do to better support their needs. Questions like “How are you, really?” and “What additional resources do you need right now?” can go a long way to making your employees feel that you are truly invested in your well-being. Deeper questions can also help identify gaps in resources at an organizational level.
Avoid colorblind language.
While well-intentioned, statements like “We’re all in this together” can feel dismissive of the realities and experiences of people of color. For example, while COVID-19 has affected all of us in a myriad of ways, the virus has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. By acknowledging the additional strains that employees of color face rather than ignoring them, you’ll help to build your employees’ trust and make them feel seen and heard.
Review mental health benefits regularly.
Human resources staff and company leadership should take the time analyze the company’s mental health benefits and other employee resources on a regular basis to ensure that they are appropriate for and supportive of all employees. Review bereavement and leave policies to see if they are both realistic and compassionate. Assess the diversity of your in-network mental health professionals and pay attention to whether your EAP is culturally informed and sensitive to the needs of employees of color. Consider what tools, resources, and training HR staff and managers have to support employees dealing with grief or trauma.
In short, make sure the benefits you are providing are truly beneficial to all your staff.
If you hear an off-color joke, an inappropriate remark, or a statement that seems to be driven by unconscious bias, say something immediately. By intervening in the moment to challenge bias in the workplace, you’ll be sending a strong message to your employees of color that you have their back.
Integrate minority mental health year-round.
Keep the needs and realities of employees of color at the forefront all year long, not just during Minority Mental Health Month or Black History Month. There are many Black and other minority-led organizations that focus on minority mental health and workplace inclusion. Consider partnering with some of these organizations as part of your Corporate Social Responsibility program or adding them to the employee resources provided through HR.
By taking conscious steps to emotionally support your employees of color, you’ll enhance overall morale and job satisfaction and make your company a place where every employee can thrive.
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