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3 Ways HR Can Help Reduce the Stigma Around Asking for Help

It’s no secret that workers are feeling the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis.

3 Ways HR Can Help Reduce the Stigma Around Asking for Help

Survey respondents of our latest Employee Sentiment Index (ESI) have cut down daily costs by cancelling subscription services, returning impulse buys, cutting up their credit cards and even selling their personal possessions. Employees also feel they need to work longer hours in order to keep their jobs safe and are taking on more responsibilities outside of their job description.

But one of the most worrying trends to come out of the report was that 66% of respondents in Australia said that the cost-of-living crisis has negatively impacted their mental health. In New Zealand, this figure was slightly lower – but still concerning – at 57%.

These statistics paint a worrying picture of a workforce that is struggling to cope with the current situation and may be making significant sacrifices to stay afloat.

It’s important for employers to recognise that their employees may be impacted,even if things appear fine on the surface. This is why it’s critical to foster a speak-up culture that prioritises employees’ mental health and takes a preventative approach to wellbeing. 

To get an expert view of the situation, Jess Bell, Content Manager at ELMO Software, spoke to Matt Walters from Acacia Connection, one of Australia’s leading providers of employee assistance programs (EAP). In this blog, we’ve recapped Matt’s most insightful tips to share three ways HR can reduce the stigma around asking for help.

But first, what is a speak-up culture?

A speak-up culture refers to a culture where employees feel psychologically safe to voice their ideas, concerns and needs without fear of negative repercussions. A speak-up culture actively encourages innovation, collaboration, seeking out different ways of working and out-of-the-box thinking.

Fostering a speak-up culture in the workplace benefits everyone, especially when it comes to mental wellbeing.

When we’re talking about mental wellbeing as a facet of speak-up culture, it means that staff should feel able to approach their HR team or manager with any concerns because they know they’ll be heard and supported, whether their issues are personal or professional. If employees are being encouraged to provide feedback or access an employee assistance program (EAP), then they should be able to do so confidently knowing that the information they provide is totally anonymous and they’ll receive the help they need.

3 ways HR can help to break the stigma

1. Implement an employee assistance program (EAP)

If your organisation doesn’t already offer an EAP, then now is the time to get set up. 

Some people may think of an EAP as a ‘crisis tool, accessed only when people feel like they’ve hit rock bottom. But this is not the case. An EAP can act as a valuable preventative tool, offering resources and professional support for the issues they’re experiencing well before it gets to crisis point.

“When we consider the health of an employee, we cannot just consider their physical health,” says Matt.

Mental health should be a part of any company’s holistic approach to employee wellbeing; and if employees’ mental health is disregarded then it can become a costly oversight for the business. As Matt points out, mental health claims are “typically four times more expensive than a physical health claim”.

2. Lead by example

Matt says one of the best ways to promote your company’s EAP and encourage employee participation is to lead by example.

“The first thing we advocate is for you to get on board with the program. The way to do that is to reach out yourself,” says Matt.

“We know around 60% of people reach out [to an EAP] as a result of the leaders in that organisation advocating it, and the likelihood of someone reaching out following that conversation grows exponentially higher.

“The leader – whether that’s a manager, HR professional or executive, can then say ‘Hey, I’ve reached out to our EAP for some issues that I was dealing with and I have to say it, it wasn’t scary, and they really helped me’. You don’t need to go into the reasons why.”

But what if you’re not struggling with a particular issue? Matt says leaders can be hesitant to go through the process themselves if they’re feeling fine. But that’s all the more reason to develop first-hand experience of the program and understand what tools are available, whether you’re thriving or you’re struggling.

“We talk about the mind being like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger that it gets, and that’s absolutely true. So utilise the program when you’re feeling well and then you can share your lived experience,” Matt says.

By encouraging the HR team, as well as managers and executives to use the service, it can make a significant difference to reduce the stigma and help boost employee participation.

Acacia Connection also offers a range of manager services that leaders can access if they feel that their direct reports may be struggling. These services are designed to help HR professionals and people leaders by connecting them with psychologists who can provide advice on the best way to handle a potentially sensitive situation. By speaking to a trained psychologist, HR professionals and leaders can equip themselves with the tools they need to navigate difficult topics – which in turn puts them in the best position to help their team members.

3. Provide training and workshops

Matt recommends training and workshops as a great way to get your leaders to foster a speak-up culture within their teams. Organising group training sessions and workshops can equip people with the skills and knowledge they need to help deal with tough situations; but it also demonstrates that the organistion is actively working towards creating and maintaining a safe speak-up culture.

“None of us know everything,” says Matt. “And for that reason, having group training where all of our managers, leaders, and HR professionals are on the same page around mental health first aid shows that we’re all singing from the same hymn book. We all know what’s available to us. We all know how to find those signs in our people, and we can all give them those helpful prods, if and when we need to.

“It goes back to the idea that you shouldn’t put on anyone else’s oxygen mask before your own. Make sure your leaders are in the right position to help their people.”

Tools that can help you build a positive culture

Your employees’ overall wellbeing is incredibly important. Ensuring that your employees feel psychologically safe and supported, especially during times of uncertainty and stress, is paramount. After all, employees are the key asset of any organisation.

ELMO Wellbeing

ELMO Software is the most preferred HR, payroll & expense management software provider in Australia, compared to our competitors. And when people choose ELMO, they rarely think of switching. In fact, almost 70% of our customers say they’re unlikely to change their HRIS provider within the next 12 months.*

With a highly configurable product that can be tailored to suit your business, industry-leading security practices, and a supportive implementation process, it’s no wonder more people prefer – and stick with – ELMO.

Visit our website to learn more about ELMO’s product and how our software can help your business.

*YouGov findings are based on the survey responses from 347 HR decision makers in Australian businesses with 50+ employees. Responses were collected in March 2023.