The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftereffects, such as The Great Resignation, have opened up wide-ranging conversations about mental health in the workplace and how employers should support their employee's mental health to retain their workforce, as well as improve morale and productivity. As a result, many employers have invested heavily in resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) to provide mental health and other services to their people. However, utilization efforts remain low and absences due to poor mental health remain high.
With Black History Month (February) just around the corner, it is worth examining how organizations can improve their support for their Black employees’ mental health. Black people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and the Black Lives Matter protests have opened conversations on the various social, political, and economic issues faced by the Black community. These factors have resulted in the deterioration of many Black individuals’ mental health.
According to Dr. Will, founder of the mental wellness organization OtherKind, different cultures and communities seek psychological help differently. In his work with various organizations, he observed that, while employers provided various mental health benefits, their employees, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), were saying that these services were irrelevant or that they didn’t appeal to them.
In 2018, 58.2% of Black and African-American young adults aged 18-25 and 50.1% of adults aged 26-49 with serious mental illness did not receive treatment, which shows a huge disconnect between available mental health resources and the Black/African-American experience. Additionally, 9.5% of Black and African-American young adults aged 18-25 had serious thoughts of suicide, which is an increase from 6% in 2008.
This inspired Dr. Will, who is a Black psychologist, to find ways to help solve these issues.
According to Dr. Will, the concept of psychological safety in the workplace is centered on whether people can bring their whole selves to work. Many Black employees bear the psychological strain of wearing two hats and end up constantly challenging themselves whether they actually belong where they are.
“Many Black workers, particularly in the tech industry, face a lot of pressure, such as impostor syndrome in a new company or a new role,” Dr. Will says. “It's common for them to be the first in their family to have made it to this level of their career, or have this level of resources. This results in a different kind of pressure compared to someone who comes from a more privileged family background. Many times, I've worked with people who are financially supporting even their extended family because they're the ones who 'made it'.”
Dr. Will says that employee resource groups (ERGs), also known as affinity groups or network groups, are a valuable resource in reaching out to the BIPOC and other minority communities. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led, and company-supported groups that work to create a diverse, inclusive workplace by providing support to and advancing the interests of their membership, which share a common characteristic. An organization could have various ERGs to support their Black, LGBTQ+, and single-parent employees. Dr. Will says that companies that provide adequate support to ERGs see better outcomes for their broader initiatives, including mental health programs.
“What OtherKind does is to come in and empower those groups, with a focus on mental health,” Dr. Will says. “I believe this is the easiest way to get both employees and management on board, as mental health is something everybody can get behind. We bring to those communities people who not only understand their perspective but can also help them manage their mental health issues. A great example is how we support both Jewish and Muslim ERGs in an organization we work with by providing a safe space and culturally relevant care to members of both communities.”
OtherKind specializes in providing customized mental health support that acknowledges and respects the unique experiences and needs of every individual. Its services include on-demand access to expert clinicians, support for ERGs, and evidence-based wellness strategies, all aimed at empowering employees and enhancing the overall culture of inclusion within organizations.
OtherKind also places special focus on working with people in middle management, because most people’s conflicts at work are not with the CEO but rather with their immediate supervisors, whether it's racism, microaggression, or discrimination. According to a study by McKinsey, across all 15 countries surveyed, toxic workplace behavior had the largest impact in predicting burnout symptoms and driving employee turnover.
This is why OtherKind trains middle managers on how to create more supportive and psychologically safe teams.
“It is imperative to support employees’ mental health in today’s workplace,” Dr. Will says. “Pizza parties and foosball tables don’t work, especially with so many people working remotely today. What employees, especially those from the BIPOC communities, need is robust mental health support, delivered to them in a culturally sensitive manner, so they can feel psychologically safe in their jobs and achieve their full potential.”
Name: Dr. Williams Osei
Email: [email protected]