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Promoting Emotional Wellness in the Workplace

Workplace stress and burnout are major contributors to mental health concerns among U.S. citizens. In fact, experts say employers lose nearly 550 million workdays per year as a result of stress on the job. Employers thus have a big role to play in helping employees when it comes to their mental health—even more so now as we navigate the stresses of a global pandemic. In this week’s blog, we discuss ways employers can support emotional and psychological well-being for employees in the workplace.

The pandemic changed the way we view mental health in the workplace—hopefully for good.

Norms around discussing mental health at work were starting to shift, but the pandemic quickly solidified the change. Employees suddenly found themselves having difficult conversations with their managers about previously taboo topics—like childcare, living arrangements, health risks, and relationships—opening the door to future conversations about mental wellness.

Why emotional wellness in the workplace is important.

Organizations also became more accepting of the fact that job performance and mental health are inextricably linked. When one suffers, so does the other, which is why emotional wellness offerings should be part of overall workplace well-being programs. Employers now understand that ignoring the mental wellness of their employees puts them at serious risk for burnout, increased absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher turnover. And that translates directly to the bottom line.

Lastly, there is no longer any doubt that employees want their employers to provide support for mental health. Research we conducted last year found that 7 in 10 employees feel their employer should offer mental and emotional health programs. When we looked at the data by generation, we found that 80% of Gen Zers and 69% of millennials agree mental health should be supported in the workplace.

Now that we’ve had this reckoning, what can organizations and managers do to continue to promote emotional wellness at work? We have a few suggestions:

1. Help employees create better boundaries.

The boundaries between work and life are even more blurred than they were before. To protect mental health, organizations need to facilitate norms around work:

  • Encourage employees to set and communicate regular working hours, and block their calendars for self-care or focus time.
  • Consider sending reminders to shut down at a reasonable hour and schedule “quiet periods” when employees refrain from sending or replying to emails.
  • Reevaluate time off and vacation policies so that employees are incentivized to take time off regularly. Possibly schedule mandatory company-wide “holidays” to encourage R&R.

2. Make sure leaders model healthy mental wellness.

As the saying goes, it starts at the top!

  • Senior leaders should become comfortable addressing mental health in all-employee forums like town halls. This helps to normalize the topic even more.
  • Managers can role-model healthy mental wellness by setting work boundaries for themselves, engaging in proven stress-reducing practices like exercise and mindfulness, and being open about their own mental health concerns where it makes sense.
  • Managers should hold weekly check-ins with team members about what’s on their plate professionally and personally—provided employees are comfortable sharing. A regular cadence of check-ins and showing empathy and compassion in these discussions can help spot mental health concerns before they become more significant struggles.

3. Ensure psychological safety.

Ensuring employees feel “psychologically safe” at work is an area of employee emotional health that we hear more about these days. Psychological safety is the shared belief held by team members that others will not embarrass, reject, or punish anyone for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

It’s the kind of environment that allows employees to take risks and feel comfortable being themselves at work. Not surprisingly, such an environment reduces stress, leading to better mental health. The presence or absence of psychological safety also influences how comfortable employees are speaking up about mental health issues and seeking care when they need it.

This concept will become even more important as we navigate our return to the workplace after the pandemic. There are many mixed emotions about heading back into the office, and workplaces will need to respect each individual’s comfort level. We’ll also need to ensure that those who remain remote are included in meetings and events where most attendees are in-person. Fortunately, more than a year on Zoom has taught us a few skills on how to be inclusive in a virtual setting!

4. Offer proven programs and benefits to support mental wellness.

Employers quickly realized that employees needed more than just medical plan behavioral health benefits and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) during the pandemic. This prompted a new and refreshed array of mental health initiatives, programs, and activities like:

  • A reimagined EAP with easier scheduling and more free counseling sessions for employees and their family members.
  • Access to a well-being coach to discuss anything that’s causing stress at work.
  • Child or elder care assistance—a massive source of stress for employees.
  • Fitness programs, whether virtual or onsite—as physical activity is a known mood-booster.
  • Free mindfulness, meditation, and sleep apps.
  • Help limiting screen time and reducing social media consumption.
  • Programs to increase mental health literacy in the employee population and even mental health first aid certifications.
  • Stress management and resilience training programs.
  • Tele-mental health visits and onsite counselors for those in the office.
  • Training and tools for managers become more empathetic, spot mental health concerns on their team, and direct people to the right resources.
  • Ways to stay socially connected through community service and employee resource groups.

A good well-being program helps employees live healthier across all the dimensions of well-being, and emotional health is a huge component. Offering robust care for mental health will become a differentiator for employers who are looking to attract and retain the best talent. For more information on how your organization can better support employee mental health, visit our website or contact us at connect@webmd.net.

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