As workplaces — and society, for that matter — increasingly address mental health, one employment law attorney has a request for HR professionals: Watch the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, a comedy about a soccer coach of the same name.
“It is a masterclass in leadership,” Michael Cohen, partner at Duane Morris, told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference June 13. The show has, “in a meaningful way, started to destigmatize and demystify the reality of mental illness in the workplace,” he said.
And with the stresses brought by the coronavirus pandemic, that’s needed more than ever, he explained. If an organization is not making strides right now — “like, right now” — to ensure employees know the company appreciates what’s going on in the world, productivity and retention will suffer. “This isn’t progressive thinking anymore,” he said. “This is baseline.”
To that end, Cohen, who also coaches softball and goes by “Coach Mike,” at times channeled the earnestness of Coach Lasso and offered the HR conference’s attendees four ways to support workers’ mental health.
Talk about it
If employers don't talk about the situation, it’s not going to get better, Cohen said; “We need these conversations.” Employers may not be able to completely eliminate depression, burnout and the like, but they can alleviate some of it, he said.
Employees who feel like their mental health is supported at work are far more likely to perform well, he continued. Paying attention to these needs and engaging in discussion about them isn’t really optional, he said; “this is sort of beyond debate.”
Review policies, benefits
Employers can update policies to communicate that mental health should not be an afterthought. Modify a reasonable accommodation policy to clarify that it applies to mental health, he suggested, or make clear that employees are expected to take time off and unplug.
The same goes for benefits: Evaluate what mental health benefit use actually costs employees, Cohen said. If an employer is providing mental health care benefits but services are only covered at 10%, it is “not really providing any kind of meaningful benefit at all,” he said.
Mental health support will require some training for managers, Cohen said. For example, they need to know that if an employee asks for time off to attend appointments for their child’s mental illness, that could trigger the Family and Medical Leave Act. “If your managers don't know, we can't do our thing, can we?” he said to the audience of HR pros. “It is incumbent upon us as people leaders to discuss with our managers what they need to do.”
It’s also crucial that managers understand the importance of inclusive language, he said. People leaders shouldn’t be making jokes about having PTSD, for example, if they do not actually have that impairment. HR must ensure managers are not denigrating the importance of mental illness, he said; likewise, managers should know that if an employee makes a request for accommodation and it doesn’t seem feasible, HR will still want to engage in the interactive process and try to come up with a solution.
Watch Ted Lasso
Returning to Ted Lasso, Cohen again pitched the show’s usefulness for HR professionals and other people managers: “Twenty-two episodes, roughly 11 hours,” he said. “Watch it.”
“Become a better leader; I promise you it will happen. Become a better person; I promise you it will happen,” Cohen continued. “I’ve become a better coach. I’ve become a better leader. I've become a better human being because I take lessons from that show every time I watch it. And after you do it,” he joked, “send me an email and say ‘thank you.’”