- The pandemic is raising awareness of mental health in the workplace.
- However, many managers aren’t fully prepared or equipped to effectively support employees.
- These 5 techniques will help managers recognize when employees need support and how to provide it.
The coronavirus has created challenging times for many. However, one good thing that’s coming out of the pandemic is that employers have become aware of the importance of their employees’ mental health, and why they need to support workers on an ongoing basis.
While this increased awareness is welcome, it’s worth noting that many managers aren’t fully prepared or equipped to effectively support employees. Add to this the fact that many organizations have embraced remote work, and the task gets even more challenging.
So, what can managers and company leaders do to provide the right support to employees when they need it?
5 Things Managers Can Do to Support Mental Health in the Workplace
1. Start the conversation to normalize mental health talk in a workplace setting
Studies have found that workers are reluctant to share their mental health issues or struggles with managers and colleagues alike. Other studies have found that some workers would rather make up an excuse rather than say they need to take a mental health day.
If managers want to support the mental health of employees, then they need to start the conversation around mental health and help employees feel safe and comfortable addressing mental health issues.
For any program or support to work, companies need to first remove this barrier.
Here are some ways to start the conversation and create a safe talking space:
- Ask how people are doing. Reach out to individual team members and check up on them. A simple “are you OK?” can go a long way in getting the conversation going.
- Be vulnerable yourself as a manager. To normalize mental health talk in the workplace, start with yourself; share with your team members how you are doing mentally and emotionally. If you are struggling with something, share that experience. By doing this, you will be leading by example and increasing the chances of others following suit.
- Create a communication channel that’s specifically focused on checking up on people. Make it easy for people to share how they feel. For example, you can have a Slack channel where people simply type what their mood is when they first clock in; even if no questions are asked in a group setting, if people feel comfortable stating they feel tired, stressed, frustrated, or anxious can help get the conversation going. If you notice that someone in the team has been reporting negative feelings or emotions for a few days or weeks, consider reaching out to them personally.
2. Communicate available resources
Sometimes, the best support you can provide as a manager is simply guiding people in the right direction to get the help they need.
This is why it’s crucial that you share the mental health resources that are available to your employees. These resources can be company sponsored or you can share local organizations that can help people out in specific situations.
People are more likely to take action if they are aware about the resources that are available and how to reach out and take advantage of them.
Some resources may need to be paid for, others could provide free access. At the end of the day, the more options you provide to employees, the more likely they are to find something that is right for them.
3. Support flexibility
This is especially important now that many workers are working from home. Consider the individual situation of each employee and be flexible with their schedules and how they work. At the end of the day, if they are meeting their deadlines and goals, and have been on top of their work, the where, when and how becomes less important.
By accommodating and recognizing the different needs of each employee, managers can create an environment that not only supports mental health, but also — and more importantly — can help decrease stress and anxiety levels.
Flexibility can help individuals and organizations thrive, especially during uncertain times like the ones we are experiencing this year.
4. Revisit policies and practices
Does your company offer unlimited vacation? What about paid time off? Can people ask for a mental health day? What about unpaid leave?
Also consider your communication policies and your practices. Are employees encouraged to stay connected even after hours? Do you tend to send emails or messages early in the morning or late at night?
If your company plans to allow employees to continue working remotely, it’s important that you revisit policies and practices around time off and work expectations.
Be sure to communicate if it’s OK for workers to dial back on their work hours if they are struggling with stress. Model healthy behavior by not encouraging an always-on culture and reminding employees why it’s important that they disconnect from work while working from home.
Whatever you decide, make sure that you are clear about the changes that are coming and that you explain why these changes are happening.
5. Be consistent
It will take time to normalize the conversation around mental health at work. It will also take time to get employees more engaged and willing to talk and take action.
Mental health at work is not a destination; it’s an ongoing journey. This is why managers need to be consistent with their efforts.
If you are implementing weekly or daily check-ins, make sure they are happening on the agreed basis. If you are offering access to resources, make sure that you’re updating the list of resources as some become available or unavailable. If you’re encouraging people to foster healthy habits, make sure that you’re modeling that behavior (e.g. no eating while working, no after hours emails or calls, being honest about your feelings, etc.).
Managers who are able to support the mental health of their employees during the pandemic and afterwards will emerge as better leaders, and their organizations will be better as a result.