workplace wellness meeting team

Ways to address mental health in the workplace

Authored by Bukaty Companies on February 25, 2019

An estimated 18% percent of Americans 18 and older experience symptoms of a diagnosable mental health condition, and nearly half of those have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. Alarmingly, 56% of those diagnosed with a mental health condition do not receive treatment. When these conditions are left unaddressed, they may contribute to numerous workplace challenges, such as loss of productivity, low morale and turnover.

Given the prevalence of behavioral health conditions today, there remains a lack of understanding on how to properly address these issues in the workplace. Because employees spend a significant amount of time at work, HR professionals have the unique opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of afflicted employees by fostering a culture of trust and aiding with their recovery. 

It’s essential to understand the typical symptoms and progression of a mental health or substance use condition to better identify employees in need and connect them to available resources. While these conditions often begin with a relatively mild impact on the employee’s performance, symptoms can progress and ultimately hinder their relationships and work performance in significant ways. 

As an HR professional, it’s important to be prepared and identify the appropriate ways to respond to an employee with a mental health condition. The following three stages explain the cycle of behavioral health conditions that an employee may progress through, and the tangible ways employers may help:

Initial risks and escalating symptoms

While conditions may be hard to identify in the early stages, it’s important for employers to create a safe climate and culture for employees to speak out and seek help. All managers should be trained on how to objectively document performance. Managers should also be familiar with resources their organization has available to support employees, such as management coaching and employee assistance programs (EAPs).

As a condition progresses, it’s more likely to impact work performance in noticeable ways. Absences from work may become more frequent, or an employee may request accommodations to help them cope with the situation. Referrals to an EAP may be necessary at this point. Absence management strategies may help employees address some of their issues and help them stay productive at work during this difficult time. 

Severe and chronic impairment

If a condition remains untreated, performance problems and absences often escalate to the point of requiring disability leave. For those who can stay at work during this debilitating time, it’s important for managerial staff and HR to work with the employee and develop accommodations tailored to their specific limitations or restrictions. For employees who require a leave, being supportive of the employee’s FMLA application is also important.


There is hope, as employees can begin to see their condition improve, either through treatment or as part of the natural course of the condition. However, with the proper employer support and intervention, recovery can occur at any stage in an employee’s journey.

Without the proper strategies, resources and assistance, an employee’s work performance may suffer drastically. Being prepared to support employees in their time of need is crucial for a steady recovery and fostering a happy, healthy workplace. 

If your company needs assistance addressing mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders in the workplace, Bukaty Companies provides comprehensive consulting services to address your needs. Please contact Bukaty Companies at 913-345-0440 and ask for Randy Woehl, MPA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, director of HR consulting services.

Blog Category: Workplace Insights

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