The stress of the pandemic made us much more aware of the need to take good care of our mental health—both in our personal and professional lives. Workplace stress is often a major contributor to mental health issues, so in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing seven ways your organization can support employees’ mental wellness.
The importance of supporting mental health in the workplace.
As employers, managing and supporting mental health in the workplace should be one of our top priorities—especially right now. Employees are experiencing high levels of stress and burnout, and many women are continuing to leave the workforce altogether. But while these things can impact areas like time off, productivity, retention rates, and more, there are other mental health issues in play here as well. Some may be pre-existing, but other mental health concerns are just beginning to crop up for many people, such as depression, anxiety, mental exhaustion, social anxiety, fear of returning to an office setting, and many other issues. It’s our job as employers to help our populations navigate these issues—new or not—so that they can get the support they need.
Supporting mental health at work doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are seven actionable things you can do at your organization to help your employees’ mental health:
1. Offer robust mental health benefits.
As you design benefits offerings for next year, take stock of mental health benefits and consider adding or augmenting with:
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Over the past year, EAP vendors have streamlined the referral process for counseling benefits, and many employers have increased the number of free counseling sessions for employees and their family members. EAPs also offer assistance with financial concerns and caregiving—two of the most common sources of stress in employees’ lives.
Tele-mental health visits.
If your plan doesn’t offer these yet, it’s time to add them. Allowing participants to meet with counselors in ways that are most convenient for them—video, text, or via phone—removes a massive barrier to getting care.
Onsite mental health counselors.
While some employees may be concerned about privacy, others will appreciate the convenience factor. Having dedicated counselors onsite also sends a powerful signal that your organization is prioritizing employee mental health.
While not necessarily a mental health benefit, offering sufficient paid time off—including sick time—allows employees to care for a sick family member or manage a personal crisis without adding more undue stress by having to work that day, too. If you do want your employees to use mental health days, consider keeping it separate from your standard vacation bucket so they know that you support them taking time off for mental health, just as they would if they were physically ill. This way, they’ll feel more comfortable taking time to go to mental health appointments or simply disconnect, rest and recharge for a little bit.
If you do decide to add solutions, remember that communication is key; employees have to know about the mental health benefits you provide in order to use them. Make sure to actively promote your offerings using multiple communication channels—think short “Did you know?” videos on the intranet, a message channel to answer common questions about the EAP, announcements encouraging people to take mental health days, or a spotlight on mental health services in your next virtual town hall.
2. Create an organizational culture that embraces self-care.
Leaders and co-workers sometimes unintentionally send subtle messages that self-care is indulgent, rather than something we need for our mental wellness. Here are a few ideas to normalize self-care:
Designate a self-care day.
Encourage employees to post a self-care selfie on workplace social media. Acts of self-care don’t have to be big to make an impact—think a special cup of tea, a 5-minute stretch break, 10 minutes to sit on a park bench and do nothing.
Hold a company-sponsored “mental health retreat.”
Allow employees to take the afternoon off on a summer Friday for a mental health break. Kick off the break with a group yoga or mindfulness session.
Teach employees to maintain regular “work hours” and establish norms around answering emails on nights and weekends. Give employees permission to designate “unavailable” time for focused work; create drop-in hours for group projects; and cluster meetings on certain days to allow for focus time on other days.
Reduce the stigma of taking time off.
Fully unplugging during a vacation—even if it’s a staycation—is one of the best ways to reduce stress and restore mental wellness. Sometimes it takes a manager’s tap on the shoulder to get employees to take the time they deserve.
3. Empower leaders to normalize conversations about mental health.
When leaders openly discuss mental illness, it has a big impact on reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace. There are lots of ways the organization can enable leaders to be more open about mental health:
- A personal video, intranet article, or social media post—anything to show that it’s normal to experience mental health concerns.
- Training and tools for managers that teach empathy, how to spot mental health concerns on their team, and direct people to the right resources.
- Modeling good mental health practices themselves, like setting boundaries, making time for self-care, and using paid time off.
- Regularly using the phrase “It’s OK to not be OK.”
4. Provide access to mental health tools.
There are now a plethora of tools and apps to support mental health. Consider offering:
- Free access to popular mindfulness and meditation programs or guided sessions conducted by a health coach or wellness champion.
- A stress management course as part of your learning and development curriculum.
- Onsite or virtual yoga or tai chi classes, which have proven mental health benefits.
- Resiliency training, or a primer on resiliency practices, such as 5-minute journaling; beauty breaks to look at something pretty and destress; setting a daily intention; and practicing gratitude.
- Instructional videos on progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises.
5. Support physical health.
Eating well and exercising are linked to better mental health, so make sure your organization provides resources to improve physical health, too: health coaching, fitness programs, weight loss programs, sleep apps, nutrition counseling, and disease management programs. Being good to our bodies benefits our minds, too!
6. Promote social connections.
Loneliness is now considered a health risk that could lead to all sorts of serious problems down the road, like heart disease, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Employers can play a role in keeping employees socially connected through:
Employee resource groups.
These give like-minded employees a chance to share and connect on common topics, like parenting, hobbies, social justice, and other subjects.
Community service and volunteering.
It’s no secret that doing good makes you feel good, so provide opportunities for teams to come together in service to the community. Choose an organization that matches your company’s mission or a local cause that could use the help. Giving back is especially important to younger generations, who also tend to have a higher expectation that their employer will provide opportunities to give back to the community.
7. Don’t overlook the physical workspace.
A healthy physical workspace has also been linked to better mental health. Whether your work environment is in-person, virtual, or a mix of both, make sure to focus on elements like: proper lighting, soothing wall colors, green plants, good air quality and flow, exposure to natural light, ergonomic desks and chairs for good musculoskeletal health, and sit-stand desks for employees who want them.
The pandemic gave us a unique opportunity to shine a bright light on the importance of mental health in the workplace. As we navigate new changes yet again, employers who continue to provide support for mental wellness and create an organizational well-being culture that normalizes mental health will have an advantage in securing and retaining the best talent. For more information on how your organization can better support employee mental health, visit our website or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.