Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a shift in employee behavior, engagement, and job satisfaction. Prioritizing employee mental health is more important now than ever. Based on a 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, 76 percent of people reported experiencing one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, with 56 percent of respondents experiencing burnout.
“The pandemic has placed undue stress upon employees and mental health needs to be a priority in the workplace because if not, turnover will increase, burnout will increase, and productivity will decrease,” according to Lynn Berger, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Career Coach. “Focusing on your employees’ mental health and training your managers to support their employees can enhance your employees’ well-being, resilience, and engagement, and their loyalty to your organization.”
Mental health issues, like stress and anxiety, are at an all-time high in the workplace and 50 percent of full-time U.S. workers have left a previous role due, at least in part, to mental health reasons. While workplace mental health has traditionally been the responsibility of HR teams, it’s now vital for organizations to take a top-down approach to reduce stress and burnout. Here are six strategies to promote mental health in the workplace.
How to prioritize mental health
Start the conversation
One of the easiest and best ways to let your employees know you care about their mental health is to be open and communicative about mental health-related issues. While every team member is entitled to their privacy, encourage managers to talk to their team members about how they’re feeling, their workload, work-life balance, and how engaged they feel with their work and their team. Remind managers to encourage team members to seek help if needed and highlight company resources for mental health support. It has become much more common to discuss mental health problems at work, based on a survey from Harvard Business Review, nearly two-thirds of respondents talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year.
“I recommend that managers check in with their employees more often; especially if their employees are performing remote work,” Berger says. “The benefits include a happier and more fulfilled employee and reduce the cost of excessive turnover.”
Create internal groups or task forces
A dedicated mental health group for employees is an invaluable resource for information, education, and support. These groups allow team members to communicate about mental-health-related issues and share their experiences in a safe, supportive space. These groups can be structured using a tiered approach to maximize participation by the general workforce, while not forcing anyone too far out of their comfort zone.
For example, at WorkRamp, team members, Jen Scopo and Annie Pearson the leads of our Mental Health Employee Resource Group (ERG), moderate two separate Slack channels. The first is a general #mental-health channel that is open to any employee to join or view. This is the primary channel where team members share resources, events and announcements, and encouraging and inspirational messages.
“It’s become more and more important to me over the years as I’ve started my own family to take personal ownership over my mental health so I’m fully present for my family and can help them to the best of my ability. Leading this ERG presented a great opportunity for me to bring that mindset to others and guide as many people as I can to find their path.”
-Jen Scopo, Instructional Design Manager, WorkRamp
The second space is a closed, private channel that requires admittance by one of the ERG leads. We call this the “Brave Space” channel and encourage members to share their personal struggles, ask deeper questions, and tackle more difficult issues. In order to be permitted to join the “Brave Space,” an employee must request access to the required training guide/course that outlines the group’s “rules of engagement,” sets the context for respect and sensitivity, and provides guidelines on how to post in the “Brave Space” (using “Trigger Warnings,” etc.).
Employees that participate in the Mental Health ERG, whether in the public space or private channel, regularly express their gratitude for mental health resources and support in the workplace. We’re all dedicated to destigmatizing mental health struggles, and instead, commit ourselves to prioritizing health and supporting one another as people first.
I was excited to join as a lead for WorkRamp’s Mental Health ERG because, unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health still exists in many workplaces. WorkRamp’s Mental Heath ERG provides a space to fight that stigma and, most importantly, this is a space in which our employees are able to receive extra support.”
-Annie Pearson, Talent Coordinator, WorkRamp
It’s important to note that neither the leads or members of these groups are mental health professionals and these ERGs, or similar groups, should not be used as a substitute for professional care.
Read more: How to Create Employee Resource Groups to Support Team Members
Encourage employees to take time off
Employees need time to unplug and recharge so offering a generous PTO package can help them do just that. Due to more employees working from home and travel restrictions, however, some employees are reluctant to take time off.
Challenge your leadership team to take time off and model this behavior for other team members. You can also incorporate other types of out-of-the-office perks like Flex or Summer Fridays, where team members can take a half-day during the summer, or offer employees mental health or self-care days.
At WorkRamp, we offer Half-Day Fridays the first and third Friday of each month to let team members sign off early and enjoy the day ahead of the weekend. We encourage employees to take time off with unlimited PTO. In addition, we offer one Self-Care Day per quarter where employees receive $50 to use towards a self-care activity, and we encourage employees to share a picture from their day off in a dedicated Slack channel.
“We not only encourage employees to use their Self-Care Days, but we also celebrate the ways they choose to treat themselves by highlighting photos at our weekly All-Hands meetings.”
-Sam Popcke, Senior People Success Manager, WorkRamp
Offer flexible work options
Working in an office 40 hours a week is no longer the norm and may not be ideal for some employees. When team members were forced to work from home in 2020, many found that they prefer remote or hybrid work options. “Now that the pandemic is slowing down, people are not willing to sacrifice that balance after finally achieving it,” says Samantha Newton, LCSW. “Many companies offer remote work and it may not be difficult to find a remote job now if someone really wants one. Employers can show that they genuinely care about the well-being of their staff by promoting that work-life balance.”
Flexible hours can also help employees feel like they have a better work/life balance and may even increase productivity, according to the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 43 percent of respondents said flexibility in working hours helped them to achieve greater productivity.
While remote and hybrid options can help to increase work-life balance, remote work can also increase isolation among employees. Keep your remote staff engaged by promoting communication and team-building activities to create a sense of belonging in the workplace. At WorkRamp, we have quarterly virtual team-specific bonding activities and quarterly regional in-person get-togethers to help team members stay connected and make sure everyone feels like part of a team.
Build mindfulness activities into the workday
Between meetings, emails, and sales calls, the workday can be hectic and stressful. It may seem counterintuitive to take time to pause and slow down. Practicing mindfulness in the workplace can help to improve communication and reduce conflict among team members. There are many ways to practice mindfulness at work including using a meditation app, listening to calming music, or simply taking a minute or two to breathe deeply and center yourself.
Brianna Lewke, Director of Go-to-Market Enablement at Lyra Health recommends taking a mindful minute to get grounded before meetings or other times during the day. “Practicing mindfulness provides space between the narrative and the reality. It gives us that pause,” she says. “Taking a mindfulness minute gives you a moment to pause and focus on the outcomes of the meeting and where the group is in that moment.”
Lewke shares that practicing mindfulness during the workday helps to bring us back to the present. It can be as simple as pausing after receiving an email vs. reacting right away. Instead, take a breath, re-read the email and understand what the person is saying so you know how to respond.
Promote learning and development
Creating opportunities for your team members to continuously learn and grow is essential to keep them engaged and enable them to succeed professionally. But you can also use learning and development (L&D) to educate employees on the importance of mental health and how to address mental-health-related issues at work.
Create training sessions and courses to educate employees about different aspects of mental health, warning signs, and coping skills. This training material can help employees understand how to communicate and help to remove any stigma about talking about mental health at work. You can customize your training to help different team members address mental health issues in their specific roles.
How to prioritize mental health in the workplace
Prioritizing your team members’ mental health can create a more positive work environment, establish trust, and help employees feel supported at work. According to the Mental Health at Work Report, employees who felt supported by their employer with their mental health were 3x more likely to feel comfortable talking about mental health at work and 5.6x more likely to trust their company and its leaders.
While it’s important to offer resources for mental health as part of your benefits package, it’s also essential to incorporate effective strategies to address mental health on an ongoing basis.
Prioritizing employees’ mental health can help you create an environment where team members feel safe and supported. It’s important to tackle these issues with a multi-faceted strategy and combine multiple methods to support employees and promote mental health in the workplace.
Want to learn more about how you can use WorkRamp to create mental health training for your team? Contact us to schedule a free demo.
Note: In this article, we share strategies to promote mental health and well-being in the workplace but we are not mental health professionals and this is not a replacement for mental health resources such as therapy, psychiatry, etc. Our content is to be used for general informational purposes only and you are urged to consult a professional practitioner concerning your individual situation and any specific questions you may have.
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Maile Timon is WorkRamp’s Content Strategist. She has more than 11 years of experience in content marketing and SEO and has written for several publications and industries, including B2B, marketing, lifestyle, health, and more. When she’s not writing or developing content strategies, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her family.
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