Mental Health Awareness Month may be coming to an end, but it can be the beginning of something much bigger for HR pros and the employees who rely on you.
If the pandemic and its effect on well-being didn’t bring mental health to the forefront, Mental Health Awareness Month – that’s May – sure has emerged as a keystone in the cause.
Yet, just a third of employees say their company leadership speaks openly about mental well-being, according to Mental Health America’s “Mind the Workplace 2022 Report.”
“Many employers consider ‘mental health’ as a benefit of an employee health plan that is accessed through the initiative of an employee,” says Dr. Bill Hudenko, Global Head of Mental Health at K Health, a digital primary care app. “By adopting a more holistic approach and understanding of mental health that extends beyond mental illness, you can start to shift the culture to prioritize compassion and support as a company value, which will provide an excellent return on your investment.”
That’s why Mental Health Awareness Month can be a catalyst to improve employee mental well-being throughout the year.
Here are five strategies HR and other executives, plus front-line managers, can use to help employees year round:
Acknowledge the marathon
Nearly one-fifth of employees struggle with a diagnosable mental health concern, and “unfortunately, there is no quick fix for most mental health concerns,” Dr. Hudenko says.
That’s why it’s important for companies to acknowledge that improving mental well being is a marathon, not a sprint. What starts in May can go for years and years.
So helping your workforce will likely take a two-pronged approach. You’ll want to share resources and information with the entire group, giving them direction on how to access what they need. And that won’t be a one-and-done session. Schedule a series throughout the year, focusing on different highlights each time.
Some employees may want more individual help that you or your health benefits can provide on a confidential, personalized level.
“For example, there may be ways to tailor hours and workload, or to offer additional support for workers who experience seasonal depression,” says Dr. Hudenko. “Acknowledging that you have a mental health friendly workplace while still maintaining standards of excellence is achievable with good planning, transparency, and patience.”
Build boundaries now
How can you help staff build physical boundaries between their professional and personal lives?
It’s an important question because the boundaries help them avoid burnout.
“Establishing work-life boundaries is incredibly important in any job, whether you’re fully remote, hybrid, or in the office full time,” says Carol Cochran, VP of People & Culture at FlexJobs. “We found nearly half of people cite the lack of healthy work-life boundaries as a top factor that contributes to their decision to quit a job.”
A few tips from FlexJobs researchers:
- Replace the commute. When employees worked full-time on-site, they had a commute to physically get away from work. Now remote and hybrid employees don’t always have that luxury. Encourage them to cut out 10 minutes early and walk around the block, call a friend or do anything that creates separation from the workspace.
- Encourage employees to develop a set work routine and focus during those hours. That makes it easier to manage space and time to step away when the day is done.
- Offer stipends so remote employees can create dedicated workspace at home or get to a co-working space occasionally so they don’t feel as isolated.
Set the tone
As an HR pro, you and your C-level colleagues will want to heed some advice in the best interest of you and your employees.
“If company leaders and upper management are always ‘on’ and fail to support their own mental health, this can set the tone for a company’s culture and create the expectation that employees should do the same,” says Cochran.
You might try:
- Unplugged hours. That’s when no on can send emails or other work-related communication
- A change to a minimum time-office policy. Rather than a maximum policy, this ensures employees get enough time away from work
- Reminders on employee assistance programs (EAPs). Communicate your free, confidential, and anonymous mental health screenings are available
- Regular workshops and tools to help employees with developing skills like mindfulness, focus, and self-care, and
- A review of your current health plans to see what kinds of mental health services are covered and consider adjusting.
“It’s a smart business practice, because it can lead to better productivity, satisfaction, stress levels and more – a net positive for any company,” Cochran says.
Make a day of it
One of the quickest ways to help employees manage mental well-being is done in about 24 hours.
More than 50% of employees say if their organization provided mental health days, they’d be able to feel less stressed and more engaged, according to the Human Workplace Index: Mental Health and Well-being at Work from Workhuman. Nearly as many say a little more flexibility would improve their mental health.
The good news: Many organizations – or at least front-line managers – are almost there: 40% of employees in the Mental Health America survey said their managers encourage them to take time off when they need it.
The problem is this: Employees often don’t recognize when they need the separation. Or they’re afraid to take a step back because they’re already overwhelmed and afraid they’ll fall further behind by taking time off.
Try giving managers and employees a checklist of signs they need a day off. Some signs might include: difficulty sleeping; disengagement from a project or work; lack of motivation; cynicism; dread of work.
Bring more positivity to work
“Don’t underestimate the importance of a positive working environment for optimizing employee mental health,” Dr. Hudenko says. “Words matter. People matter. If you exude concern for those who work for you, they will appreciate it and it will increase morale and productivity.”
That’s advice you can pass on to every leader in your organization. When positivity comes from the top year round it will reverberate throughout the organization.
Some everyday ways: Make community gatherings a priority. Encourage managers to check in on employees – especially those who work remotely – regularly. Listen to colleagues. Ask about positive events in their lives. Congratulate others on accomplishments, no matter how small.