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Organizational Culture

Supporting Employee Mental Health

The current work environment presents many challenges that may be impacting health and well-being. Employees are juggling childcare needs with job responsibilities, caring for sick friends or relatives, struggling with isolation, and more. This list provides some ideas and suggestions to support your people and their mental health.

At-work Support

  • Flexible Hours. To support employees who are unable to work normal hours, consider allowing them to adjust their schedule to accommodate personal or family needs. If employees are able to work more productively late at night or on the weekend when they can focus, this should be an option. While many organizations are already doing this informally, it’s helpful to be as explicit as possible so that employees don’t feel pressure to check and respond to email at all times. Leaders and managers can also suggest that employees list work hours in their email signature, block off working and non-working on their calendars for coworkers to see, or put up an out-of-office message if they are not working during the typical work day.
  • Reward Hard Work. It’s important to also recognize and reward employees who may be taking on a larger-than-usual share of the workload. There are a variety of ways to do this. Send a card to say you’re grateful and appreciate their efforts. If folks are working remotely, consider sending a small gift to employees’ homes to show the organization’s gratitude. Just expressing to employees that their hard work is acknowledged and noticed can go a long way towards improving morale for those who are going above and beyond. 
  • Prioritize. With many staff working remotely, communication can be difficult. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lose track of what’s most important. Weekly check-ins or team meetings can help staff determine which tasks and projects are most important for the week. This way, even if staff are working flexible hours they know what is expected of them and can work to achieve short-term goals. Managers can also create a template to mark the status of each task or project with a green light, yellow light, or red light, assigning a color to help an employee visualize what is on track, paused, or removed.
  • Safe Spaces. While 2020 has proven to be eye-opening for many around issues of racial justice, discrimination in the workplace has long been known to communities of color. Research has shown a trend with mental health concerns resulting from workplace discrimination. Managers should consider appropriate ways to address equity within their organization and provide a space for people to talk about it. A human resources or talent professional can reach out to employees offering the opportunity for discussions about issues relating to racial justice. Some staff may want to meet privately while others might prefer sharing their thoughts among a group of individuals facing similar challenges, where they can speak openly and offer support. The manager organizing the discussion should be mindful to listen and let participants do the majority of the talking. Another option is to form a book club focused on DEIJ-related books as a way to spark discussions about racial justice in the workplace. 
  • Time off. Employees may be less willing to speak up if they need to take time off to deal with mental health. But organizations should consider that those struggling with mental health issues often need rest, away from the computer, the same way that those dealing with physical ailments do. Think about offering mental health or wellness days, in addition to PTO days for employees to utilize if needed. These could take the form of organization-wide “Rest and Recharge Days” where the entire organization shuts down for a few days, or “Summer Fridays” where the whole organization is off on Friday afternoons. No matter what policy you implement, ensure that senior leaders set the example to help normalize the practice. Otherwise, employees may not feel comfortable taking advantage of the new policy. 
  • Re-think Meetings. The way that meetings are structured and scheduled can have an impact on how employees feel throughout the day. One suggestion is to end all internal meetings at 50 minutes past the hour to allow for at least a 10 minute break between calls/Zoom meetings. This may help to avoid dreaded Zoom fatigue. Another option is opening internal meetings with a scale of one to ten in response to “How are you feeling at this moment?” so that employees have the opportunity to speak up if they are not feeling well and others can offer support. 
  • Coverage Uncovered. Make sure your employees know exactly what kind of mental health services are covered under your policies. Sometimes navigating coverage questions can be a barrier to taking advantage of the available options. Make it easy for employees to access insurer-provided therapy and support. Consider a lunch and learn, HR office hours, or even a thorough memo to help explain what is available, how to find providers, and how folks can access everything. Include time for questions and answers so that employees can have all of their concerns addressed. 
  • “Walk-in-my-shoes.” Sometimes we don’t know the full story of what a team member is working on or going through. Make space for folks to share what’s hard for them during their work days along with any visible or invisible challenges. This could be done during a sharing circle at a team lunch, on a Slack channel where team members share what they are struggling with in real time, or any other forum that works for your team. To make sure that folks feel safe and comfortable to share, have the leadership share first to establish a safe and brave space. 
  • Accountabili-Buddies. An “accountabili-buddy” is an accountability partner who you speak with daily or weekly, where you support each other and hold each other accountable. It could include anything from fitness check-ins, making sure they are taking mental health days, keeping up with work goals, or sticking to a professional development plan. An “accountabili-buddy” is a great way to make sure your employees have someone to lean on during stressful moments and to have at least one person to check in with to make sure they are doing OK. Set up “accountabili-buddy” pairs for a specific period of time (1-3 months, 6 months, etc.) and make sure that the two individuals are not in a supervisor-supervisee relationship. 

External Support

  • Other Resources. Management can explore local resources to find a counselor that teaches coping skills or wellness strategies. Leaders can also consider scheduling a singular training or a series of training sessions to help improve staff morale, self-care, or well-being. A counselor may be available for one-on-one sessions, if the organization wants to offer this resource. Even sharing a list of online resources, recommended mental health professionals, or free online courses could be helpful. Think about bringing in experts to run workshops or guest speakers on various mental health topics. Consider paying for a meditation or exercise app to share with staff that would help them manage their mental health.
  • Manager Discussions. Leadership can offer managers-only meetings for senior leaders or middle management focusing on the challenges of managing teams during this time. These groups can be helpful and supportive environments. Meetings can also provide an opportunity for learning mindfulness and stress management techniques tailored for managers, which could reduce stress, increase focus, and set positive examples for their teams.
  • Listen to Staff. Provide a list of resources for any issues that haven’t been explicitly addressed already. For example, a list of hotlines for mental health or domestic violence could be helpful to staff who may not feel comfortable sharing these personal aspects of their lives in the workplace. Additionally, there may be a spoken need among several staff for more support around a particular issue, like homeschooling their children. Be open to what staff say their needs are, and think about how to address needs that may be unspoken.

Quick Tips

Here are some additional tips to support mental health and encourage well-being at your organization:

  • Have a “rest hour” everyday in the afternoon when meetings cannot be scheduled
  • Have walking meetings instead of Zoom calls to encourage fresh air and movement
  • Play a quick game at the start of your next meeting to bond as a team and to have some fun
  • Have a quick coffee date or lunch break with a coworker just to chat (not about work)
  • Buy a small plant to put on your desk at home or in the office
  • Take a few hours (or a day) off from social media
  • Have your team take a personality test; understanding that everyone has different strengths can help your team work well together
  • Ask everyone on your team to share their stress styles in order to gain a better understanding of how each person responds to stress; this makes it easier for coworkers to support each other
  • Encourage staff not to read their emails during a 2-hour block each day, or to set specific times for checking email during the day 
  • Set up calendar invites for a stretch break every few hours - employees stretch on their own but the invite serves as a reminder to get up and move

About the Authors
  • David Goott is Program Manager at Leading Edge.

  • Alena Akselrod is Senior Program Director at Leading Edge.

  • Amy Born is Chief Strategy Officer at Leading Edge.

  • Melissa Walters is Senior Program Associate at Leading Edge.

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