It’s common to hear a company describe its team as a family. If that’s the case, you don’t want to let a member of yours struggle go unnoticed.
With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers started to report increased feelings of stress or burnout due to work. A recent report from Indeed showed that 52% of respondents reported feeling burnt out, an almost 10% increase from the same survey conducted before the pandemic.
Employers can help prevent these feelings of stress, burnout, or depression in their workplaces by becoming attuned to their team’s wellness. More and more, employers are increasing emphasis on their team’s mental health because of the personal and professional benefits of doing so. More than just creating a happier place to work, mental health care can have positive impacts on other aspects of the office, like revenue and productivity.
To help start a mental wellness journey at your workplace, we’ve put together this guide to prioritizing employee mental health.
Workplace Mental Health Statistics
Employee mental health has come to the forefront as the business world has changed, including an emphasis on new workflows and a migration to remote work. We’ve compiled a few workplace mental health statistics to provide some insight.
- Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time. (Source)
- 90% of employees report that workplace stress affects their mental health. (Source)
- Four out of five employees say their work is emotionally draining. (Source)
- Workplace stress accounts for 120,000 deaths and $190 billion in healthcare costs per year. (Source)
- 35% of people feel worried about retaliation from their employer if they seek mental health care. (Source)
- Almost 800 million people worldwide are living with a mental health disorder. (Source)
Why Is Focusing on Mental Health at Work Important?
First and foremost, an emphasis on mental health in the workplace can show your employees that you care for them and can help them be more comfortable and happy at work. As more and more, employees report feeling burnt out and stressed both in and outside of work, showing that you care for them can help reduce some of that stress.
In addition to personal care for your employees, neglecting mental health care can impact employee performance and, therefore, revenue. According to leadership development platform BetterUp, a lack of emphasis on mental health can result in:
- High turnover rates
- Disengaged employees
- Safety liabilities
- Low productivity
- Decreased profit
The simple fix? Implement policies that foster mental health at work. A combination of physical, mental, and emotional benefits can improve employee wellbeing and lead to an overall happier and more productive workplace.
Physical benefits are actions taken to improve the active lifestyle or workload of your employees. Things like time off and wellness events fall into this category.
Let’s face it: employees typically aren’t productive on Friday afternoon as they start to anticipate the weekend. Instead of making your employees sit at their desks feeling antsy, end the workday a few hours early on Fridays. This will give them something to look forward to throughout the week while also giving them a healthy work/life balance. Plus, it shows you trust them to get their work done even with early office closure.
Andrew Helling, founder and editor of real estate magazine REthority, has applied this practice with his team. He emphasizes the freedom to let your team do what they want with their free hours: “Allow them to think about what they want to do with their time. Some people will organize their own vacations, while others will be content to avoid traffic or watch a movie in the afternoon.”
Assist With Childcare
Childcare can be a stressor for working parents, especially when unexpected days off arise or they’re heading back to the office in-person after working remotely for a bit. Childcare assistance can help take a potentially stressful financial load off of working parents while giving them peace of mind that their children are taken care of while they’re working. Overall, this can help improve working parents’ mental health by easing their stress.
Alex Mastin, CEO of coffee business Home Grounds, emphasizes the importance of increasing comfort levels for working parents: “Removing the stigma surrounding working parents being unprofessional for having their children in the background of a Zoom meeting or taking vacation days for school concerts can make a huge difference to employee mental health,” he said. “Regarding policies, introducing family-friendly policies such as flexible working hours, childcare allowances, or even education funds can reduce the pressure placed on employees in today’s fast-changing environment.”
Generous or Unlimited PTO
Being generous with paid time off (PTO) can help your employees feel confident about taking days when they need them by reducing the anxiety around running out of available PTO days. Some companies have even made PTO unlimited, where there isn’t a certain limit to PTO and instead it is up to the manager and employee to decide together.
According to Amber Morland, CEO of password recovery software WinCope, a successful unlimited PTO policy comes down to trust and a shift in mindset. “Of course, this requires you, as a business owner, to change your mindset and think about productivity in terms of activities accomplished rather than hours worked,” she said.
Non-set working hours can provide flexibility for employees who might need to start late due to childcare or appointments, leave the computer for a few hours midday to focus on their health, or can’t work a traditional eight-hour day for any other reason. Essentially, providing flexible hours means giving employees a window during which they can start, or letting them work at their own pace so long as they reach eight hours per day.
Gerrid Smith, CMO of CBD company Joy Organics, said flexible hours are a benefit, not a hindrance on work quality. “Giving your staff scheduling flexibility and the ability to create their own schedules will not only relieve them, but it will also likely result in increased productivity because employees will be able to work when they are least distracted,” he said. “Flexibility in scheduling does not imply a reduction in quality. Giving your team members the freedom to determine their own schedules will almost certainly help them work more productively. It also demonstrates that you believe in your staff, which allows them to believe in themselves and be more confident in their work.”
Reinforce Realistic Working Hours
It can be hard for employees to set their own boundaries when it comes to work, especially in fast-paced business environments. Instead of applauding working after hours and always being available, make sure to monitor your employees’ work habits to make sure they aren’t working late too often. Not only does working late negatively impact your employees’ mental health, but it can also be a detriment to the quality of work.
David Batchelor, co-founder and president of automated call software Dial My Calls, said “It’s the responsibility of you, the manager, to ensure that employees have the space that they need and never have to make the choice between over-working and resting when they need to be resting. If you delegate work to an employee, don’t expect a yes; actually ask them if they have the time and bandwidth to take on the additional project. Equally, if you need to send out a communication, make sure not to send it outside of working hours — particularly at night when your team should be resting.”
Taking breaks throughout the day has been proven to reduce stress levels, yet having a full plate of work to do can make your employees feel bogged down and unable to walk away. Actively encouraging breaks can get your employees out of that headspace and show them that their productivity isn’t more important than their mental health. You can encourage breaks by asking your employees to take walks, scheduling a morning coffee chat, or leading by example and taking breaks yourself.
Jessica Robinson of blogging platform The Speaking Polymath emphasizes the need for breaks throughout the day: “These brief intervals of relaxation help us calm down and relax. We have
made it a norm in our organization for everyone to take a short 5-minute break after working for around 40 to 50 minutes,” she said. “Further, we have also created a green space where our employees can spend their short breaks because nature has a calming effect on the mind.”
Encourage Mental Health Days
Designated mental health days can help your employees take adequate time off for their own needs while reducing the stigma around needing mental health assistance. Even if they aren’t having a direct mental health crisis, encouraging your employees to take off to recharge after a stressful week or take a half-day if they’re feeling depressed can go a long way. Plus, designating mental health days can help leave days off available for companies that don’t offer unlimited PTO.
Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer at Resume.io, said one day off per month for mental health purposes is a helpful benefit. “If you talk to people, all that many workers are looking for when it comes to better mental health benefits is the ability to take a day off per month to focus on their mental health,” he said. “We have given people paid mental health days in addition to their paid sick days in recognition of the fact that they need to take a mental health day can come about suddenly and may arise when sick days have already been used.”
Mental and emotional benefits are actions taken to encourage the wellbeing of your employees through discussion, therapy, and other emotional work.
Though it might seem simple, open and honest communication can make a huge impact on an employee’s mental health. Regularly ask your employees how they are doing and engage them in conversations that aren’t centered on work. Taking an interest in your employees’ lives and needs can make them feel valued and supported outside of the work they do for your company.
Amanda Royle, co-founder and personnel supervisor at photo editor tool Imgkits, said leading with empathy is a good start: “Your weekly one-on-one meeting should consist of not only work-related discussion, but you also have to ask how they are feeling, be sincere and listen. You might not know the answer, but empathy goes a long way.”
Emphasize Virtual Togetherness
Team communication channels like Slack can be isolating for team members who don’t feel included in the workplace. Instead of using these channels exclusively to check in about work, use them to build bonds between your team. Create channels focused on non-work conversations, specific interests, or expressing gratitude. Whether your team is fully remote and relies on Slack for all communication or if you are in-person but use Slack to supplement face-to-face contact, these channels can help bring the team together.
Elliot Reimers, nutrition coach at Rave Reviews, said these random Slack channels can help the team feel more lighthearted and close. He said: “It’s a good way to keep a positive vibe in the workplace, amid virtual. It also allows us to get to know each other a bit more personally, which helps build connections and trust.”
Provide Free Therapy
Therapy can be beneficial for anyone. And for your employees, it can help them talk through both work- and non-work-related issues that may be impacting their wellbeing on the job. Providing free therapy or financial assistance for therapy can help your employees gain access to this crucial mental health service, specifically those who aren’t able to afford it on top of other day-to-day expenses.
Therapy doesn’t always have to be in person. Andrew Jervis, CEO of mechanic locator Click Mechanic, for example, has set his employees up with access to an online, 24/7 chat portal where they can connect and chat with mental health professionals to work through any problems they’re having.
Weekly Mindfulness Sessions
Mindfulness is the practice of living fully in the moment, recognizing your emotions as valid, and working to feel your emotions without getting overwhelmed or ashamed. At work, mindfulness can help you focus on the tasks at hand and overcome conflict or stress without letting it bother you too much. Designated sessions or classes can help your employees practice mindfulness, which can help them at work but also at home.
David Janssen, CEO of VPN finder VPNoverview, said every company can benefit from slowing down: “Even the most fast-paced companies can take a short vacation to regroup and recharge before returning to their most important duties. Preventing burnout and increasing commitment can both be accomplished by paying extra attention to well-being.”
Micromanagement can make your employees feel like they aren’t trusted or valued at work. When they’re on a deadline, constantly checking in about the work to see how it’s going or when it will be turned in can only add to the stress of the workload. Instead, trust your employees to complete their work and reach out with any questions.
Tyson Stevens, founder of EduRef, said independence starts with reasonable KPIs and deadlines: “Making work as simple as possible is the finest thing a small business can do to assist its employees to keep a good mindset. This entails establishing KPIs, setting appropriate deadlines, and then allowing workers to complete their tasks in their own time. Constantly looking over an employee’s shoulder and watching them leads to poor mental health. Instead, allow folks to work in their own unique style.”
Conduct Anonymous Surveys
Even if your workplace fosters trust and communication, employees may feel uncomfortable answering personal questions or discussing sensitive topics. So if you’re wondering how to start the conversation about mental health and change your work processes accordingly, an anonymous survey can give shy or uncomfortable employees a safe space to discuss their needs or wants.
And as 75% of people said they’re more likely to answer a survey question if the survey is anonymous, conducting a survey anonymously may help you gather more results and get more insights about your company.
Lead By Example
The expression “show, don’t tell” applies to fostering mental wellbeing at your workplace. As much as you say you encourage and support mental health days, taking breaks, open communication, and flexible hours, your employees likely won’t believe it if management frequently works 10-hour days and sends messages on the weekends. You can boost your own mental wellbeing as well as that of your employees by setting an example and practicing your company’s mental health processes.
Shiv Gupta, CEO of digital marketing company Incrementors, said caring for yourself as a business leader is crucial: “If you constantly burn the candle at both ends, your team members will believe that they must do the same. Inform your coworkers when you will take a break to exercise, stretch, or meditate. Inform them of any instances when you will be unavailable because of the necessity to disconnect,” he said. “Take vacations during which you do not work at all. When your team members witness you prioritizing your own mental health, they will perceive it as normal and accepted, and they will be motivated to do the same.”
For more information on prioritizing employee mental health, check out the following infographic.
At the end of the day, prioritizing employee mental health starts with recognizing emotional wellbeing as a critical business factor.
When managing dispersed or remote teams — especially those located around the globe — a strong human resources team can help facilitate support. But when it comes to making mental health a priority, it’s up to the business leader to develop a strong support system.