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Mental Health in the Workplace

Creating a supportive environment

Every year natural disasters devastate communities leaving thousands of families displaced and financially ruined.  Couple that with the increase of technology pushing us to be faster, smarter, and do more things than are humanly possible – it brings no surprise that we are experiencing an increase in mental health concerns.  Openly discussing mental health in the workplace will not only help employees feel supported and cared for, but can increase productivity and company loyalty.   

Mind Share Partners states that $17 billion USD is lost annually in productivity in the U.S. because of unaddressed mental health concerns and due to the stigma around mental health conditions, 69% of employees hide their mental health condition from coworkers. 

Willingness to learn about mental health conditions is the first step toward understanding what it is like to have one.  I’m going to discuss three common mental health disorders and give 3 suggestions on how to create a supportive environment in the workplace. 

Depression

Depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch, it’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and attention. Episodes of depression can last from a few months to several years and can develop from a number of reasons, such as; a life crisis, physical illness, relationship changes, financial standing, housing changes, seasons and weather, and that’s just to name a few.  Genetics, medical conditions and some medications can also play a part in developing depression and medical syndromes (like hypothyroidism) can mimic a depressive disorder.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) states that an estimated 16 million American adults—almost 7% of the population—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year and approximately 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have depression.

Depression can present different symptoms, depending on the person. Physically it can show up as aches and pain, changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels.  Mentally it can cause lack of concentration, disinterest in activities, hopelessness, guilt or suicidal thoughts. 

Anxiety 

Sitting in rush hour traffic or giving a speech can create anxiety, a normal reaction to life that helps us stay alert and aware of potential dangers. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and stop us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.

The NAMI website claims that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (18%) have an anxiety disorder.  There are 4 types of anxiety disorders: 1)  Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)  2)Panic Disorder 3) Social Anxiety Disorder  4) Phobias   

Anxiety disorders can cause exaggerated worrying about everyday life that can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate and finish tasks. Emotional symptoms of anxiety can show up as feelings of dread, restlessness or irritability, being jumpy or being watchful for signs of danger. Physical symptoms of anxiety can result in a pounding or racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, tremors, headaches, fatigue, insomnia and upset stomach.

ADULT ADHD 

There is a lot of information about children with ADD or ADHD but what happens when those children grow into adults?  The fidgeting and inability to sit still during class transforms into forgetfulness, disorganization, impulsivity or overwhelm from adult responsibilities. An estimated 4% of adults have ADHD.

Physical symptoms of adult ADHD can be hyperactivity, irritability and risk taking behaviors. Mentally ADHD can cause forgetfulness, lack of concentration, racing thoughts, or a short attention span that creates mood swings of  boredom, excitement or anxiety. 

Now that you know more about depression, anxiety and adult ADHD, how many people do you know whom have suffered from one, two or even three of those conditions? I am not asking you this question so you can judge them, I ask it to bring awareness to how common it is to have a mental health condition and how it’s time to dismantle the stigma of it being something people shouldn’t talk about. 

If employees learn to talk about mental health at work, perhaps they will feel more comfortable finding treatment for their disorders. Here are 3 suggestions of how you can make your workplace into a supportive environment for mental health. 

Create relaxing and restorative spaces.  

Decorating a room with comfortable chairs and dimmed lighting where employees can go for their 10 minute rest break doesn’t cost a lot of money and can be a supportive expression to your employees. Asking employees to bring rocks to work to collectively build a walking labyrinth on the property will create a way for people to walk off anxiety and can also be a great team building activity.

Fostering a Supportive Environment –  

Ask your HR department to design trainings for employees to learn about the different types of mental health conditions and encourage discussion. Employees learning about mental health at work may help them support a co-worker, family member or person in their community who suffers from a condition.  

Adopt a mental wellness program. Research shows that physical exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and can boost mental health. By offering gym reimbursements, monthly challenges, a   mental health information board with changing topics, tips and recipes or on-site yoga or exercise classes can encourage employees to find options to care for their physical and mental well-being.  

Mind Share Partners statistics show that 1 in 5 Americans suffers annually from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety and that 8 in 10 employees don’t seek treatment because of fear and shame. Encouraging people to learn and talk about mental health will not only help create a more productive workplace but will also benefit employees outside the office. 

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The Compliant Process to Investigating Grievances

Workplace misconduct has become a hot topic in the national media, shining a light not only on the extent of harassment taking place but also on the intolerance people are developing for it. Ignoring employee complaints or grievances can be illegal, but if how you choose to handle the situation does not hold up to compliance standards, it can land your company in even more hot water. 

In this article, I am going you to walk you down the compliant path of principles and procedures to investigate allegations of misconduct in the workplace to ensure that you find effective resolutions instead of unwanted litigation.

Why Investigate

Whenever there is a complaint, ethical lapses in judgment, or a credible witness to misconduct, it must be investigated. It doesn’t matter if the complaint or information is written, emailed, spoken, or overheard; it is your companies responsibility to protect everyone in the work environment. Having a solid investigation policy not only protects the employee but the company and its shareholders as well, ensuring compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.  

Investigations determine what happened during a specific incident, the circumstances, who was involved, any violations of law or company policy and whether misconduct did or did not take place. During an investigation, you will often discover policies or areas where employee performance can be improved that will benefit your business operations and company as a whole.  

When to Investigate

Workplace misconduct should always be investigated because you will never know the severity of the problem unless you do. Starting an investigation sooner rather than later gives you a better chance at gathering the most relevant information because as time goes on, memories fade, and employees leave.

When allegations of sexual harassment arise, immediate action and a thorough investigation are required. An investigation is necessary when an employer receives a complaint, hears, sees, or becomes aware of employee misconduct.  

Take time to prepare 

An investigation is a fact-finding mission and requires planning before you interview the first witness. Prior to beginning interviews, review any previous or similar write-ups or complaints. Review personnel files of all the employees involved for job performance reviews or any other information that might be helpful to the investigation.

Next identify the type of complaint (i.e., harassment/discrimination, theft/criminal conduct, wage/hour) or problem to help determine the purpose and goal of the investigation. Finally, determine what questions to ask during the interviews to ensure fair treatment and consistency. 

Choosing the investigator

To avoid biased or preconceived notions, the investigator should be someone who is uninvolved in the department, grievance, or interview process. The investigator needs to be competent and well-trained in handling internal investigations and have strong interpersonal skills to help minimize adverse effects and gossip after the interview. 

Options for qualified internal investigators can be a human resource professional, corporate management, managers, or assistant managers. Hiring outside counsel, an external human resources consultant, or a neutral third-party investigator are also options. 

Protect 

It is imperative to protect the confidentiality of employee claims to the best of your ability.

If the complaint contains allegations of serious misconduct (i.e., sexual harassment or violent behavior), you may decide to place the alleged harasser on leave during the investigation or separate them and the complaining employee from having to work together. Tread lightly when choosing to separate employees and make sure that the person who filed the complaint isn’t being affected negatively as this can be interpreted as retaliation. 

FYI: Retaliation doesn’t only apply to the accuser – anyone who is involved in the investigation who feels like they are being treated differently after the process has the right to file a retaliation claim. 

The investigation

Now that you’re prepared to begin the investigation by interviewing the accuser to clarify details, gather evidence and get the names of the witnesses you need to question. After each interview read over your notes and fill in any details while they are still fresh in your mind. 

Be careful not to jump to any conclusions before all the facts are available. After you conduct all the interviews and collect the evidence, you can evaluate all the information and decide on a formal decision. During the investigation, it’s essential to consider all employees involved, the policies, the action to be taken to resolve the grievance, the reason (explained in detail) and the consequences if the resolution is not carried out. 

Make a decision 

When necessary, employers must take corrective action that is appropriate to the situation, such as discipline or even termination. The decision should include the reconciliation of any damages incurred by the victim and a detailed description of expectations and scheduled check-ins until restitution is achieved. Consequences for the harasser should be integrated into a development plan and schedule to ensure support and success with the changes to be made. Determine if training or additional education, such as sexual harassment training or anger management training, would be beneficial to the individual or all employees. Review and modify workplace policies to prevent future grievances from occurring and train all employees on the revisions.

In conclusion, workplace investigations are serious procedures that if a court or government agency were to review, you want them to conclude that your company took the situation seriously, responded immediately, and took a good-faith action to resolve the grievance. Addressing grievances and complaints immediately and thoroughly not only protects your employees but your company and shareholders as well. 

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Millennials are Giving HR a Make-Over

The millennial generation is the largest age group to enter the workforce since the baby boomer generation and is significantly impacting the way businesses operate. These tenacious individuals will continue to instigate change over the next 20 years, and if employers want to keep productive workers, they will need to make adjustments in their HR departments and engagement models.  

Baby boomers and Gen Xer’s grew up working for organizations with corporate hierarchies and identified strengths as being hardworking, dedicated, and willing to work long hours. Discrimination and sexual harassment were frowned upon but tolerated, and many parents thought the only way to climb the corporate latter was to sacrifice time with their families.  

Millennials have a drastically different outlook on what they expect from their employment experience. Millennials are educated, skilled in technology, able to multi-task and have a thirst for justice. They prefer flat management structures and teamwork-based job roles, and as the business world steers into the 21st century, Millennials are at the wheel. Here are five ways this generation are influencing human resource departments to change.  

Evolution in the EEO laws

Equal employment opportunity laws have been around since the civil rights act in 1964 – and 55 years later they are still being violated. The millennials have an appetite for fueling change and are on a crusade to balance out the issues of discrimination and sexual harassment.  The #METOO movement has gained momentum, and there is no way the millennials are going to allow it to go backward.  Given the amount of activism we’re seeing in young people nowadays,  companies have no choice but to focus on and remedy matters related to diversity, inclusion and healthy corporate culture.

Experience Over college degrees 

Udemy, Youtube and many other internet sites are hubs where people can learn almost any subject known to humankind.  A person who has educated themselves versus going to college and receiving the same information as all the students in their class is becoming a hot topic among HR recruiters.  Self-taught job candidates demonstrate natural qualities of leadership, motivation, innovation, and dedication.  Many millennials have come to see college degrees as an unnecessary financial debt and set out to find positions that recruit based on skills, experience, and established results rather than hiring someone with a college degree.

Work-Life Balance

Millennials work to live – they don’t live to work.  Many of them watched their parents dedicate their lives to their jobs only to be dumped by their employers during the 2008 recession.  This new generation dominating the workforce will not stay late without compensation, nor work for management that won’t give them the proper training and tools to do their best job.  Millennials would rather become a freelancer working on many meaningful projects than to work for a company with no vision, conscience or company culture. They will choose freedom over financial rewards when it comes to adhering to the way businesses have operated in the past, and they expect more from their employer than just a paycheck. 

Transparency in the Workplace

Millennials want interconnectivity throughout the company they work for, keeping everyone informed, so no one is blindsided by change.  A lesson they learned from being a kid during the Great Recession of 2008 and watching their parents and family members lose everything as companies jumped ship and left employees to fend for themselves.  Representing a significant portion of the workforce and not trusting adult establishments, the millennials demand transparency from the management and executive departments of companies is only going to increase.  

Teamwork – literally

The old corporate culture has always been competitive, where people do everything they can to get ahead, but millennial employees don’t abide by this cutthroat style of employment. They have seen that money and status do not buy happiness, and prefer to work together as a whole than compete as individuals.  Studies show that 88 percent of millennials prefer a collaborative workplace over a competitive one and find that innovative ideas come quicker when people are paired or work as a group on a project. 

In conclusion, HR managers who are used to certain practices to recruit, engage and motivate Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s are going to have to change their ways and mindset if they hope to attract and retain the newest contender in the workforce.  Good HR practitioners realize that investing in and developing employees is the key to securing the success of the company and can look to millennials to help redefine ways to increase productivity.  In-office snack bars, nap pods, flexible work hours or shorter work days are some ideas that have increased commitment and productivity.  As the millennials become the new face of company management and business practices, businesses today need to step out of the competitive mind to find new strategies to cultivate, motivate and retain employees.  

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10 Federal Employment Laws You Want to Know

10 Federal Employment Law You Want to Know

Labor laws are regulations that mandate the relationship between an employer and his/her employees. Both federal and state governments within the United States have enacted employment laws to protect the rights, health, and financial remuneration of workers. A rule of thumb to follow is that federal laws tend to constitute a minimum level of employment regulation, while state laws are more detailed and defined.

Knowing the federal and state employment laws is crucial to protecting your business from violations, penalties, and class action suits. Here is a brief description of ten federal employment laws you and your managers will want to know.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

 ACA is most commonly referred to by its nickname, Obamacare. ACA requires companies with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees to either provide health insurance to their employees or pay the penalty for not offering affordable coverage. In 2017, Congress repealed the individual mandate that required individuals to have insurance. However, requirements for employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees are still valid.

Americans with Disabilities (ADA)

 ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees and prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. Qualifying employees are people who have a limiting physical or mental impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.

An employee qualifying for the definition given by the ADA, are entitled to

reasonable accommodation to perform their work so long as it will not cause an undue burden upon the employer.  Employers are not required to lower production or quality standards to accommodate a disabled employee.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

In 1967, Congress enacted the federal ADEA to prohibit age discrimination in the workplace and promote the employment of older workers. ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees and protects employees and applicants who are 40 years of age or over from discrimination in the workplace due to their age. 

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

FCRA was passed in 1970 to address the fairness, accuracy, and privacy of personal information contained in the files of the credit reporting agencies.  

Much of this law pertains to individuals and reporting agencies, but some provisions relate to employers. If an employer wants to receive a consumer report on a job applicant or a current employee, they must notify them in writing and receive their written permission before they proceed.  

The Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) 

FLSA is a federal law that gives employees the right to a minimum wage as well as overtime pay when they work over forty hours a week. FLSA has two classifications of employees, exempt and non-exempt, with different requirements for employees depending on how they are classified. It is important to recognize that many states have enacted their own labor laws, some of which have different child labor requirements, more stringent overtime rules, and higher minimum wage rates with which employers must also comply.  

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

 FMLA is designed to provide employees temporary job security when faced with certain health-related responsibilities that interfere with their employment. FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to grant qualifying employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth, placement or fostering of a child, care of the employee’s own serious health condition, or care of an immediate family member.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

OSHA is a system of laws created by a federal agency operated under the authority of the Department of Labor (DOL). OSHA is responsible for developing, promoting, and enforcing regulations that encourage and regulate workplace health and safety. Employers are required to provide their employees working conditions and an environment free from hazards that cause or are likely to cause harm, serious injury, or death. 

Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job candidate because of their race/color, national origin, sex, age, or religion.  

It is best practice for employers to implement an anti-discrimination policy and educate their managers, supervisors, and employees about the consequences of discriminatory behavior in the workplace.  

Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was amended in 1991 to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment includes verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, behavior that interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.  

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was also amended to include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibiting employers from discriminating against an employee or job candidate because they are pregnant. Employers are also required to honor any pregnant employees’ requests for leave just the same as they would a disabled employee.  

In conclusion, it is essential for employers and managers to know and understand federal and state employment laws. Violations, penalties, or class action suits can result from not abiding by the laws and can drastically affect a small business. Keep in mind that federal and state employment laws are different and to assess each one. While researching the laws on-line, be sure to check the date, so you get the most current information.