As our global workforce becomes increasingly focused on the importance of employee mental health, looking after the “human” in human resources matters now more than ever. However, before we dive into the tools, let’s do a quick pulse check on the current state of employee mental health.
What do we know about the current state of employee mental health?
Although more businesses are implementing initiatives like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and paid mental health days, the stigma around employee mental health prevails as more than one in two Australians who have a related condition hides it at work for fear of being judged or discriminated. This means there’s progress to be made by employers to destigmatize wellbeing in the workplace.
Let’s break down the data:
- 97% of Australian CEOs think they do enough to support mental health in the workplace – but only 66% of employees feel that way.
- More than one in four Americans have quit a job in the last two years because of their mental health.
- Employees experiencing burnout are over twice as likely to be actively seeking a different job.
- Workers with depression are five times more likely to become unemployed.
- 61% of remote workers and 53% of on-site workers now find it more difficult to “unplug” from work during off-hours.
- Employee mental health and wellbeing are a top priority for only 25% of HR professionals.
- Absenteeism for employee mental health conditions costs Australian businesses $4.7 billion per annum – equivalent to 1.1 million days’ sick leave.
When you compare the figures, the discrepancy between organizations that believe they’re doing enough for employee mental health and employees that believe their employers don’t do enough for the cause is concerning. Bridging this gap and breaking the stigma through effective mental health initiatives must happen sooner rather than later to stop this issue from proliferating.
The benefits of actioning effective employee mental health initiatives include:
- Reduced costs linked to absenteeism and high attrition rates
- Higher engagement (which goes hand in hand with higher performance)
- Lower stress levels and higher team morale
- A stronger culture of trust that fosters psychological safety in the workplace
Key tools and techniques to support employee mental health
Maintaining and improving workplace mental health is a complex issue but luckily, there are countless tools and techniques HR leaders can use to start to understand and address it. We’ve narrowed them down to seven key strategies to get you started:
- Offer flexibility based on employee needs
- Have a mental health conversation during check-ins
- Encourage your leaders to walk the talk
- Promote a healthy culture around taking leave
- Dig deep into employee sentiment
- Review your diversity and inclusion policies
- Invest in mental health training
Have your employees been mostly working from home or is your team made up of avid office-goers? Depending on where and when your people are most comfortable and productive working, and how the nature of your company and industry aligns with hybrid work, you might want to consider a flexible work policy if you haven’t already. There are endless discussions about what’s best for employees – returning to the office full time, hybrid work (a mix of office and remote), or even going entirely remote-first.
The reality is that what works best varies from employee to employee. For many, employee loneliness worsens while working remotely so these employees might be motivated by a change of scenery, in-person meetings, and the ability to connect with colleagues in person. On the other hand, those who experience improved employee wellbeing and performance with remote work might not feel comfortable with being in an office day-to-day. Many prefer swapping out their daily commute and coffee runs for morning jogs and breakfast with the family.
A flexible work policy is a great solution in this case. Aside from this being a highly sought-after arrangement for attracting talent, it gives your people the power to choose what’s best for them, indicates that you trust them to do their work regardless of their location, and shows that you understand their needs.
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Your 1:1 check-ins are great opportunities to gauge team wellbeing and set up the mental health conversation. To make the most of it, send out a wellbeing pulse prior to the check-in to ask how they’re feeling and if they need any support. In fact, develop a regular cadence for wellbeing check-ins (you can decide the frequency based on what works best for your team) to gather more data over time and track how your people are doing. On top of all the people data you can then use to get a bird’s eye view of your workforce’s wellbeing and apply strategically to improve areas, a regular cadence gives your employees multiple touchpoints to open up to you about their wellbeing.
When having your regular one-on-ones with your employees, carve out time to ask how they’re doing in a personal, broader sense. With that rapport being built, a mental health check-in can then be positioned into the one-on-one; it will fit with this context. – Janet Mcleod, Organizational Psychologist
That being said, be ready to actively listen once you open up the conversation. Set your intention ahead of time and be human. When your employee opens up to you, listen with empathy, avoid making assumptions, reset your intentions if needed, and provide some concrete options for them to choose from moving forward.
After you’ve had the conversation, always follow up with them to see how they’re doing and/or if they need more support. Remember, mental health issues don’t happen once a year. They can occur at any time, so it’s important to check in with your people regularly and have mental health conversations continuously.
It’s one thing to say your organization supports mental health and that you’re doing your best to support your people but if you and your leaders aren’t “walking the talk” or practicing what you preach, it’s difficult to set good, healthy examples.
Lead from the top down when it comes to employee mental health.
- Switching off your notifications after work (and going completely “offline” so employees don’t feel they need to stay “on”,
- Taking proper breaks for preventing or managing burnout
- Showing your vulnerability more readily
- Leaving early to pick up the kids from school when you need to.
- Going for a relaxing walk if you’re stressed and using sick leave when you feel unwell.
- Sharing happy or exciting life events with your colleagues.
Promoting employee wellbeing isn’t a singular activity, but is instead set up in a climate that is cultivated, embraced and supported by high-level leaders and managers. When supervisors’ actions match their words, employees notice. – David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, director of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence
Show your employees that you’re human, first and foremost. Remind them that it’s okay to look after themselves and prioritize their mental health because you do the same. When you walk the talk, they will likely follow in your footsteps.
While taking your entitled leave when you need or want to may seem like common sense, many of us feel guilty about it – particularly when it comes to sick leave (and mentioned in the point above) and especially when it comes to mental health or wellbeing leave. Why? Because there’s still stigmatization around taking time off across many organizations and industries.
Leaders should try to reframe the narrative in order to promote a healthy culture around leave-taking. So, let’s look at taking mental health leave from another angle. Let’s say you have a detailed monthly workout plan at the gym. Regardless of your ultimate goal, there are always rest days planned out to allow your body to recover and recharge. Overusing your muscles can lead to injuries, which is why they need time off to repair and build back better and stronger.
The same concept applies to mental health. Your mind needs time to rest and recharge, otherwise it can lead to burnout. However, employees may refuse to take time off for reasons like having too much work, not having someone to cover for them, or simply because they’re uncomfortable doing so. As their leader, you should encourage employees to listen to themselves and address their wellbeing needs; by doing so, you start to acknowledge the importance of proper R&R. After all, employees who maintain a healthy work-life balance are more likely to be happy and engaged at work.
So if you notice someone who hasn’t taken time off in a while, check in with them and remind them that their engagement and wellbeing are your top priorities.
Your HR software can be a powerful tool for supporting employee mental health. Features like employee pulse surveys and wellbeing check-ins provide in-depth insights into your team’s engagement and wellbeing. When you pair them further with sentiment analysis, you get an even clearer picture of how your individual employees, and entire workforce, really feel.
intelliHR’s sentiment analysis feature uses powerful AI to detect the emotional tone (AKA sentiment) behind the qualitative data you feed into it from the platform – from check-ins and goal comments to diary notes. For example, if a recently promoted employee uses the words “stress”, “overwhelmed”, and “struggling” in their monthly check-in form, sentiment analysis will highlight these and show that the employee is expressing negative sentiment. You can then use this information to take data-driven actions that support them better.
Bear in mind that external factors unrelated to the workplace can also impact employee sentiment. Keep an eye on the qualitative and quantitative measurements to gain a more holistic understanding of your employees.
The intersection of diversity and inclusion, and mental health is an important one. Diverse employees are shown to experience more severe mental health concerns. A wide range of stressors can affect the mental health of diverse employees – including discrimination, underrepresentation, microaggressions, and unconscious bias. This means that organizations need to ensure their employees from diverse backgrounds have access to effective mental health support when needed.
When policies only support selected groups, the disparity for diverse employees who fall outside those groups can lead to further social isolation and mental health concerns. Addressing diversity in the workplace bridges the gap to support inclusion and belonging. You can start by reviewing your company’s policies throughout the entire employee lifecycle – from recruitment to onboarding to performance management to offboarding. In addition, you can use your employee listening tools to identify areas of improvement so your policies support team mental health better.
Diverse and inclusive teams are proven to be smarter and more innovative. Therefore, an introspective reflection into your diversity and inclusion policies will not only support employee mental health but may also improve your organization’s bottom line.
The first step in tackling any issue is awareness. In the case of employee mental health, educating your staff on the issue will likely lead to improved awareness and understanding around how it affects their surroundings. It also equips them with the right tools and knowledge to create a significant cultural shift in managing workplace mental health.
Mental health training allows your team to identify coworkers in distress and intervene as early as possible. When employees look out for each other, it reduces the sense of social isolation in mentally distressed team members, and fosters psychological safety in the workplace. Most importantly, it normalizes conversations about mental health and encourages employees to take action to support their team members.
As more organizations make mental health training a part of their compliance policies, keep in mind that it’s just as important to track employee training and development records efficiently. You can do this easily with an automated, self-managed platform to ensure your employees are up-to-date on all compliance requirements.
FREE TEMPLATE: Psychological Safety Exercise
As the way we work and the state of employee mental health continues to evolve along with it, we’ll keep learning and adopting the best resources to make improvements. Equipping ourselves with the right knowledge, tools and techniques is key to looking after our people better. For more on how to understand and improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, download our free mental health toolkit.
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