Mental health is a measure of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. When your mental health is out of balance, it can impact your ability to thrive in these areas, and in turn this can influence how you think, feel, and act.
Despite mental health struggles being fairly common even before the pandemic (about 1 in 4 Americans deal with mental health issues each year), historically there has been a social stigma surrounding discussing and addressing mental health.
However, the last year has thrown mental health into the spotlight. There has been a surge in stress and anxiety as people navigate living in a pandemic -- feelings of isolation, juggling childcare and working remotely, heightened concerns around contracting or spreading COVID-19, etc. We’ve all experienced first-hand how these forces impact our mental health, and the significant influence mental health has on our personal and professional lives.
One silver lining to the last year is the stigma is finally starting to erode. We’re having franker discussions on mental health in both our personal and professional lives, which is in turn making it easier for individuals to ask for help or seek out resources to aid them in their mental health journey.
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it benefits all of us to keep this conversation going and continue to push for thoughtful discussions around mental health not just in our personal lives, but within the workplace as well.
Here’s what you can do as an employer, a manager, and as an employee to be an advocate for positive mental health in your workplace.
What you can do as an employer
If ignored mental health challenges among team members can lead to decreased team morale, reduced productivity, and burnout. Creating a workplace where employees feel like their mental health is a priority will benefit not only the individual, but your company as a whole.
Reevaluate your employee benefits
Take time to review your current benefits to see where there may be gaps. Here are some benefits to consider if you do not already offer them to your employees.
- Online mental health resources -- Finding a mental health provider can be a daunting task. By proactively offering mental health services, you can remove a barrier for your employees
- Unlimited PTO/flexible schedules -- Give employees the freedom to set schedules that work best for them and their individual needs
- Meditation/ wellness benefits -- Examples include in-person or virtual yoga or tai chi classes
- Discounted or subsidized gym memberships -- Exercise has been proven to improve mental health
Create a culture that supports mental health
- Encourage employees to see a therapist or a doctor during work hours -- Can your employees see a therapist or a doctor during work hours? Even if they can, do they feel supported to do so?
- Create company-wide meeting free days -- Give individuals the power to work at their own pace
- Adjust working hours for special events -- If there is an anticipated major news day (ex: inauguration day), consider adjusting
- Create company-wide PTO days -- Giving everyone the same days off helps encourage everyone to fully unplug and relax
- Invest in tools to help managers encourage conversations around mental health -- At Scoop, we use Lattice to facilitate weekly alignment on work and mental wellbeing between managers and employees. Similar tools can help provide your managers with an ongoing log of how employees are feeling and where they may need additional support
- Encourage team bonding --On average, we see our teammates for more hours a week than we do our friends and family. Invest in both team-level and company-level events where everyone can come together to get to know and celebrate each other as individuals and not just as co-workers.
What you can do as a manager
Invest in getting to know your team members
As a manager, it's often easy to just talk about work. However, investing in understanding the inner lives of your team members will make you a more empathetic manager, and will ultimately contribute to creating a better working environment for you and your team. You’ll be able to more easily identify patterns and know when and how to best support them.
Rethink your approach to 1:1s
In a typical 1:1, you probably start by asking your employee how they are doing. This sets you up for a polite retort of “I’m fine”, which does little to help you or the employee.
Try reframing the question to prompt a more earnest response, such as:
- What is your battery level right now?
- How is your mental health today?
- Is there anything I can help you with?
Additionally, try out walking 1:1s. Not all meetings need to be in a conference room or on video conference, and the change of scenery can be a welcome change after a long day of sitting in a chair.
Be the example for your team
Share your own experiences and let the team know how you are feeling. Being vulnerable will encourage your team members to do the same.
What you can do as an employee
Be honest -- Share honestly how you feel with your manager -- it is ok to say you are not doing well. If your manager understands how you feel, they can work with you to support your mental health and equip you with any additional resources you may need.
Use your mental health benefits -- Whether it’s meditating, hitting the gym, or taking a day off, leverage the benefits available to you and make an investment in your mental health.