How To Protect Your Workplace Mental Health During COVID-19
Have you ever completed a day’s work, then closed your laptop and just breathed a sigh of relief that it’s over? Do you stay up at night anxiously waiting for a response from your boss so that you can finally call it a day? Are you finding it difficult to draw a line between your private and professional lives because you feel compelled to work 24 hours a day? Does it feel like your workplace mental health is non-existent because of remote work?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to switch things up.
These past two years have been challenging for everyone, to say the least. From watching news breaking headlines every day to the safety concerns raised by COVID-19, we’ve all collectively had a lot on our plates. Employee burnout, depression, and workplace mental health issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
Workplace mental health at a glance
As most of the world now works remotely, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to look forward to the things most of us used to enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you were attending Happy Hour at the office every Friday or chatting by the water cooler with your favorite co-workers, all of these activities contributed to improved workplace mental health — whether you realized it or not.
Every year, one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness. However, only one in three choose to seek help. As a result, many people end up missing work or perform poorly at work. The latter is known as presenteeism. Presenteeism is a state in which people attend work despite struggling with physical or mental health issues. And because of this, looking after your employees’ workplace mental health is incredibly beneficial to your business.
How to protect your workplace mental health
First, let’s talk numbers.
Depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy over $1 trillion annually in lost productivity, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the WHO also found that for every $1 spent on treating mental health concerns, there is a return of $4 in terms of improved health and productivity.
So how exactly do we get there?
The answer is simple: start by creating a healthy work environment. The first step to tackling these problems is identifying the cause. Why do your employees feel unappreciated at the workplace? What steps can you take to overcome these workplace mental health issues?
If this list of risks sounds familiar to you, you may need to change the way things run at your workplace.
- Inadequate health and safety policies
- Poor communication and management practices
- Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
- Low levels of support for employees
- Inflexible working hours
- Unclear tasks or organizational objectives
Furthermore, you can also start by creating a mental health survey for people at your workplace. As organizations try to recover from COVID-19 and refine new methods of working, a more positive, proactive approach to mental health is the way to go.
The steps you should take to get there
The results of a nationwide employee survey indicate that what employees want most at the workplace is training and easier access to information about mental health issues. The survey also found that employees greatly value an open workplace culture that discusses mental health issues. With that in mind, here are five steps you can take to protect your workplace mental health:
Know how mental health affects your employees
Jerome Schultz, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist at Harvard Medical School, says Managers need to be trained to recognize emotional distress so they can respond in a supportive rather than a punitive manner. “Some employees need people around them to say, ‘Hey, I see you might be feeling stressed. Maybe now is a good time to try some breathing exercises or go take a walk.’”
Additionally, you can also take a few proactive steps to promote workplace mental health by:
- Making mental health training mandatory for your company’s leaders. It will make them more aware of and invested in this aspect of their employees’ wellbeing
- Provide managers with training on how to handle cases of emotional distress or substance abuse
- Give employees adequate information on how to ask for help if they ever need it
Provide mental health coverage in your health care plan
One of the biggest ways you can help protect your employee’s workplace mental health is by including mental health as a part of your entire health care package. You can give support to employees going through hard times by arranging psychiatrists and psychologists they can speak to whenever they’d like.
You can also set up a health savings account (HSA) to cover out-of-pocket expenses.
Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health
You can use daily communication to help reduce stigma and increase employee access to mental health resources.
Consider promoting these resources anywhere you can — whether it’s in the employee handbook or the monthly email newsletters. By showing that you’re supportive and welcoming of asking for help, your employees will stay rest assured knowing that their organization promotes an inclusive culture that has an added emphasis on employee well-being.
Promote employee wellness
The inclusion of exercise, meditation, and sleep programs into the workplace can empower all employees to maintain a holistic sense of well-being.
Rather than focusing only on employees with mental illness or facing mental health challenges such as stress or anxiety, this approach makes mental health a priority for the entire workforce. Besides helping prevent a mental health crisis, it can also empower employees to create, contribute, and collaborate in a sustainable manner.
Practice COVID-friendly ways to socialize
Happy hours. Team lunches. In-person meetings. Conferences. Seminars.
All these events are ways for us to talk to the people we work with and get to know them. Having regular meetings with your team and confidential supervision sessions between managers and staff is beneficial for business as well as for employee engagement. So make sure you include them as a part of your workday routine moving forward!