How Can Small-Business Owners Support Workers’ Mental Health?

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, answers HR questions as part of a series USA TODAY.

Do you have a HR or work related question you want them to answer? Submit it here.

As a small business owner, what are some ways I can provide more resources and tools for my employees as they relate to mental health? I see how the pandemic has affected my team. -Anonymous

Johnny C Taylor Jr..: There’s no doubt about it – the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our mental health and well-being in a huge way. Feelings of stress, loneliness and anxiety often make their way into our workplaces. And for some, returning to the office evokes mixed feelings.

As a small business owner, it is important that you evaluate your feelings and attitudes, and most importantly, encourage your employees to do the same. Nearly half of American employees report feeling overwhelmed by their work, and nearly a third of remote employees report that they often feel tired or have little energy.

When workers feel supported and healthy, engagement, productivity, and collaboration also increase, improving the company’s bottom line. I have some suggestions for prioritizing mental health in your organization.

  • Communicate clearly and frequently. I recommend doing a weekly check-in. Not only does this give you a chance to discuss pressing business matters with your team, but you’ll also be able to gauge how everyone is feeling and actively listen for troubling behaviors – such as not sleeping or eating well, or mentioning fatigue.
  • Share information about your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which may provide psychological resources and services such as counseling. If your organization does not have an EAP, you can gather resources and information from your local health department to share with employees. Be clear: It’s okay to ask for help, and you want to make sure your employees get the help they need.
  • Contact your company’s health insurance provider for other resources that may be available or have recently been added. Some providers who may not have previously provided mental health services may do so now amid the challenges and unique requirements of the pandemic.

The past year has been full of change and uncertainty. One of the things the HR department has learned is the importance of encouraging positive mental health practices. Providing employees with the right tools and resources can help them stay engaged and proactive—it also gives them a sense of stability and access to care.

Be good!

A client of mine has two hourly employees working remotely. Sometimes one employee cannot work due to internet, electricity and telephone problems. What can an employer do legally? Does the employee need paid time off, or is there a law requiring the company to pay employees when they are unable to work? -I do not know

Johnny C Taylor Jr.: Thanks for writing. It can be difficult to monitor workers remotely, especially when employee equipment and technology are not working properly.

First, I would like to clarify the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), non-exempt employees are paid only for actual hours worked, so the company is under no obligation to pay them if no work is done.

If non-exempt employees are unable to work their usual schedule, whether due to disruptions or any other conflict, your customer may require you to use their paid time off (PTO), even if they have not requested time off.

If your client company is union affiliated, you may want to check if there is a collective bargaining agreement – sometimes it has specific requirements for using a PTO or restrictions.

The main problem here is to ensure that employees have all the equipment and technology needed to perform their jobs consistently and efficiently. Does your customer have a policy that sets expectations and any compensation? I ask because some employers provide the necessary equipment, while others require employees to have everything in place at their own expense.

An alternative option to consider is to encourage them to go to a safe, temporary location if the internet, phone, or electricity are out – such as an office, library, community workspace, or coffee shop with a secure internet connection.

Finally, and this may come as a surprise to you, some states require employers to reimburse employees for work-related expenses, which may mean that your client may be in trouble for transportation and other costs incurred by an employee who has to spend money working from a temporary job site.

Hope this was helpful, and good luck to your customer!

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