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Steps to Mental Health Wellness in the Workplace

Elisabeth Duncan, Vice President of Human Resources May 18, 2022

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and a great time for employers to look at how they can help protect and improve the mental health of their workers.

There’s long been a societal stigma around mental health, leading many employees to hide their conditions, and leaving many employees unaware of just how common mental health struggles are. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 20% of U.S. adults experience mental health struggles each year. The pandemic exacerbated the issue, with employees reporting record levels of stress and increased anxiety, depression, burnout, and substance abuse. 

Poor mental health impacts a person’s physical health and overall wellness. It means lost time, lower productivity, poorer organizational performance, and higher turnover at work. While the pandemic had a widespread, negative impact on workers’ mental health, it did raise employers’ awareness and sensitivity to the emotional well-being of their employees. This focus on mental health represents a much-needed change that employers shouldn’t abandon as a short-term response to a temporary crisis. Instead, employers should make it a long-term priority that benefits employers and employees. 

While the pandemic is moving to an endemic stage, employees continue to grapple with both existing and emerging on-the-job stressors, like the impact of The Great Resignation. As many employees call it quits, those left behind must pick up the slack, creating a vicious cycle of burnout and causing even more employees to throw in the towel.

In the future, employers that support employees’ physical, financial, and emotional health will be highly sought after, and the employers of choice among job seekers. Employees increasingly want to work for companies that provide not just a paycheck, but offer holistic care for their workers. 

So how do you build a company culture that supports mental health? Here are some proven ways to prioritize the emotional well-being of your employees.

Create a Company Culture that Prioritizes Emotional Well-Being

Mental health issues are as diverse as your workforce, but providing employees with the support and resources they need goes a long way to keeping them emotionally healthy. Cultivating a culture that values mental health begins with being candid and open about it. 

Ongoing communication is key. As an employer, make it clear that you understand the many mental health struggles that employees may face and that you’re there to provide the support and resources they may need.

In addition, use these practical suggestions to help build an employee-first foundation that demonstrates your commitment to mental wellness:

  • Encourage employees to seek mental health treatment. Remove barriers to care by offering lower-cost benefit options, and providing education about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. 
  • Provide an easy, single point of contact to access benefit programs and resources, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), mental health benefits, and wellness programs.
  • Lead by example by enlisting key leaders to model openness about mental health, such as sharing their struggle with issues like anxiety or depression.
  • Train your managers to regularly–and frequently–meet with employees to see how they’re feeling, and to be alert for red flags that might indicate a potential issue. 
  • Offer sessions focused on improving mental health and reducing stress, such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.
  • Promote mental health initiatives like National Mental Health Awareness Month, National Suicide Prevention Week, and National Depression Screening Day, to spread awareness and acceptance among employees. 
  • Automate and personalize messaging to keep the lines of communication open, and keep employees informed about available mental health resources. 

These tips can help you create a supportive culture that prioritizes mental health, but you also need to build a benefits package to back it up.

Offer Diverse Mental Health Programs and Benefits

Mental health benefits are a crucial recruitment and retention tool. Companies are reassessing their approach to ensure their benefits include a broad range of mental health programs, policies, and apps to appeal to an increasingly discerning talent pool.

To demonstrate your ongoing commitment to the emotional well-being of your employees, consider the following benefits:

  • Offer new employees one or two weeks of paid time off effective day one, rather than requiring them to accrue hours.
  • Allow employees to work hybrid, remote, or flexible hours to accommodate their personal needs.
  • Implement company-wide mental health days. For example, here at Evive we provide two company-wide mental health break days per year.  We find that asking all employees to shut down their computers on the same day allows everyone to take a break without the stress of incoming messages and emails. 
  • Allow employees to use sick time for mental health needs.
  • Form Employer Resource Groups (ERGs) to meet the needs of specific groups within your organization (such as working parents, sustainability, LGBTQIA+, etc.)
  • Offer specialized mental health benefit programs that reduce stress, promote better sleep, and increase mindfulness.
  • Provide employees with a fitness program that encourages healthy habits like eating right and working out.
  • Offer employees benefits like retirement savings programs and financial coaching to improve their financial health and peace of mind.

Carefully selecting benefits and programs to meet the needs of your workforce is essential, but that’s only half the battle. You also need to personalize the employee experience to drive benefits utilization and engagement.

Personalize the Employee Experience

Improving employee emotional health and developing a reputation as an employer that supports a culture of mental health and wellbeing is an intentional process.  Tools such as personalized messaging can help HR teams develop a consistent and effective plan by: 

  • Regularly providing feedback and appreciation to employers, and creating an open-door policy with managers. You might even consider automating management reminders to celebrate successes and give recognition, ensuring that employees feel seen and valued.
  • Formalizing professional development with frequent performance reviews and clearly defined goals. Job uncertainty significantly contributes to on-the-job anxiety, so setting objectives and mapping a potential career path can boost confidence and keep employees motivated and on target.
  • Sending targeted, timely messages about the benefits an employee needs the most. Recommendations regarding relevant mental health benefits and programs, and helpful resources promoting emotional well-being can encourage employees to seek the care they need.

Whatever steps an employer takes to promote emotional well-being, the most important thing is to let employees know that they’re not alone. And by giving each employee the support they need to protect and improve their mental health, employers can create a healthier, happier workforce.