5 Ways Companies Can Support Employee Mental Health

by Matt Warnock
Employee Mental Health

Employee mental health has become a high priority for companies across the globe. Practically overnight, the majority of the workforce now works from home. They must adapt to a completely new work environment while also dealing with a myriad of uncertainties around their health, indefinite confinement and an economic downturn.

Social distancing and quarantining are the new normal, and under these conditions, there is a high risk of stress, anxiety, and overall mental instability. In China, for instance, 35% of people*¹ under confinement for a few weeks suffered from some form of psychological distress.

Needless to say, no one is immune to mental hardships. For this reason, HR leaders, managers, and business owners are taking proactive steps to offer a variety of mental health employee resources that help people during these tense times. 

Here are our top five ways you can help your teams feel supported, productive and healthy:

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1. Make Mental Health a Company Initiative

The first step is to prioritize mental health  is to make everyone aware of it and clearly explain how you plan to support mental health as a company-wide initiative. Why should every company focus on employee mental health?

While work usually has a positive effect on mental health, a study by WHO*² found that challenging work environments can lead to both physical and mental health problems that cost the global economy over $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

Employers can create initiatives that educate the wider employee group while making people feel comfortable to talk openly about mental health. These companies are leading by example:

  • EY: Their  “r u ok?” program offers 24/7 counseling sessions and educational tools. The goal is to encourage people to talk about their challenges. They also offer counseling sessions by phone or face-to-face video.
  • American Express: Healthy Minds program provides part-time counselors and professional clinical psychologists to employees.
  • Barclays:  “This is Me” campaign challenged the stigma associated with mental health in the workplace. Barclays wants an environment where employees comfortably speak about their mental health experiences.

2. Create Opportunities for Togetherness

One survey found that over 45% of people working from home*³ struggle with loneliness. It will be especially harder on those employees who previously spent everyday socializing with colleagues but are now suddenly working from home.

Most teams are already using video chat tools like Zoom or Demodesk to conduct meetings, but there should also be company-sponsored ways for employees to socialize beyond work meetings. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Virtual coffee breaks: Create fun daily topics and let employees exchange opinions about life. You can use a chat app like HeyTaco to help spark conversations or Donut to make employee connections easy.
  • Non-work slack channels: Discuss movies, music or anything that your team has a passion for. Employees at MailerLite created a “Questionaday” Slack channel which helped employees engage in new ways.
  • Start a club: Start a book club or other interests groups. Some teams use Facebook live to host realtime get-togethers around their favorite topics.

3. Allow a Healthy Work-Life Balance

It is common for companies to say they support a healthy work-life balance, but then put pressure on employees to reach unrealistic quotas and work late. Providing a healthy balance is critical and it is something that employers must follow-through on.

An easy yet powerful way to stay balanced at work is to take breaks throughout the day. People working from home have to make a conscious effort to unplug, and companies can help by encouraging and reminding them to take breaks. More breaks reduce stress and help prevent burnout*⁴. Here are 3 unique ways companies find a healthy balance:

  1. Offer mental health days: This discretionary leave is meant to focus on an employee’s wellbeing. Yet most people (72%) feel stress requesting time off*⁵, so employers should reinforce the value and provide tips*⁶ on how to spend the day.
  2. Allow flexible work hours: Some people are more productive in the morning, others at night. Let people work when they feel best. Workers who are offered flexible work hours experienced*⁷ deeper satisfaction, less absenteeism, and higher productivity. 
  3. Create “me time”: To raise awareness for mental health more than 60 tech companies, including Lyft and Dropbox, gave their employees*⁸ a “me time” during work hours. Try designating 1 hour per week to give your teams some “me time”.

4. Provide Physical Wellness Programs 

It is well documented that physical fitness helps employee productivity*⁹ and reduce absenteeism, but did you know it also helps regulate mental health?

Exercise can have a positive impact on depression*¹⁰, anxiety*¹¹, and other mental health issues. It helps relieve stress, improves concentration, and boosts your overall energy levels. Physical health and mental health go together. Here is how you can help your employees stay active:

  • Corporate fitness programs: Offer your employees exercise options as part of your benefits package. A service like Urban Sports Club provides over 500 online fitness options to fit all your employee needs. 
  • Remote challenges: A fun team-building activity is to organize monthly wellness challenges. The group events can be tailored for remote work*¹², and there are plenty of possibilities including push-ups, planks, drinking water, eating right, etc.
  • Meditation breaks: Offer relaxation opportunities as well. A meditation app like Tap in provides live sessions*¹³ so you can feel part of a community. You don’t have to relax alone!

5. Get Feedback and Give Recog­ni­tion

The easiest way to support your employees is to ask them how they are doing and give them some undivided attention. It sounds simple, but it is often taken for granted or skipped when work gets too busy. 

Weekly or monthly check-ins are an ideal opportunity to build stronger bonds, encourage employees and establish trust. Beyond discussing work, ask how people are feeling and offer praise and recognition. Try using a personalized feedback tool like 15 Five to learn how your employee is doing before the call. You can also give public recognition using an app like Bonusly where everyone can see each other’s achievements.  
Acknowledgment can have a positive effect on a person’s mental well being. Personal praise from a manager can mat­ter more than mon­ey*¹⁴ while 88% of employ­ees*¹⁵ believe praise from their man­ager is a huge motivator.

Employee Mental Health Matters More Than Ever

An Axios/Ipsos Poll*¹⁶ found that around 80% of respondents are either somewhat or extremely concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak. There are a lot of uncertainties, and according to psychologists, anxiety is a natural response to the unknown.

The question is not whether your employees will experience mental health challenges during this time, but rather what will your organization do to help those people that will need help  during this crisis.


References:

*¹ https://gpsych.bmj.com/content/33/2/e100213
*² https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/
*³ https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/freelancers-experiencing-isolation-and-mental-illness
*⁴ http://info.totalwellnesshealth.com/blog/heres-how-to-spot-burnout-in-the-workplace-and-what-to-do-about-it
*⁵ https://www.nationalmentalhealthbreak.com/
*⁶ https://www.verywellmind.com/when-and-how-to-take-a-mental-health-day-3144754
*⁷ http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/research/detail/1706
*⁸ https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/15/tech/national-mental-health-break-shine/index.html
*⁹ https://www.livestrong.com/article/422836-how-does-exercise-improve-work-productivity/
*¹⁰ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
*¹¹ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/integrative-mental-health-care/201702/treating-anxiety-without-using-prescription-medications
*¹² https://medium.com/@EvelinAndrespok/tips-for-organizing-a-health-challenge-in-a-remote-team-26d93265654a
*¹³ https://qz.com/work/1597138/tap-in-is-a-new-app-for-live-meditation-at-work/
*¹⁴ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mind-the-manager/201306/new-employee-study-shows-recognition-matters-more-money
*¹⁵ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-the-manager/201306/new-employee-study-shows-recognition-matters-more-money
*¹⁶ https://www.axios.com/axios-ipsos-coronavirus-index-stress-72c409d2-0a66-48f1-b736-30d07cfce95b.html

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