Even in the best of times, many people can struggle with their mental health. And in 2021, we are certainly not in the best of times. Over the course of the last year, we have all been dealing with stressors none of us could have dreamed of even 18 months ago. This is why it is no surprise that more people than ever are struggling with mental health right now.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 84 percent of Americans are dealing with anxiety, sadness, or anger due to a prolonged period of stress. At least some of this prolonged stress for most people comes from their job.
While many companies are already providing mental health support to employees, some are not. Whether your company is already providing this support and is looking to do more, or you are looking for a place to start, here are some actionable steps you can take to support employee mental health.
Provide mental health education
Recognizing mental health issues can be difficult for employees. Education is a key step in helping employees recognize they are struggling. You can provide online resources or talk about these issues in company-wide emails.
One of the best ways to educate your employees though is by bringing in an expert to discuss common work-related mental health issues. This person or group can educate your employees on things like how to exercise more self-care, cutting down on workplace stress, or giving tips and tricks to avoid burnout at work.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
The importance of communication for employee mental health is both general and specific. In general, a lack of communication is commonly cited as a major workplace stressor. A survey by Harvard Business Review found that employees who see their managers as poor communicators are 23 percent more likely to experience poor mental health these days.
Specifically, talking about mental health from the top-down helps destigmatize it and allows employees to engage in open conversations around mental health more freely. The more free-flowing the mental health conversation is in your office, the better chance you have of dealing with mental health issues before they blow up.
Mandate time away from common stressors
Working from home is one of the most common issues cited as particularly stressful by workers today. While many people enjoy some of the benefits of no longer going into the office, it can also take a toll mentally. Constant Zoom meetings, isolation, the blurring of work life and home life, and being away from office culture can cause a great deal of stress.
Encouraging employees to take real, unplugged vacations, occasional mental health days, or even simply designating a day of the week free of virtual meetings can go a long way toward allaying people’s most common work-from-home anxieties.
Offer more mental health services as part of your employee benefits program
Mental health is a very serious issue and oftentimes can’t and shouldn’t be dealt with by non-professionals, even well-intentioned ones. Either adding or highlighting already available mental health services as part of your employee benefits plan is a great way to show how seriously you take mental health. In the same HBR study above, 46 percent of respondents say that their company has not “proactively shared” information about mental health resources.
Employees benefits that support mental health can include therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, and other mental health professionals that are part of your company’s in-network health plan. Ensuring that employees don’t have to use PTO to take advantage of these types of services and offering other benefits like paid bereavement leave will only make employees feel that much more supported.
Company-wide programs are great but manager-level support is crucial
As a company leader, putting in place, and even mandating, the mental health action items above is a great start. The first step toward supporting employees’ mental health is seeing that leadership is committing to do so.
That said, the majority of employees don’t work directly for company leadership — they work for individual managers. If managers within a company aren’t being truly supportive of employee mental health, it can not only undermine the entire program but actually make matters worse for some employees.
Making sure employees are being supported by their individual managers and giving them a direct pipeline to leadership to discuss if they feel they are not is a critical piece in making this work.