The Disability Mindset: How to Prevent It With a Culture of Acceptance and Support

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Dan Jolivet
Fostering a supportive workplace and creating a culture that's accepting of employees with behavioral health issues can be the third piece of the disability mindset puzzle.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of providing accommodations to employees with behavioral health conditions. Let’s expand upon that with how to create a culture of acceptance and support, which can be equally important.

Creating a Supportive Workplace

If you’ve already worked to prevent the preconceived notions that hinder employees from remaining in or returning to work (more on that here) and are educated on the accommodations that you can provide to help, what’s next?

Fostering a supportive workplace and creating a culture that’s accepting of employees with behavioral health issues can be the third piece of the puzzle. Here are a few ways to create it.

Use Your Resources — Work With a Disability Carrier

A disability carrier may be able to assist in return-to-work and stay-at-work support, particularly in terms of setting up a formal return-to-work program. Comprehensive programs, such as the Workplace PossibilitiesSM program, can help identify employees before a disability claim is filed and assist an employer with implementing accommodations proactively.

Be Proactive — Remind Employees of Available Benefits

Early assistance can be all the help some employees need to address their condition before it requires a disability leave. It’s important to remind employees what benefits are available to them, including an employee assistance program (EAP), wellness program or health concierge services. Providing regular lunch and learns with vendors, putting up posters in breakrooms or sending emails can help employees who may have forgotten or aren’t aware of available services.

Don’t Fear Communication — Reach Out to Employees on a Disability Leave

For employees out on leave, it’s important for an employer to maintain contact. I often hear employers say that they don’t want to intrude or don’t know what to say to an employee on leave with a behavioral health diagnosis. However, regular communication — even if it’s a simple “we believe in you and want you back” — can prevent an employee from becoming isolated and thinking that their employer has written them off entirely. This also allows for an open line of communication for an employer to understand where an employee may be in their recovery.

Proof That It Really Works

To see this approach in action, consider this example. A state public administration group implemented a stay-at-work/return-to-work program that included better coordination and communication of available employee resources, accommodations for employees with behavioral health conditions, transitional work support, manager training and efforts to shift the group culture to be more inclusive of those with mental health issues. After four years, the group’s average short-term disability duration for behavioral health claims was more than 40 percent lower than the average duration of similar groups.

By understanding mental health conditions in the workplace, addressing and preventing the underlying biases, providing helpful accommodations and, finally, creating a culture of acceptance and support, you can help employees overcome the “disability mindset.” And in doing so, your company can see results like lower average disability leave durations and, ultimately, a happier and more productive workforce.