Even though mental health awareness has been increasing in society, with campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk and more open conversations, there still is a lot of stigma around it - especially in the workplace. Your managers may know that mental health is as important as physical health, but a piece is often missing in the actions taken inside the workplace.
Encouraging your managers and employees to take steps towards promoting and prioritizing mental health is how to really make change happen. This can start with how conversations and meetings are structured and facilitated, to policies around sick day/care days. You can build out wellness and benefits plans to best support employees. Getting your leadership team to take mental health first aid training can also be a great way to make them well-prepared to interact confidently about mental health topics. This can include topics such as how to reduce stigma, identify signs and symptoms in their staff and how to navigate difficult conversations.
There are many ways for managers to support and help employees with their mental health and many reasons to. Here are some things you can do to kick off caring for your employees' mental health.
Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, consequently determining how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
Mental health can be caused by a variety of factors, big or small. Frustrations are still lingering from the pandemic, there’s an unstable economic environment and increasing environmental concerns. These big factors make mental health problems even more common. Among the employed, the proportion with a mental health-related disability increased by 2.3 percentage points from 2019 (6.4%) to 2021 (8.7%). Although the scale we experience these problems on is highly dependent on the individual, mental health problems are a common experience. Oftentimes, we hear poor mental health and mental illness used interchangeably but they are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience physical, mental and social well-being.
It’s not sufficient to say your organization supports mental health. It’s important to both model it and bring it to action. Managers should take care of themselves, and encourage employees to do the same. This can include creating a culture of disconnecting during sick days or vacation days, using benefits and resources available to you, encouraging financial wellness, implementing flexible work schedules and more.
Encourage your employees to take a vacation and use their benefits plans. Taking time off from work has immense benefits for physical and mental well-being. It can increase life satisfaction, improve mental well-being, reduce heart disease risks and reduce anxiety and depression but many people end up forgoing their vacation benefits. 28% report taking less than half of their allotted vacation time. Make it a priority for your employees to take a vacation and ensure that they don’t feel guilty about it or obliged to check in while they are on vacation.
Take a customized approach to address work situations as different employees have different life stressors and challenges. Some might need a different start time to spend more time with their loved ones or leave work early to pick up their children from daycare on time. Companies these days are being more outwardly vocal about diversity, but there is still a gap between communications and action. Implementing a hybrid work policy, providing inclusive perks and benefits, and leading by example, all contribute to creating an inclusive workplace. Ensure leadership within your organization understands that proactively offering flexible hours and being accommodating doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your standards. Quality of work and output actually increases when employees are happy and not stressed with managing their work-life schedules.
The number one cause of stress for employees is financial. Since the pandemic, more and more companies have become aware of the link between poor financial health and employee wellness. Introducing your employees to resources or webinars on debt reduction, budgeting, financial planning basics, and investing basics can further encourage them to do their own research. Providing access to a qualified professional who can provide information about their unique situation is even better, but may not be within the budget. Your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can also be a financial management tool. Consider creating, or asking your advisor to help create, an employee communication piece identifying the financial wellness features of your firm’s EAP plan.
Asking how someone is feeling goes a long way. Checking in with each of your reports on a regular basis can help create space for conversations. Allow for time during meetings to connect and make it known that you are there to help or provide resources. It’s harder to notice the signs that someone is struggling these days because of remote work, but you can design your meetings to involve questions that help build connections and ensure that your employees know that you are there for them.
It is easier than ever to get access to free and confidential resources. Digital Wellness Programs and Telemedicine provide employees with convenient access to a full suite of support to help promote mental and physical well-being. As a team leader, educate yourself on available resources and find ways to promote them to others. Whether it is offering paid wellness days off or taking a care day to disconnect and recharge, it is important to build a good benefits plan that works for them.
Mental health problems can often be “invisible” to managers, and there is still a lot of stigma around asking for help - this makes it hard to know when an employee needs support. Be proactive in your approach to providing employees with support, and an environment that is conducive to good mental health.