May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but implementing strategies to support mental health for employees is important all year-round. It’s how you create happy, engaged employees who want to work for you. Which is a rare thing in any industry.
Knowing where to start when considering mental health for employees isn’t always easy, though. So here’s a simple list of 7 ways you can support mental health for employees this month, and every month.
Offer mental health first aid
Traditional first aid workers are trained to treat cuts and bruises. They may also be able to hand out mild painkillers. Sort of like a school nurse.
But what if someone’s having a panic attack? Who’s trained to help then?
Mental health first aiders know how to help people with various mental health conditions.
They’re increasingly common in the workplace as businesses become aware of how important it is to look after mental health for employees as much as physical health.
Wellness days are for employees to use whenever they need a break.
No questions, no lectures. Just a day off because they feel they need it.
Maybe they’re feeling depressed and can’t face their colleagues, or they’ve got to go to a dentist appointment.
It doesn’t matter what they use it for, what matters is that they have the option. Plus, they’re encouraged to use these days.
Wellness days aren’t there as a cute benefit to lure candidates in. Even managers should use them whenever they need them.
Crucially, nobody ever asks employees why they need them.
I particularly like when companies allow employees to use these days for dentist, doctor, or hospital appointments. Days off should be used for enjoyment and supporting mental health for employees, not sitting in a waiting room. It’s frustrating to have to use days off, or feel obligated to make up any time back, for trying to look after your own health.
Call me a nag if you like. Call me repetitive. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: most people are terrible listeners.
The last thing someone needs when they’re having a bad day for whatever reason is to talk to someone who can’t listen.
Whether an employee’s problem is work-related or not, if they come to you and feel the need to talk about something, it’s your job to stop and listen to what they have to say.
If they’re not seeking solutions, don’t offer them.
Sometimes just talking about something instead of bottling it up is all we need.
Alternatively, if an employee does want a solution…
See what accommodations you can make
Sometimes, for an employee’s mental health to improve, all it takes is flexible working. That may mean working from home if they find the office environment too noisy or stressful, or it may mean allowing them to work different hours so that they can work around other commitments and/or on a schedule that works for them.
Other accommodations you could consider involve improving the ergonomics of someone’s desk setup (to reduce eye strain, and therefore headaches, which will lower their stress levels and frustration at their job), or finding them a new location in the office.
Employees follow the example of the leaders around them. So, if you’re closed off about your own mental health, chances are that employees will feel uncomfortable discussing their own, too.
If you talk about mental health struggles you’ve had in the past, it humanizes you and means employees are less likely to see you and other leaders as gods sitting atop Mount Olympus, impossible for mere mortals to ever fully understand.
If your employees see you like that, you have big problems. Not only were the Greek Gods pretty nuts, but they also weren’t that nice, either.
You want employees to see you as accessible and approachable. Talking openly about your life, and the events of your past, can really help with this.
You don’t need to go into uncomfortable detail, but sharing that you’ve experienced depression and taken a wellness day for this reason shows them that you really do understand, and it really is okay to take a wellness day to support your mental health.
Go for a walking meeting
Walking meetings have serious benefits for our health. As well as being great exercise, they can make us more creative and therefore better at solving problems.
According to Harvard Business Review, employees who take part in walking meetings are 5.25% more creative in their roles and 8.5% more engaged.
That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider how many employees are leaving their jobs right now, that small percentage can really make a difference.
Have quiet time
Meetings can be incredibly draining whether they’re in-person or online.
One way to avoid meeting burnout is to set aside a morning, afternoon, or even a whole day, that’s meeting-free. No exceptions.
That includes minimal (or no) Slack or Teams notifications, too. These can still be draining to mental health for employees, particularly if they’re programmed to be reactive and reply right away, or are required to be signed in all the time.
Scheduling quiet time will allow employees to get into a state of flow and really focus on the parts of their role that they enjoy.
Too often, people request a ‘quick chat’ for something that could’ve been an email. That ‘quick chat’ eats into employees’ energy and productivity.
It’s important to keep quiet time sacred. You shouldn’t change it to different days each week to accommodate meetings. You should change meetings to accommodate this time.
Quiet time is great for employees with conditions like anxiety, depression, autism, and ADHD. Many people with those conditions find meetings extra draining. Giving them scheduled meeting-free time gives them something to look forward to and/or prepare for, so they know what to focus on during those hours.
Regardless of your business size, there are simple steps you can take to show employees that you really do take their mental health seriously.
You don’t have to make big changes to make a difference. Sometimes smaller steps are all that’s needed.
What really matters is that managers and leaders set an example, prioritizing their own health and being honest about their experiences.
The more leaders who set this example, the more it will foster a culture of openness within the business. Over time, this will lead to improved mental health for employees, and higher engagement, productivity, and more.
If you’re looking for new ways to support mental health for employees, building real community between colleagues can help. Workrowd makes it easy for your team members to connect, including through activities like mental health employee resource groups, to further support their wellness. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you support mental health for employees, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.