6 ways to prioritize mental health at work

by Sep 20, 2021

It’s no secret that the last year and a half has been a wild ride. It’s been a rollercoaster that none of us signed up for, and it seems as if things aren’t going to slow down anytime soon. Someone wise once said to me, “You don’t stop being a human once you arrive at work.” This statement couldn’t be truer than it is today. Employees can’t be expected to put personal ailments and anxieties on hold for the sake of a 9-to-5 (or overnight shift, or extended hours, or part-time gigs, or whatever schedule you follow). In fact, one survey found that 65% of employees feel mental health issues have affected their ability to work.

Especially in the age of COVID, it’s impossible to ignore outside stressors and focus solely on work. People have lost loved ones, lost jobs, found new ones, struggled to pay bills, clashed with family members, clashed with friends, lost relationships, felt isolated, alone, and burnt out — and, above all else, felt their mental health plummet. For some, this is the first time they’ve ever felt feelings of “depression,” so some are scrambling to grasp what those feelings mean and how to express and address them.

While supervisors and CEOs can’t solve the world’s problems, they can support their employees in ways that fall outside of performance reviews and constructive feedback. Here are some helpful methods to make sure the workplace is also a safe place to be a human being.

Use EAP programs

Employee assistance programs are a great way to support employees through personal struggles outside of the workplace. If your company offers these benefits, don’t just leave it to the employee to seek them out. Send out reminder emails or other alerts to remind them that they are free, confidential, and always available.

Partner with Sonic Boom

Sure, this feels a bit gratuitous, but hear us out: Our platform can bring employees closer together, even if they are far apart. We offer fun ways to engage with one another (think: engaging contests and fun challenges), and we provide helpful Academy courses to help colleagues navigate through those tough health days. Our in-house health coaches have also gone above and beyond during this time — taking on more members and going above and beyond to support them toward their goals.

Check in with your staff

Here’s a sad statistic: One study found that, in April 2020, 40% of employers hadn’t asked their staff how they were feeling. Yikes! For those that are thinking, it’s not my job to make sure my employees are okay, you might be right, but you also may be ignorant to the times we’re living and working in. Creating a regular mental-health check-in for each employee on an ongoing basis can boost morale and performance, and it can also create a compassionate atmosphere, where workers feel more comfortable voicing when they need to take a break or require extra support. Vulnerability can go a long way!

Empower team managers

These are the leaders that oversee other people in the workplace — and they’re people who also require training and resources to do their jobs well and efficiently. A promotion is great to award a deserving employee, but make sure those in managerial roles also have the knowledge and expertise to oversee a team of people. Just because someone is great at their day-to-day job doesn’t mean they’re automatically prepared to lead a team. This article from the American Psychological Association can be helpful.

Mandate an “unplug policy” 

Yes, it’s exactly how it sounds. While some professions may not be able to fully unplug during a vacation (think: doctors), most of us don’t need to do the “I’m off today, but …” out-of-office reply. This type of behavior can often stem from a fear of signing fully off; perhaps company leaders and other managers have subconsciously set that precedent. Instead, create a companywide “unplug policy,” where team members aren’t allowed to reply to (or even be on) emails while they’re taking time off.

Schedule a daily “off hour”

For those of us who have been partially or fully remote, those virtual happy hours and social hours may feel a bit … repetitive. While they’re definitely good for connecting with each other, try scheduling a companywide “off-hour” instead, where everyone logs off for a designated period of time to do whatever they need to do. Or, if work permits, allow for half-days before major holidays, and request that everyone sign off to enjoy the long weekend.

The bottom line

Of course, these suggestions won’t cure any of the world’s issues, but every little bit counts when it comes to showing grace and compassion in the workplace. Plus, giving employees the freedom to safely express their needs will translate to their job performance too. Create an environment that alleviates stress instead of adding to it.