Caring for Employee Mental Health

Employee workplace well-being has taken a significant hit during the pandemic. 89% of employees of a Harvard Business Review study reported that their well-being had diminished since before COVID-19, 50% of them citing poor mental health as the cause.

While a few employees have stayed in workplaces, 71% of the workforce now works at home in comparison to only 20% in pre-pandemic times as found by Pew Research. This means that the effects of working from home have helped contribute to this increase in poor mental health. Those continuing to attend work in person are mainly essential workers, who have faced tight schedules and work directly to address the COVID-19 pandemic (doctors, nurses), contributing to increased stress levels.

Stressors in the Workplace

Solving the employee mental health crisis has become even more important as we consider nuances such as staying at home that can increase feelings of isolation and fear of the overall pandemic. The main causes of diminished mental health for those working from home include a lack of separation from work and home, increased work demands, poorer communication with colleagues, and limited interpersonal interactions.

Curbing employee stress levels and addressing mental health issues in workplaces are both responsibilities of employers. Though 96% of CEOS feel as if they are doing enough for employee mental health, only 69% of employees share this sentiment as found by a Forbes study. It is important for employers to attempt to bridge this gap and understand the unique mental health concerns of employees at their workplaces.

Healthcare workers may need stress relief and time off, those working virtually may need more bonding activities such as happy hours and game nights, and those in all sorts of professions may need some level of mental health therapy provided by employers. Inspiration for such ideas can come by looking at other companies that have successfully improved employee mental health in recent times.

Company Policies can Prioritize Mental Health

One major form of improving employee mental health is through policy implementation. For example, offering employees unlimited paid time off can significantly decrease pressures associated with taking a break from work, for mental health reasons or even things like family emergencies. It is important for employees to take time off for themselves and this is a successful strategy that is being implemented by Marketitors, a small business SEO marketing company, and has been praised by their employees constantly.

Other policies that can help contribute to improved employee mental health include those that ban internal communications after office hours or even internal communications as a whole of certain types. As of 2014, Volkswagen has banned all internal emails after office hours to help employees set appropriate work-life boundaries. Similarly, Citigroup CEO Jean Fraser recently banned all internal video calls in general, ensuring that employees were only working when necessary and can relax on their own time. These types of policy measures that assess employee problems within the unique workspace and address them directly often make some of the biggest impacts by changing the company culture itself.

Offering Therapy and Mindfulness Resources as a Solution

Another method of addressing employee stress levels is through offering mental health services directly to employees. Mental healthcare is a form of healthcare and the more employers acknowledge this, the faster stigmas around mental healthcare in the workplace can be broken down and access to care can be increased. Some businesses have partnered with mental health care service providers to bring this change

Starbucks has partnered with Lyra Health to bring 20 hours of free therapy or counseling sessions to all employees and eligible family members annually. Employees now get to have access to quality mental healthcare through their company, just like they would have access to medical insurance. Some companies even go beyond this and offer activities like yoga classes

The Headspace App

Another way to bring mental healthcare to employees is through digital platforms. The UK National Health Service partnered with Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, to provide all 1.2 million employees in the company with over 1200 hours of mindfulness content. This has given employees the room to explore lower commitment mental healthcare options all on company costs. I mean if your employer is giving you the stress it makes sense that they help you handle it too.

Starting Discussions to Change the Company Culture

Changing the company culture, though, comes with more than just access to free resources. Starting discussions about mental health throughout the corporate world is what can help employers support employee mental health better and help employees acknowledge their own need for mental health care.

One company that is attempting this is Influence and Co., a marketing agency based in Montana. Influence and Co. is mandating two different types of mental health awareness training, one for management and one for all employees. The management training is focused on teaching higher-level employees how to support positive mental health practices in the workplace and mitigate stress levels. The employee training, on the other hand, is focused more on helping employees access mental health resources and teaching them effective strategies to handle workplace stressors. This type of diversified training helps address the duality of mental health issues in the workplace – both stressors in the working environment and self-induced stress.

Another important channel that companies can use to start discussions about mental health is the voice of executive leaders within the company. When CEOs start discussing personal challenges and experiences with mental health, it sets a precedent for open conversation regarding mental health and helps break down stigmas within the company.

For example the CEO of Culligan Water, a water treating and bottling company, “spoke personally to mental well-being in an all-employee video communication. He shared his mental health activities while encouraging employees to practice self-care and utilize resources”. This type of communication can be very effective in inspiring better habits in employees and showing the company’s alliance with mental healthcare and consideration of mental health in daily operations.

Lastly, improving employee mood can be done with simple activities such as team bonding events, happy hours, and friendly gaming. Any way to connect people in the workplace can automatically improve both social relations and employee mental health through interpersonal interaction.

It is not hard for employers to start taking accountability for the mental health of their employees as workplaces continue to change during this pandemic. Whether it be through conversations about mental health, access to mental health services, or company policies that encourage better practices, employers can make a notable difference in the mental health of many.

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