How Your Company Can Increase Mental Health Support in the Workplace
During the pandemic, women faced an unprecedented mental health crisis, leading to a mass exodus of women from jobs across multiple industries. But it wasn’t just the pandemic — as WiT President and Head of Global Licensing at American Greetings Entertainment Janice Ross said, “… even before COVID hit, women in the workplace have always faced specific challenges around mental health.” And often, organizations are not set up to support women and their mental health.
According to the 2020 National Institute of Mental Health survey, nearly one in five adults in the US live with a mental illness. That’s a whopping 52.9 million people, not accounting for the statistical inaccuracies contributing to people not wishing to disclose their mental health issues due to the stigma. The prevalence of mental illness is higher among women at 25.3%, versus men at 15.8%. Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and are more likely to battle eating disorders. Some of this can be attributed to women facing pay inequity, having a higher share of caregiver responsibilities, and gender-based violence. In addition, issues with infertility, menopause, and postpartum depression can increase the chances of mental health issues among women. With so much pressure on the modern woman, it’s no wonder that mental health issues have become rampant. Still, as a business owner or leader, you can help support the women in your workplace through some of these steps outlined by the WiT Webinar series: Supporting Mental Health & Wellness For Women in the Workforce.
Make mental health a top priority at work. It can be as simple as making sure your employees know they have access to resources such as literature on healthy habits and lifestyles, counseling, and support programs. Stress the confidentiality aspect of therapy and support programs to make employees comfortable enough to come forward and avoid the stigma of seeking help or the fear of their sessions becoming weaponized in the workplace. Even something simple as changing the terminology of “sick day” to “wellness day” to cover all reasons a person may need a day off will help create a more inclusive and healthy work environment. As Janice Ross pointed out in the webinar, “…employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change.”
Reintroducing the human connection to remote work. One of the most significant difficulties of working from home has been the lack of support that we have become dependent on in the workplace, whether it be simple coffee check-ins with colleagues or more intimate conversations over lunch. Without these necessary interactions, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone, aggravating already present mental health issues. It’s important to check in on your employees — take time at the beginning of meetings to go around and ask how everyone is doing or share what they did over the weekend. These seemingly trivial moments help bridge the missing emotional proximity from our usual office routines. Another healthy way to reinstate the human connection is to create monthly employee events to come together and regain that sense of community lost in remote work. This can be done over Zoom, like a game night, book club, or craft-specific meetings. Alternatively, you can host an outdoor event to allow employees to gather safely, like a picnic or day in the park.
Focus on promoting a healthy work/life balance. Before the days of remote work, many of us had a dedicated routine for getting ready to leave the house, which created a physical separation between work and home life. In the modern workplace, the lines between the two bleed into one another, which can lead to employees feeling frustrated and burned out. Encourage your employees to schedule small breaks throughout the workday to help themrecenter and refocus their energy. One idea is to introduce mindful minutes, where everyone takes a few minutes a day to meditate and reflect on their personal goals. You could also introduce your office to chair yoga to reduce stress and improve focus, or even dedicate a few daily minutes to a dance party to boost morale.
Mentorship and modeling healthy practices. Ultimately, humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to mirror behaviors around us. Suppose employees see unhealthy coping mechanisms or our coworkers and higher-ups putting aside their own needs in favor of deadlines. In that case, they will most likely emulate this and ignore their mental wellbeing or assume it’s expected by the company to put work first at all costs. Provide courses or opportunities for managers to learn how to support staff living with mental health issues. Remember:one-size-fits-all approaches are never effective. Start a one-on-one mentorship program that can meet once a month to bring back the human connection we are missing working remotely; this allows higher-ups to have a more intimate view of their employees’ lives and wellness. With remote work, it’s much easier to sweep the subtle signals of a person struggling under the rug. Those office chats during coffee breaks or around the water cooler not only provided connection — they also allowed people to see if their colleagues needed more support or assistance at work.
Now, more than ever, educating staff about mental health resources is critical to avoid burnout and other mental health complications. Companies that invest in the mental health of their employees through open dialogue can create a supportive and inclusive workplace where all people will enjoy working.