The stress and uncertainty created by the Covid pandemic have brought employee mental wellness into the spotlight. An article from Deloitte Insights advocates for "the health-savvy CEO," one who recognizes that "stakeholder health is a personal responsibility that can drive performance, relationships, and brand." According to SHRM, a study from October 2021 shows that 86% of executives consider "mental health, stress and burnout" a high priority.
In part one of this two-part article, I shared four tips for supporting employee mental and emotional health. Here in part two, I'll provide another four. Before I do, however, I'd like to share some compelling reasons why employers need to assume greater responsibility for supporting employee mental well-being.
Offering mental health programs and resources can help companies attract and retain top talent. Attitudes toward work are changing, with many people considering well-being an integral part of career success. According to a 2021 Limeade survey, mental wellness was a significant factor in the Great Resignation. They found that most employees who left jobs were feeling burned out and went to companies that invest in employee well-being.
A 2021 study by the National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago suggests that employers who invest in employee mental health can realize a return of $4 for every $1 invested. Here, then, are four more tips on how to promote mental and emotional well-being in the workplace.
Walk The Walk
Your leaders should be champions of employee mental health, but they also need to walk the walk. When executives share their own experiences and struggles with stress, burnout and other issues, it helps remove the stigmas. Some may see vulnerability as a sign of weakness, but most people recognize that it takes a good deal of strength to open up. When you share, you give others "permission" to share their own concerns.
To be clear, I'm not saying that leaders and managers should become therapists. It's really just about sharing what they are doing to manage stress. They might let people know that they take two or three "me time" breaks each day to recharge. If a manager attends therapy, encourage them to let people know. Take 10 minutes at the next staff meeting and ask people to share how they manage stress and prevent burnout. It's about sharing that you prioritize mental health—not necessarily sharing personal issues.
Train Managers To Respond Effectively
Managers are in a particularly challenging position. On one hand, their direct contact with employees puts them in a place to help identify issues and point employees toward resources. On the other hand, they are facing many of the same mental health challenges. In addition, they may focus on their team's performance and well-being to the extent of ignoring their own well-being.
Managers might need help in the form of coaching so they can recognize the symptoms of mental health issues. They should learn how to effectively approach employees and how to listen to employee concerns without judgment. They should know how best to refer an employee to available resources.
Offer Mental Health Benefits And Resources
Most healthcare benefit plans include mental and behavioral health options. Your company may be seeing an increase in the use of those benefits. A 2021 survey by Kaiser Family Foundation found that 39% of employers have updated or expanded the mental health benefits they offer since the start of the pandemic. A strong plan will include access to out-of-network providers and telehealth options.
Consider expanding your employee assistance program (EAP). According to SHRM (login required), a good EAP offers support, counseling and referrals via multiple contact channels (phone, websites, in-person, etc.). One of the biggest reasons people left the workforce during the pandemic was that they had others at home, including children and older adults, who needed care. Given that, a good EAP should offer resources regarding childcare, parenting and older adult care. It also should provide support with other Covid-impacted areas, such as relationship management, career coaching and financial coaching.
Embed Mental Wellness In Your Culture
If you follow the tips already outlined here and in part one of this blog, you'll be well on your way to promoting a mental-health-friendly atmosphere in your company. There are a few other simple steps you can take.
Check-in with employees regularly. I'm not talking about project updates or performance reviews, but about asking your direct reports how they're doing. In a 2021 global study by Qualtrics, 38% of employees stated that no supervisor ever asked them that question. Further, members of this group were 38% more likely to state that their mental health had declined since the pandemic started.
Over-communicate, but don't over-meet. Let employees know about organizational changes and clarify policies around work arrangements. Employee engagement is fragile these days, and you don't want to blindside people. Maintain transparency and be intentional about how you share news. One caveat here is that people will burn out if you hold too many meetings. You can use email, newsletters and other platforms to communicate.
Encourage informal support groups. Most likely, multiple employees are dealing with the same or similar issues. Encourage people to share their experiences with one another. You can use communication platforms like Slack or Teams to create chat rooms for people working through childcare issues, stress management and other common challenges.
Establish fun breaks. Laughing and smiling produce endorphins, the feel-good hormones, so encourage employees to take a 15-minute break to do fun things together. It could be games or icebreaker-type activities, and the activities can be done virtually. The important thing is to help people "get out of their heads" for a few minutes.
A focus on employee mental health is simply good business. How will your investments pay off?