The Covid-19 pandemic has changed much in our lives, not the least of which is the landscape of work. Stress is extremely high in this scenario, and employee mental health is suffering even more today than before the pandemic. It is increasingly important for companies to pay proactive attention to mental health among employees, managers and executives.
Gallup maintains a negative experience index to monitor mental well-being globally, and it's not a huge surprise that 2020 had the highest index score ever. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "the global economy loses about $1 trillion a year in productivity due to depression and anxiety."
In the past, many believed mental health was a private, personal issue; stigmas prevented many from discussing it openly. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Health reports that eight out of 10 survey respondents feel shame or stigma about disclosing mental issues. However, pretending that mental well-being doesn't impact the workplace is naïve and counterproductive. This is not to say that managers or human resources professionals need to act as therapists, but that your company could see returns from making employee mental wellness a priority.
In this two-part article series, I'll share eight ways you can do just that. To begin, here are four tips for supporting employee mental health at work.
Understand The Issues
As with most projects, success starts with understanding the issues. Employee surveys can help you gather the insights you need. In addition, conducting a survey is a good first step in letting employees know you care about their mental health at work. A good survey should help you understand the various issues employees are dealing with, so you can respond by offering appropriate benefits and resources. This information can help you leverage the other seven tips more effectively.
There are a variety of questions you might use on your survey, so you'll need to do a little homework. To give you an idea, however, questions may include:
• Over the past month, how many days have you experienced significant stress, anxiety, frustration or other negative emotions at work? Ratings can be broken down into sliding scales from zero to five, six to 10, and 11 to 20-plus.
• Which of the following increases your stress or anxiety at work? Too many meetings, too few meetings, working extra hours at home, childcare concerns or healthcare issues.
• I am comfortable discussing mental health issues and solutions with work colleagues. Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree.
There is an art and science to developing effective surveys, so don't be afraid to seek help from professionals. In addition to helping ensure your methods are valid, they can advise you on ensuring anonymity and confidentiality.
Make Mental Health A Priority For Your Company
Chances are that you already offer wellness programs and benefits, but make sure you take steps to include mental wellness. Not only will this help you communicate that your company cares, but it also stands to help your employees thrive, professionally and personally. Your senior leaders should be on board, including promoting the use of mental health resources and diminishing stigma.
Organizations might consider offering mental health resources like Headspace, Calm for Business, Lyra Health, BetterUp and others. Most are technology-based to enhance access and privacy and offer connections to professional therapists, self-guided wellness programs, coaching, meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Normalize Mental Health Issues And The Use Of Resources
As I mentioned above, many people are reluctant to bring up mental health issues in the workplace for fear of being judged. One silver lining of the pandemic is that it has given us an opportunity to normalize these issues. I think it's fair to say that everyone has experienced stress, anxiety and other negative feelings, even if it didn't impact their work. However, for many people, it does impact work, particularly if they have existing mental health issues such as depression.
One great way to normalize issues and encourage people to speak up and seek help is for managers and leaders to talk about their own experiences with mental health if they feel comfortable doing so. It can be a daunting process, but executives who have done so report positive results, such as encouraging others to speak up.
If you do decide to share your experiences with your team, I recommend you focus on the positive steps and solutions. Talk about how you were afraid to disclose or seek help (if that's the case) and how you got over that fear. You might also share the kinds of resources you used and how they helped you. Most importantly, you should tell employees about how seeking help resulted in a positive impact.
Be Proactive About Eliminating Workplace Stressors
So far we've talked about how you can help employees manage stress in this ever-changing world. But you also can minimize the things at work that stress them out. Based on the input you get from your survey, you might decide to offer more schedule flexibility or more options for remote/hybrid work.
Keep in mind that Covid-19 has motivated many people to reassess life priorities, and many have different feelings toward work. For example, many used to see it as a core part of their lives—and it is true that we give a big chunk of our waking hours to work. Today, however, more and more people are adopting the attitude that work is only one part of a rich, full life. That doesn't mean that performance will suffer. In fact, prioritizing work-life balance could save employers money by promoting a healthier, more productive workforce.
In part two of this blog post, I'll write more about the benefits to employers of supporting mental wellness and share four more tips for employers looking to take responsibility for their employees' mental well-being.