Mental health struggles are on the rise in recent years, with 37% of Americans rating their mental health as only fair or poor, and 26% anticipating more stress at the start of 2023. A survey by Buck revealed that 21% of employees feel their mental health has worsened in the last year, and according to research from Gallup, 44% of workers globally now report feeling stressed a lot of the day (that’s 10% higher than a decade ago, and a 6% increase compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic). Mental health-related factors (such as poor mental health support, burnout, and lack of healthy work-life balance, among others) are also often cited as reasons employees quit their jobs.
Realizing the importance of having less stressed, happier employees, many organizations have begun to make employee mental health a priority. That same study from Buck found that employers are increasingly focused on mental health issues, prioritizing programs that address issues caused by stress, anxiety/depression, and burnout. However, only 28% of employees said their existing employer mental health resources were “helpful.”
So as a leader, how can you be sure you’re doing everything possible to help your employees feel adequately supported from a mental health standpoint?
1. Offer mental health resources
In a recent study, 38% of employees said their employers can help improve their well-being by providing resources to minimize burnout.
Whether it’s counseling sessions through an employee assistance program (EAP), or ensuring that your healthcare plan covers mental health, making resources like these accessible ensures everyone has access to help when they need it.
2. Prioritize a work/life balance
Having time off to recharge is critical to feeling your best. But if a company has an “always-on” culture, people may feel like they’re not able to take time off.
In a study by The Hartford, 31% of employees said they were “fearful of workplace repercussions for taking leave, such as getting fired, laid off, skipped over for a promotion/raise or reduced hours.” 29% also believe “there is a negative perception associated with taking leave.”
Simon Jones, Chief People Officer at Kayak, says that “truly signing off” is more challenging in the era of remote work. “It’s important for people to really unplug without the noise of Slacks, emails, work calls,” he says, or it could lead to burnout.
This is where leaders can set an example by making sure to take time off themselves. In an interview with Fortune, Eric M. Bailey, president of consulting firm Bailey Strategic Innovation Group., says that when managers should “model restful behavior. Don’t answer emails that can wait. Don’t answer the phone (if it can wait). More than any words you say or rules you set for your team around vacation communication, your behavior will set the standard.”
“Similarly, if you answer emails at all hours of the night, your employees who want to follow your lead will start to do the same (or have concerns that they are letting you down if they don’t),” Bailey continues. If you do find yourself working after hours or remembering something important you need to tell a colleague or employee about, consider waiting until morning to send that email or Slack message. Many email and instant messaging services also have options to schedule or delay the sending of a message until a specific time, so you don’t have to worry about that person feeling like they need to answer right away.
It doesn’t always have to be about taking time off, either. Depending on the nature of your organization or the individuals’ roles, allowing for flexibility in schedules (beyond the standard 9-to-5) or working locations (whether fully remote or hybrid) can do a lot for relieving stress as well. In a report from Cisco, 82% of employees said the ability to work from anywhere has made them happier, and 54% said hybrid work contributed to lower stress levels.
3. Provide opportunities for connection
Despite the mental health benefits of remote work, such as increased happiness and lower stress as mentioned previously, research has also shown there to be negative effects on mental health, such as an increase in feelings of isolation and disconnection. 82% of workers report they’ve felt lonely at work, and 49% experience loneliness more now than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
By creating opportunities for employees to connect and develop workplace friendships, organizations can help combat lonlieness. Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) or informal clubs and teams, and encourage employees to join ones that align with their interests.
Employee directories are also great ways to find other people with similar interests or backgrounds, and for remote team members to find other people in the organization in their same geographic area to meet up with.
4. Check in with your team
Just because you don’t hear any complaints from your employees, don’t just assume everything is fine. According to Buck’s survey, employees rate their mental health well-being significantly lower than their employers’ perceptions of it.
That’s why regular check-ins with employees are essential to better understanding how you can support them. 36% of respondents to an EY survey said that having a boss ask how they are doing personally and professionally can make them feel less lonely and contribute to belongingness.
So make it a priority, and be authentic and give your full attention during those meetings. Ask follow-up questions when necessary, and inquire what you can do to help.
5. Promote an open and inclusive culture
A report from Cigna found that employees report feeling less lonely when they can be their true selves at work and when their employers promote good work-life balance. But given that 39% of those Cigna surveyed also said they feel the need to hide their true selves at work, it’s clear that employers can do more to make their people feel accepted. When employees feel that they can be their authentic selves at work, they’re more engaged and happier.
Allowing your organization’s people to share what makes them who they are – such as their skills, personalities, and interests – is one way you can do this. Sift’s Profiles give everyone in your organization access to learn about the people they work with and get to know the person beyond the job title.
While not all of these strategies will work for every organization, I hope you’ve learned something that you can implement within your company to create a healthier and happier workplace.