Addressing Mental Health at Work: Essential Steps to Support Employees

Addressing Mental Health at Work: Essential Steps to Support Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on individuals and businesses across the globe. With remote work continuing to play a key role across many industries, the mental health of employees is being severely tested.  

More than ever before, it’s important for employers to take the necessary steps to support the mental wellbeing of employees; it’s not only good for workers, it also makes good business sense. 

The Benefits of Supporting Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace  

Employees that receive the right support perform better at work, form stronger professional relationships, and also interact more empathetically with customers if they’re in a public-facing role. 

Providing a supportive environment for employees makes financial sense too. Workers with access to mental health support are more productive, stay longer in their jobs, and take fewer sick days. In the United States alone, around 17 to 44 billion dollars is lost to depression each year due to absenteeism and lost productivity. 

Potential employees are also more attracted to companies that proactively support the mental wellbeing of staff. In a Virgin HealthMiles/Workforce study, 87 percent of employees considered health and wellness policies when choosing an employer. 

Strategies for Supporting Employees’ Mental Health  

Here are seven ways that managers and business leaders can support the mental health of their employees: 

1. Be Aware of Employees Most at Risk  

Keep in mind that anyone can experience mental health challenges during their lifetime, irrespective of gender, age, and ethnicity. However, certain demographics are more likely to be susceptible to mental health problems. 

Generally, younger employees are more likely to experience mental health conditions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in the US, young adults aged from 18 to 25 years old had the highest prevalence of any mental illness and also serious mental illness. Women are also slightly more at risk than men. According to one study, around 12 percent of females, compared to 9 percent of males, experienced a mental health disorder. 

2. Provide Mental Health Resources   

With an increasing number of people working remotely, employers should consider using technology to support employees’ mental health. Many companies now offer workplace counseling, where employees have remote access to trained counselors. 

At the very least, companies should provide all employees with links to supportive online platforms. There are many free tools available online to help employees manage stress and anxiety, from meditation platforms to mental health resources. Promote these wellbeing resources regularly and encourage employees to use them. 

3. Communicate More Openly  

One of the challenges for employers is that mental health issues often remain a hidden problem. BITC’s Mental Health at Work Report found that 35 percent of employees didn’t seek help the last time they experienced a mental health issue. 

To address this problem, employers should encourage employees to be honest about their struggles, without fear of disciplinary action. A good way to build trust is for managers to be open with employees about their own mental health experiences. This opens the door for employees to talk more openly about their own mental health challenges. 

4. Regularly Check in With Employees 

With more employees working from home, it’s even more important to reach out to workers in order to identify and address mental health issues. Whether you use an online tool like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, or just make an old-fashioned phone call, regularly check in with employees to find out if they need extra support. 

Another good way to check in with employees is through pulse surveys. These are simply quick surveys that are regularly sent out to employees to find out how they’re feeling about work. Every week or month, ask employees questions about job satisfaction, working relationships, and their working environment. The answers will help you adapt your work procedures to minimize workplace stress. 

5. Be More Flexible  

When you communicate regularly with employees, you should gain insights into their individual circumstances and needs. For example, one employee might have childcare responsibilities and can only work during certain hours of the day. At the same time, another employee might need to exercise at a certain time of day to support their physical and mental health. 

Help people design their own work schedules that fit in with their unique circumstances and emotional needs. By being more flexible, you send a signal that you trust your employees, which improves motivation levels and alleviates physical and mental stress.  

6. Encourage Social Interaction  

Consider holding a regular online meeting at the end of the week for employees to wind down and chat with colleagues about matters unrelated to work. However, make it clear that these social meetings are not compulsory; not all workers enjoy video chats. Offer one-to-one chats to employees who are less comfortable with group meetings. 

7. Invest in Training  

To promote a culture of wellbeing in the workplace, give leaders and managers training on mental health issues. This is an important first step in reducing the stigma of mental health problems. It also gives team members the confidence to recognize and address any potential problems before they progress into something more serious. 

Training should include guidance on how to identify signs of poor mental health, how to handle a disclosure of a mental health condition, and how to offer support to anyone facing mental health challenges. 

The Bottom Line  

Following the unprecedented challenge of the 2020 global pandemic, it’s more important than ever before for companies to look after the wellbeing of employees. Apart from being the right thing to do, supporting the mental health of employees also makes businesses stronger and more productive.  

When every employee has access to the support they need, it leads to more honest working relationships, increases motivation levels, reduces absenteeism, and improves employee retention. Take the necessary steps now to address mental health issues and you can create a more comfortable working environment in which every employee feels valued, making your team stronger in the long run. 

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