9 Ways to Prioritize Employee Mental Health in 2022

5 min read · 3 weeks ago

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May is mental health awareness month. As a small business owner, you can also resolve to help prioritize your employees’ mental health in 2022. Improving worker morale and increasing retention with these strategies can help support your employees’ wellbeing.

The habit of making resolutions is not a new one. In fact, it began about 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians would set goals to keep their good standing with their gods at an annual new year festival. According to recent research done by the Statistic Brain Research Institute, it’s estimated that as many as 45% of Americans will make resolutions. Yet, only eight percent will keep them.

As a small business owner you can make a resolution to support employees’ mental health. With workplace stress recognized by the World Health Organization as a “worldwide epidemic,” taking action makes sense. According to the National Library of Medicine workers who are stressed or otherwise in poor health are more likely to be absent, unproductive, and unmotivated. Accidents are more common too. 

A study of mental health at work in the U.K. found investing in promoting mental wellbeing can net “an 800% return on investment through reduced absenteeism and presenteeism.” Supporting physical well-being is beneficial too.

Moving forward into 2022, consider trying these strategies to help show your people you care and help prioritize employee mental health:

  • Create an inclusive culture
  • Offer mental health days
  • Raise mental health awareness
  • Provide information about healthcare benefits
  • Check in with employees
  • Partner with relevant providers
  • Offer healthy food options
  • Take stock of work challenges
  • Make time for fun

 

Create an Inclusive Culture

There are many reasons to create and stand by an inclusive culture. But actively demonstrating you value your employees (i.e., regardless of gender, race, religion, beliefs, disability, political views) can help support their mental health. Doing so can help your employees feel more accepted and they may be more likely to speak up if something is causing them stress at work.

Have policies in place that communicate the importance of employees’ taking care of their physical and mental health can help counter people’s concern that they might be stigmatized or held back if they seek help.

Are your employees working from home? Check out Hot New Business Ideas for Cultivating Workplace Culture While Working Remotely

 

Offer Mental Health Days

Don’t just offer vacation days –  actively encourage people to take a break and recharge. Make it possible by adding a few mental health days for your longtime employees. 

Also, discourage supervisors or managers from making it difficult for people to take a day off. If employees think that they will be penalized or shamed for being out of the office, they may continue to work to the point of burnout. And that’s not going to do your business any good in the long-term.

 

Raise Mental Health Awareness

Put someone in charge of raising mental health awareness. Maybe this individual sends out regular emails with tips encouraging employees to be healthier working from home or in the office. You can also educate your people about symptoms to look for when it comes to burnout or other mental health issues. 

Offering lunch-and-learn sessions on time management or mindfulness, or hosting a meditation session can also help to raise awareness of habits that cut down workplace stress.

 

Provide Information About Healthcare Benefits 

Make sure your employees know about any benefits available through your healthcare plan. Some plans have a mental health help line. Or, in the wake of COVID-19, could still be waiving co-pays for therapist visits. 

When new hires join your team you might provide a list of nearby medical and mental health professionals in your onboarding materials to help them find a local provider in your plan. You can also let employees know about any Telehealth options available.

 

Check in with Employees

According to the Harvard Business Review open communication and feeling connected to others can have a positive impact on employees’ mental health. Of course, you want to respect employees’ privacy and boundaries. But if you can ask how they are doing on a regular basis it can do a great deal to improve their overall mental health.  The Harvard Business Review found that “nearly 40% of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK — and those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the outbreak.”

You might also encourage physical activity by creating an employee walking or running group. This can foster employee camaraderie while also giving employees a way to reduce stress.

 

Partner with Relevant Providers

Partner with another local business to make sure your employees have access to fitness plans, healthy food options, yoga, meditation or massage. For example, if you own a print shop you might make a reciprocal arrangement with a massage studio to offer discounted rates to its employees in exchange for printing. 

Invite a yoga studio or other fitness program looking to expand its clientele to run a clinic in your conference room after hours or over lunch. This makes it easy for your employees to try out something new, without even having to leave work, and can also benefit another business. 

 

Partner with relevant providers

Offer Healthy Food Options

Instead of daily donuts or Monday muffins, you might support healthy eating by offering break room treats that can keep people energized and productive. Healthline suggests top options include:

  • Nuts and dried fruits
  • Bell peppers and guacamole
  • Rice cakes and peanut butter
  • Fresh fruit
  • Tuna pouches
  • Greek yogurt

You might not associate food with mental health, but food has a direct impact on mood. “We tend to separate our brain from the rest of our body, but good health means good health from a holistic perspective – from head to toe,” Dr. Gabriela Cora, a board-certified psychiatrist said in an Aetna article.

 

Make Time for Fun

Prioritizing employee mental health means making an effort to embrace a little fun at work. 

If you’re a company that hosts a number of meetings, you might start an all-hands meeting with a fun element such as an icebreaker game, or a joke, or an engaging question. 

Other options include:

  • Post a daily brain teaser or riddle in the break room or send it out every morning with a small prize or recognition for the person who gets the answer first.
  • Have a spirit week like you used to have back in middle school when you invite people to wear silly socks or dress in their favorite sport team’s gear.
  • Get outside and participate in recreational sports. 

 

Take Stock of Work Challenges

Survey employees about their responsibilities and roles to find out if they feel that they match their skills and experience. Do they feel overworked? Supported by supervisors? If not, that may contribute to workplace stress.

Also explore the work environment for any factors that are problematic. Are there interpersonal conflicts that need to be addressed? Are the workspaces ergonomic? Is the temperature affecting people’s comfort? Do workers worry about adequate social distancing or cleanliness? 

Consider whether you can make the workspace more inviting or feel safer for your employees. Maybe you need to add plants and more natural materials or move people to a floor with more natural light. 

 

Prioritizing employee health benefits your business

Some of these strategies may take a little more work, but prioritizing employee mental health can help show that you care about the people who work for you. Plus, you’ll have happier, healthier employees helping to drive business success.