Creating a Culture That Supports Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing
By Robyn Deusterman
It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted individuals in both their professional and personal lives throughout the past year. Given that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to raise awareness and seek out new ways to address this impact among employees that employers can use all year.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, four in 10 adults in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic. At the same time, many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, such as difficulty sleeping or eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions.
While diagnosing mental health issues requires a medical professional, there are actions organizations can take to support employee mental health and wellbeing. Below are a few strategies we have found useful for our teams that you may find useful in your organization.
1. Offer holistic wellbeing programming. An employee’s wellbeing is directly impacted by mental health issues — according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults experience some form of mental illness in any given year. Consider broadening your offerings to include meditation, virtual exercise classes and virtual and in-person volunteer events to provide opportunities for your teams to recharge, connect, and support physical and emotional wellbeing and social connection. Social connection can be especially important in a time when employees may feel isolated. Strategies we’ve used to foster these connections include virtual volunteering, Zoom bingo, virtual social hours and at-home show-and-tell.
2. Provide a range of resources to help employees feel supported. From Employee Assistance Programs, which deliver professional and confidential services to help employees deal with a variety of personal, family, life and work-related issues, to resources from nationally recognized organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is a plethora of useful information for employees. It’s important to regularly remind employees of the readily available support.
3. Be responsive to current events. The past year had been particularly challenging for employees given the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest that has occurred throughout the country. Organizations must be mindful of incidents that may be impacting their employees and respond accordingly, which could include communications from leadership acknowledging the situation, listening sessions to provide a venue for employees to share their feelings and experiences, or founding employee network groups (ENGs) to intentionally create spaces to build community, support and learn from one another, share perspectives and be an advocate for issues and topics important to their network population.
4. Provide opportunities for employees to recharge. The past year has brought significant change and stress to many individuals due to a change in work environments, virtual learning for children, and illness and uncertainty related to the pandemic. Leaders play an important role in reiterating company messages and helping employees know it’s acceptable to set clear boundaries between work and home.
Mental health affects how we think, act and feel, as well as the choices we make. Not every employee experiences mental illness, but it’s critical that employers pay attention to and support employee wellbeing on a holistic level, including mental health support. By encouraging employees to dedicate time to their mental health, we as employers can build a framework for total wellbeing that leads to more engaged, more productive, happier employees now and into the future.
Robyn Deusterman is the manager, diversity and wellbeing for ECMC Group.