It has now been more than four months since the first states started their lockdowns, and even the most stoic of personalities are beginning to suffer the effects. For the overwhelming majority of us, the pandemic has changed virtually everything about our daily and weekly routines, preventing us from partaking in many of the activities we love, and snarling household responsibilities with children and work now demanding the same hours. While it may seem that most of your employees are managing, even if they may not be at their best, the fear, anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion of recent months cannot be denied. Do yourself and your business a favor by making sure that employee mental health needs are acknowledged and met.
Before we dive into strategies for supporting employee mental health however, let’s examine why it’s so important. Aside from the human factor of wanting your employees to be safe and well, burnout and mental health issues within the workforce come at an extremely high price. The American Psychological Association found that workplace stress costs the U.S. economy more than $500 billion each year, and 550 million workdays are lost annually due to stress. Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day. The World Health Organization named stress ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century’, and Stanford researchers found that workplace stress is to blame for 8% of national healthcare outlays and more than 120,000 deaths each year.
The costs of not supporting employee mental health are clear, but what can you do about it? Luckily, there are a number of options ranging from free to a bit more costly. The first, easiest, and most important thing you can do is to speak openly and honestly to your employees about mental health. Let them know that it’s okay to not be okay, and that your company welcomes whole people who sometimes aren’t their 100% put together professional selves. Normalize talking about mental health and genuine responses to wellbeing questions such as ‘How are you doing?’ Ensure that your workplace empowers employees to share their struggles, so that you can provide them with the support they need to help them feel and perform at their best.
Beyond opening the door for dialogue, it’s also important to ensure that employees know what mental healthcare services are available to them. If you don’t currently offer mental healthcare benefits and you have the budget to do so, consider adding this to your benefits package, both for employees and for their families. Either way, supply clear guidelines as to what employees’ options are when it comes to finding a psychologist or psychiatrist, in layman’s terms and in an easily accessible location. Explain what is offered, and how much each service costs out of pocket so that employees don’t have to worry about being surprised with a financially burdensome bill after seeking help. It’s also crucial that you provide culturally competent mental health professionals to meet the varied needs of your employees and ensure you’re helping rather than setting them up for more harm. If your healthcare plan doesn’t include mental health services, consider exploring the numerous telehealth companies that provide therapy via video call on an a la carte basis as a way to support employees who may be struggling.
Another way to assist employees with mental health is to offer opportunities to practice self-care via activities such as exercise, yoga, and meditation. Your company can provide free or subsidized subscriptions to meditation apps to help encourage participation. Alternatively, you can offer yoga or workout sessions via Zoom, or simply curate and send around a playlist of exercise or yoga-focused YouTube videos so employees have something at the ready when they need a stress break. By building these services and practices formally into your programs, you can show your employees that the company values their mental health and that if they need to take time during their day to go for a walk or stretch in order to help their focus, it is both allowed and encouraged.
Last but certainly not least, connect your employees to one another for much-needed support and discussion. Whether it’s pairing people up for virtual coffee dates, creating small groups and providing them with conversation guides to build camaraderie, or creating a mental health employee resource group, human connection is critical during these difficult times. If you’re looking for support in developing these cohorts, check out Workrowd’s platform. We make it easy to organize and manage employee groups, and maximize transparency and access so everyone can get involved where they feel most comfortable. We help your people find their people, which is essential to maintaining the mental health of your workforce as the pandemic continues. Let us know how we can help at firstname.lastname@example.org.