It's been two years since the initial lockdowns that were brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that we are through the worst of it and we can now take stock and look at the lessons we learned. We are once again enjoying simple pleasures like lunch out with friends and taking in a film, and we are more understanding of the fragility of life and appreciation for our loved ones.
One of the biggest lessons that the corporate world has taken to heart is the importance of nurturing employees' mental health.
A World Turned Upside Down
For many, work-life balance was hijacked when remote working became the new normal. The benefits of remote work have been highly touted, but the inverse has not been discussed nearly as much.
The lack of separation between the time at the office and time with the family meant they often bled into each other. People were worried about their health, their family's health, and finances, and it seemed like the end of the world as we knew it.
This increased the already growing awareness of mental health as more and more companies understood the direct link between mental wellness and productivity.
A New Approach to Employee Management
The top-down hierarchy of traditional business left a lot to be desired. There has been a dramatic shift towards collaborative approaches and a focus on team dynamics. This has resulted in employees feeling more valued and motivated to contribute to the bigger picture, rather than being worker bees merely contributing to the bottom line.
And the more people-centric approach has opened doorways that allow employers and colleagues to see each other as unique individuals who come with lives as intricate and complex as their own.
With one in five Americans experiencing a mental health disorder, it stands to reason that this will exist in the workplace. Additional stress within the work environment can exacerbate the symptoms, and employers can implement measures to alleviate this and support mental health.
It all begins with communication, awareness, and understanding. And the benefits are enjoyed by both the employer and the employees.
How Companies Are Prioritizing Employee Mental Health
Research shows that more than 85% of employees who are treated for depression and anxiety, rather than ignoring it, reported significantly improved performance, and absenteeism was reduced by about 50%.
Companies that support mental wellness have a much higher staff retention rate and decrease their health care costs that arise from the ripple effect of mental illness. People with untreated depression and anxiety have a 40% higher chance of developing cardiovascular diseases and are 32% more likely to develop a substance use disorder.
Employees who feel they don't need to hide or be ashamed of mental health issues are more likely to seek treatment. Employers can also implement other methods to ensure ongoing support and healthy company culture.
Employees need to feel heard and valued. Mental wellness should be included in health and safety policies, and a culture of empathy can be created through regular, meaningful check-ins with staff. This is even more essential with the shift to remote working, as it is easy to miss someone slipping through the cracks.
Studies show that almost 40% of employees worldwide reported that no one had asked them during COVID lockdowns if they were coping with the stress. And these respondents reported nearly 40% more mental health struggles than those who felt that someone cared.
Being open about mental health policies, including them in health care plans, and establishing employee assistance programs (EAPs) are the first steps in sending a positive message and reducing stigma. EAPs provide employees with access to counseling via phone, free sessions with a mental health professional, and stress management tools within the workplace.
At this stage, as many as 97% of large companies have EAPs in place. But they are largely underused with less than 10% of the workforce taking advantage of the opportunity. This is due to both a lack of information and fear of stigmatization.
Many companies are readdressing the 9-5 and implementing flexible working hours. Hybrid offices and remote working opportunities allow employees to balance their work and home responsibilities. Small changes, such as no-meeting Mondays, four-day work weeks, and more vacation time are also on the rise.
Investing in upskilling employees increases employees' value within the company and increases their self-worth. It also instills a sense of job security and builds confidence. In addition, employees who feel more valuable and skilled report more job satisfaction and less stress.
Improving employee relationships is also essential, as teams that enjoy positive relationships are far more likely to collaborate well. Meaningful team-building strategies are one of the best investments a business can make.
Environment plays a significant role in our physiological responses. A simple shift in office layout and design can minimize external stressors and can be implemented both in company workspaces as well as in remote workspaces. Too much noise, distraction, artificial light, and uncomfortable workstations aggravate stress levels, yet are simple to adjust.
Many companies are redesigning their workspace to accommodate wellness. Considering the acoustics of a workspace can limit echoing and traveling conversations—soft finishes and vinyl flooring result in significant noise reduction and unnecessary distraction.
A quiet space to retreat to, preferably with fresh air, natural light, and greenery, is a perfect opportunity for mini mental health breaks or a spot to enjoy lunch.
A New Normal for Team Management
Building a work environment that is an enjoyable place is also important. If we spend a minimum of eight hours a day at work, there should be plenty of opportunities to connect, laugh and practice some self-care.
So many simple things can be integrated into the workday to boost a sense of well-being and impact overall mental health. Encouraging employees to build these into their day shows that their well-being matters.
Employees' mental health and wellness are crucial to productivity. Employees that know that their well-being matters to the powers that be is the most critical step in this process. Design a safe space where colleagues can enjoy their time spent together and make the most of every workday.