KEY TAKEAWAYS: The majority of employees still feel uncomfortable approaching employers about mental health issues, so it’s imperative that you create a positive, supportive environment for your team.
Pre-pandemic lost productivity due to mental illness costs Canadian businesses an estimated $6 billion annually. The pandemic exacerbated mental health impacts, with one in five Canadians reporting depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. As more employees hit a pandemic wall of exhaustion, fatigue and frustration, mental health issues and the cost associated with them are expected to rise substantially. Anxiety over an anticipated return to the office will also contribute to the prevalence and cost of mental health issues in the workplace. [For more on setting up your office successfully for your employees’ return, read “How to Set up Your Office for Better Social Distancing”].
Unfortunately, only 23% of Canadian workers feel comfortable approaching their employers about their mental health issues. This is a huge problem, as mental health issues can worsen dramatically when untreated or hidden. Here are seven ways you can support your employees’ mental wellness as they gear up to return to the office.
1. Lead and model
Consider mandatory mental health training for leadership and include resiliency workshops in that training program. There will be challenges as workers return to the office, and resiliency workshops help leaders deal with these challenges in a constructive way. Tools like The EQ Resilience Solution can be a helpful, user-friendly assessment method to gauge the resiliency of everyone on your team, from leadership to employees.
Encourage supervisors, managers, and C–suite executives to model wellness and a positive work-life balance. In theory, this means being open and honest about the mental wellness actions they themselves take. In practice, it could mean sharing a calendar that includes spaces blocked off for a visit to your therapist or the gym. It also means using vacation time and encouraging others to do the same. This keeps leadership teams mentally healthy, but it also demonstrates that your company values mental well-being for all its employees.
If an employee sees that those in leadership positions are practicing what they preach, it may help them to overcome the mental blocks they have as they follow their employer’s lead and care for their own mental well-being.
2. Provide supports
Train supervisors to recognize at-risk workers but understand that managers and others will not have all the answers, nor will they have the necessary skill set to help each employee. That’s why you must ensure you have both the systems and people in place to support your employees. Hire human resources staff trained in mental health support and provide a well-advertised and confidential portal for workers to access additional support and help when they need it.
Establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to formalize both the process and the support available. Review your existing benefit offerings to ensure they sufficiently cover mental wellness. If possible, also include support for physical well-being through your flex benefits, such as assisting with gym memberships or the purchase of exercise equipment. Dedicating mental health supports through EAPs and benefits can make a massive difference in the overall mental health of your workers.
3. Be flexible
Greet your returning employees with a positive tone that conveys understanding and compassion. Your workers may be feeling a mix of emotions about returning to work ranging from joy to dread. Acknowledge these and demonstrate that you understand the types of personal and professional challenges your employees are facing.
For example, parents may be under additional pressure as exposures close classrooms or schools. Address these challenges directly by providing flexibility in your work environment wherever possible.
Flexibility in the workplace can come in many forms. While there are clear mental health benefits to flexibility, there are also other benefits, including increased retention, recruitment, and even productivity. Here are a few ways you can introduce flexibility into your workplace:
- Flex-time policies
- A compressed work week
- Shift work
- Part-time schedules
- Hybrid work location options (i.e. half remote, half at the office)
- Personal days
4. Communicate change
You will have to adapt and make changes as you go, partly due to shifting requirements or regulations outside your control, and partly in response to your team’s specific needs. Some earlier modifications to your workplace environment may not make sense for your business model or your workers in the long term. Be sure to communicate changes early and clearly, especially those that impact your workers directly. Providing the rationale for these changes can also go a long way to making them palatable to your team.
5. Create a wellness culture
A workplace structure that is focused on mental wellness includes a clear beginning and end to the day. This was important for remote work and shouldn’t be left out of return-to-work discussions. Consider something to close out the day that is a clear signal it’s time to wrap up. Be equally clear with job descriptions and expectations. Supervisors should also monitor employee workload and shift tasks or due dates as required. Try to move the focus from solely productivity to a bigger-picture focus that includes regular assessment of job descriptions and workload.
6. Collect data
Update, track and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs). We are in uncharted territory, and most business leaders are not entirely sure what success looks like in these rapidly-changing times. However, progress can be measured by relying on indicators like absenteeism, presenteeism, and a successful return to the office, as well as the use of short- and long-term disability and return on investment for mental health supports.
Your return-to-work plan for your workforce will be more successful and well-formed if you can first understand employees’ immediate needs and concerns. Consider launching a pulse survey to capture feedback and give people an opportunity to voice their worries. These types of surveys can go a long way toward making your workforce feel heard, especially when they feel disconnected. After collecting feedback, remember to share a summary of the results and information about how the company will address significant themes reported in the survey.
7. Leverage technology
Technology is helping revolutionize how workplaces are approaching mental health. VR applications can help treat phobias and anxiety disorders and are also being leveraged to treat social phobias through guided mindfulness training. Other technologies can track and promote physical activity. Many HR departments are leveraging platforms and apps that connect workers directly to mental health professionals.
SureHire’s EQ at Work and EQ Resilience platforms help employers assess worker mental wellness on an ongoing basis by providing private and secure connections to support workers who need them. The platform also delivers an individualized normal baseline for assessing workers’ mental health and individual assessment results for return-to-work or safety-sensitive positions. The aggregate data the platform gathers and reports on help you take the wellness pulse of your organization. This will allow you to make informed decisions and allocate resources appropriately.
SureHire’s EQ at Work and EQ Resilience platforms help employers assess worker mental wellness on an ongoing basis, providing private and secure connections to support workers who need them. The platform also delivers an individualized normal baseline for assessing workers’ mental health and individual assessment results for return-to-work or safety-sensitive positions. The aggregate data the platform gathers and reports on help you take the wellness pulse of your organization and allow you to make informed decisions and allocate resources appropriately.
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