May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a worldwide event organized each year to bring mental health to the forefront and remind everyone dealing with mental health issues that they are not alone.
This year, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Month is “Back to Basics.”
Two years of pandemic-related stress, loneliness, and upheaval have taken a toll on our collective emotional well-being, elevating depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues around the globe. Now is the ideal time for focusing on the fundamentals of mental health to build a base of support for the countless people struggling in silence.
Why Mental Health Awareness Matters in the Workplace
One of the key messages of Mental Health Awareness Month is that there should be no stigma around mental health challenges. Anyone can experience mental health difficulties and, when mental health issues are brought into the light of day, everyone benefits.
At the workplace, unmanaged stress from career and personal pressures can contribute to a variety of mental health issues and trigger burnout — a complete disengagement from work that causes productivity to plummet and often leads employees to quit.
Mental health symptoms can also worsen physical ailments, such as high blood pressure and migraines, which can cause employees to miss work and drive up healthcare costs.
According to a survey of 1,500 U.S. adult full-time workers released late last year:
- 76% of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition, up from 59% in 2019.
- Half of the respondents said they had left a work role for mental health reasons, up from 34% in 2019.
- 84% said at least one workplace factor negatively impacted their mental health.
No workplace is immune from mental health challenges. Fortunately, there are several simple and cost-effective changes you can make at your workplace to support your employees’ mental health.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are five completely free ways to improve mental health in your workplace:
1. Promote Mental Health Awareness
Simply acknowledging that mental health issues exist and that work can be a contributing factor can go a long way toward helping employees feel less isolated.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the workplace’s built-in communication structures and support networks can create the optimal environment for nurturing awareness of mental health issues.
There are several low-cost and free strategies for surfacing mental health concerns in the workplace. Among other activities, the CDC recommends:
- Distributing brochures, fliers, and videos identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and describing treatment options. (You can also create a microsite that centralizes mental health resources online.)
- Host workshops or webinars addressing mental health issues and management strategies such as mindfulness and breathing exercises.
- Train managers to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression and reach out to employees if necessary.
- Invite employees to take part in decisions that impact on-the-job stress.
2. Encourage Breaks and Time Off
The work-till-you-drop, always-connected mindset prevalent in the workplace just a few years ago is now recognized as a recipe for burnout. All employees need time away from work to recharge and refresh.
Studies show that prolonged work without a break can deplete mental resources and that breaks of even a few minutes can improve workers’ moods considerably. Regular vacations are associated with higher levels of well-being and reduced risk for stress-related diseases such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Employees look to their bosses to set the tone. Managers can encourage a positive attitude toward breaks and time off by taking some themselves (and making sure time off means logging off from all forms of messaging, as well).
3. Provide Access to Free Screening Tools
The stigma around mental health is gradually falling away, yet it remains all too common for people to suffer from conditions like depression and anxiety without realizing it. Simple and free screening tools can be eye-openers, alerting employees that their emotional challenges are more than simply “stress” — and are treatable.
Mental Health America offers several science-based online screening tools that can be completed in minutes. You can share links with your employees via email or your office messaging app. Just be sure to encourage your employees to follow up with a qualified healthcare professional.
4. Continue to Offer Flexible Work Options
One mental health-related silver lining of the pandemic is that working remotely has given many workers an appreciation for the stress-reducing power of a flexible schedule.
Letting go of commutes and gaining the ability to attend to personal obligations during the workday have helped countless workers finally achieve work-life balance. And many are reluctant to return to the in-person workplace full time.
(Of course, remote work comes with its own set of stressors. Find tips for managing remote-work stress here.)
According to a study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America:
- Over 80% of respondents said more work flexibility would help them better manage their mental health.
- 66% would prefer to work remotely full time after the pandemic ends.
- 33% would prefer a combination of in-office and remote work.
- 92% say having a flexible job makes them happier in general.
Before you recall your entire workforce to the office, consider the mental health benefits of continuing to offer remote or hybrid options for those who want them. The key is helping your employees feel like they are in control of their time.
5. Reintroduce Employees to Their Mental Health Benefits
Nearly 40% of companies expanded their mental health benefits during the pandemic, adding options like telehealth access to mental health care and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Employee wellness programs were expanded, too, to include mental health-boosting activities such as meditation, yoga, and journaling.
If your company has recently updated your benefits package to include new mental health options, don’t assume your employees are fully aware. Everyone is inundated with so much messaging these days, it’s easy for information to go overlooked.
Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity to remind your employees of all the ways your organization supports their emotional well-being. If your email messaging isn’t getting through, try a visually engaging Digital Postcard.
Mental Health Is a Year-Round Priority
Don’t wait until open enrollment to let your employees know about their mental health benefits. Click here for a benefits communication calendar that will help you keep your employees apprised of all their benefits all year round.