/ April 16, 2021

Thrive in Your Workplace: A workplace mental health champion

A workplace mental health champion For the hard-working staff at UnLocal, a community-centered nonprofit that serves New Yorkers across the five boroughs, exposure to their clients’ trauma is part of the job.

UnLocal provides free legal services for immigrant communities – with a special focus on supporting New York City’s undocumented immigrants. Fifteen team members educate people on their rights, and advocate on their behalf for asylum and other legal protections. They fight every day to keep families from being torn apart by deportation and detention. It is intense work that takes an emotional toll.

“Within our work in immigration legal services, we are at the forefront of daunting and challenging issues, which include working with asylum seekers and those who have been exposed to intense trauma, says Michael Younker, Supervising Attorney for UnLocal. “This important work has a great impact on our advocates and staff as they work in this challenging environment daily.”

That’s why the UnLocal leadership team was excited to partner with Thrive in Your Workplace. Executive Director Michele Lampach and Supervising Attorney Michael Younker care deeply about the mental health of their employees. Even before the partnership, the organization had supportive mental health programs in place – including a strong health benefits package and free therapy offered through the William Alanson White Institute. Still, UnLocal’s leadership team wanted to do more for their employees.

Thrive in Your Workplace’s expert team worked closely with UnLocal to understand their specific strengths and needs, and recommend tailored, achievable workplace mental health strategies. The recommendations for UnLocal included a focus on vicarious trauma, the emotional and psychological impact of working with traumatized clients – a common challenge among social service providers.

“UnLocal employees are front line responders for immigrant families in crisis, so there is a pressing need for ongoing mental health support for staff,” said Rachael Steimnitz, Senior Manager for Program Implementation. “Thrive in Your Workplace was able to help the leadership team incorporate evidence-based tactics for reducing the negative effects of vicarious trauma into their work, including open communication, supportive supervision, and specific training.”

In the months following, as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health needs across the city, the Thrive in Your Workplace team provided free technical assistance to help Unlocal’s leadership team implement new strategies to reduce vicarious trauma. In July 2020, they were officially recognized by ThriveNYC as a Workplace Mental Health Champion. Today, the work continues.

“Through all this learning we have updated a COVID policy that specifically addresses the mental health impacts of this pandemic,” Michael Younker says. “UnLocal has always stressed the health of our advocates and with the assistance of Thrive in Your Workplace we have been able to implement various recommendations and continue to make mental health a priority and a major focus area of our work by listening to the needs of our staff, updating policy on a regular basis and remaining informed on these issues as much as we can.”

Community mental health program: Thrive in Your Workplace

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Thrive in Your Workplace offered remote technical assistance and training to employers and employees to help them address mental health needs. This included the publication of the COVID-19 Mental Health Guide for Employers as well as ten new workplace mental health virtual trainings. Learn more about the program and its impact here.