Recently we were shocked by the suicide of celebrity chef, author and host of popular CNN Series Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain. The way CNN handled the loss is a master lesson on emotional intelligence in the workplace. Regular programming was halted in order to do a tribute to Anthony and allow his coworkers and friends to share memories of him and publicly grieve. This brought light to the alarming trend, that as a society we have trouble dealing with. The suicide rate jumped 24% between 1999 and 2017 and now accounts for 1 in 7 deaths for males and 1 in 14 for females. Another alarming trend is the rate of opium addictions talked about in this post. Mental health issues and addictions have always been difficult to deal with in the workplace. Congress passed legislation in 2008 requiring coverage for mental illness and substance abuse programs be offered in as unrestricted a way than other treatments. However, the devil is in the details and advocates claim that in fact many employees still face barriers in receiving recommended mental health and substance abuse programs. Gandhi stated, “A nation’s greatness is determined by how it treats its weakest members.” People who are struggling with grief, mental health issues and addictions are the most vulnerable in our workforce. A great work culture is one that goes out of their way to care for and about them.
Have Open, Flexible Policies
Susan Bartel, Associate Professor of Higher Education Leadership at Maryville University of St. Louis is doing research on grieving and loss in the workplace. She states “Not only does compassion benefit the employee but it can also contribute to productivity. Many people need or use distraction to help manage their grief work and their jobs can be a healthy distraction. Allowing longer bereavement leave gives employees an opportunity to adjust slightly to a new way of life before having to reengage in the world at large. If they feel their grief is recognized and understood they are more likely to contribute to the organization even earlier than they could otherwise.” This increase commitment to work and loyalty to the organization can benefit both the employee and the company. standard policy of three days of bereavement leave adopted by most organizations today, does not send the message to their people they will be supported in their time of greatest need. After the death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg revamped Facebook’s HR policies to include twenty paid leave days for bereavement. Policies around addictions and mental health should be generous and well promoted throughout the organization to ensure that all staff are fully aware of them.
Ongoing Marketing of Programs and Services Available
The only way that many staff in organizations find out about what is available to them when facing difficult issues is through a notice on a bulletin board, leafing through their benefit package or union booklet. Many employees are not aware of what is available to them. Organizations need to make more of an effort by regularly putting out information through both social media, regular announcements and tying in messaging to events that are happening in the news. Staff meetings and events would be another excellent opportunity to remind staff of what they have available to them and this could be scheduled on a regular basis. Links to and information on organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline should be prominently displayed on the organization’s internet and staff regularly reminded that they are there.
A Visible and Active EAP (Employee Assistance Program)
Many organizations have an EAP but they are often in the background and staff have to dig up and find information on how to contact them and what they offer. Staff may receive the message that these programs are something the company is obligated to offer but doesn’t really encourage them to use. EAP need to be much more proactive, holding regular meetings with staff to describe their services and encourage staff to use this helping hand up. Staff can be encouraged to share or write letters of endorsement (anonymously if they prefer) regarding the help that they received from their EAP. Program members should be regularly updated and take ongoing training in areas of grief, addictions and suicide prevention. They could be especially active during national events such as National Suicide Prevention Week and National Drug Awareness Week, ensuring staff are aware of what is available. Many staff are not aware of these larger initiatives and EAP could do more to raise awareness.
Management Visibly Promoting Awareness and Sharing with Staff
When it comes to addiction issues and suicide prevention, many staff are afraid to speak out and seeking help due to what they perceive as stigma attached to these issues, whether it is real or imagined. Observing management actively encouraging awareness and launching initiatives to talk about and help staff in areas of grief, suicide prevention and addictions is one of the most effective ways of taking some of the stigma away. Especially when it comes to addictions and suicide, many staff feel that admitting to problems in those areas will prevent them from being considered for promotion. If possible, having someone from management talk about their own struggles in these areas would go a long way towards giving employees permission to do so themselves and take some of the fear out of acknowledging their own struggles.
Promote and Encourage Self-help Groups Amongst Staff
There are tremendous resources of knowledge, information and support amongst most staff in organizations. Unfortunately, these internal resources are rarely sought out, organized and encouraged to share resources and offer support to their own members. Some companies encourage and support staff by holding AA meetings onsite. EAP could offer these self-help groups as an extension of the work that they do by helping to organize and facilitate groups as well as train staff leaders. Clearly, issues around confidentiality would have to be addressed and worked through.
While organizations may look at these programs in terms of financial cost and lost work time, there is a great benefit to organizations that implement them. Having these programs creates a considerable amount of good will for the organization, both internally and externally. Employees who feel the organization cares about them will be more engaged and put more effort into their work and will also want to stay, decreasing costly turnover. Customers and those outside the organization, will have a positive view of the company and that positive view of the organization will be a strong recruiting tool, attracting new talent.
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