By Nadine Vogel
Employers around the world continue to struggle with how to appropriately address and accommodate individuals with disabilities in the workplace. But of all disability types, mental health is still one of the most invisible, stigmatized, and misunderstood. I have heard many employers say that they would not hire someone if they knew that he or she was currently experiencing depression or some other mental health issue.
As if this were not alarming enough, consider that researchers analyzing results from the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, a nationally representative study of Americans between the ages 15 and 54, reported that 18 percent of those who were employed said that they had “experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month.” The most common disorders cited were depression, stress and anxiety, and substance abuse. In fact, between 2003 and 2013, there was a 56 percent increase in depression-related EEOC workplace discrimination claims.
Although human resource professionals are the usual go-to folks in an organization relative to the employment of individuals with disabilities, most say they are not properly trained to address many of the issues that arise, especially in the mental health arena. And, even when managers want to help, they are often not equipped with the training to do so.
If an employee dealing with a mental health issue does not receive appropriate communication and accommodation at work, his or her productivity and engagement will suffer.
A major part of de-stigmatizing a mental health, or other, disability in the workplace involves creating a culture where employees feel they can safely, comfortably, and appropriately disclose their disability without negative repercussions. To create such a culture, today’s corporate best practices recommend the use of disability etiquette and awareness training; immersion training on accommodations; interactive dialogue for human resources professionals, hiring managers, and recruiters; the use of a disability disclosure guidance tool; and disclosure road-shows and video vignettes. Implementing these trainings, tools, and resources enables companies to demonstrate their interest in, and commitment to, successfully mainstreaming individuals with disabilities, including those with mental health issues, into their workforce and workplace.
A good place to begin the education portion of this work is to rid ourselves of the conscious bias that exists toward folks experiencing mental illness or other disabilities. This means increasing awareness, reducing stigma, encouraging employees to develop help-seeking behaviors and, of course, making sure help is available. When asked, many managers report that they “think an employee is trying to take advantage of the system when they request an accommodation due to stress or even depression.” So how do you think these managers will respond to the individual who does disclose? Probably not well. We must remember that there is a connection between mental health and productivity. If employers do nothing, costs will surely increase.
Many companies offer employee assistance plans (EAPs) that provide wonderful resources for individuals with disabilities, including mental illness. However, EAPs cannot replace the work that must be done with human resources, talent acquisition, and management.
Given that mental health issues are prevalent in today’s workplaces, every employer should begin taking the necessary steps to develop an end-to-end, comprehensive worksite education program that will appropriately and effectively provide support to those who need it. For employers who provide this support, it will mean good business. For employees who receive it, it will mean the world.
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Nadine Vogel is the CEO of Springboard Consulting LLC. Founded in 2005, Springboard is recognized as the expert in mainstreaming disability in the global workforce, workplace, and marketplace. Serving corporations and organizations throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia, Springboard has become a trusted partner in relation to disability issues and initiatives across virtually every business category. For more information, please contact Nadine Vogel at Springboard Consulting. Nadine is also the author of Dive In: Springboard into the Profitability, Productivity, and Potential of the Special Needs Workforce.