6 Ways Small Businesses Can Prioritize the Mental Health of Their Employees
Here are some creative ways to improve your employees' mental hygiene -- and your bottom line.
After a year and a half of quarantines, lockdowns, loss of loved ones and economic uncertainty, supporting the mental health of your team is a necessity. Fear, anxiety and stress can come at any time, but in light of all that happened in 2020, these have risen to levels that are much more difficult to manage for many. Along with increased stress from outside the workplace, 74% of remote workers reported their responsibilities at work increased while 45% reported a decrease in mental health during the latter half of 2020.
For small businesses that don't yet have the budget to provide their employees with expensive therapy, the situation might feel hopeless. The temptation is to do nothing; however, there is a lot that small businesses can do to support the mental health of their employees. Here are some creative ways to help your employees practice good mental hygiene so that they can be at their best.
In Harvard Business Review's 2019 Mental Health at Work report, the most commonly desired workplace mental-health resources were a more open and accepting culture, clearer information about where to go or whom to ask for support, and training.
It is important for employees to, first of all, feel comfortable going to their supervisor when they are struggling to manage stress or anxiety. It's also important for them to know whom they should go to when they need help.
This information should not simply be buried in the onboarding material, but should be shared periodically in meetings, emails, or on Slack or other team-messaging platforms. Perhaps after a particularly challenging week, an email could be sent to your team members reminding them about the mental-health resources you offer. As long as you keep it lighthearted and don't pressure your employees to share when they aren't ready, the information will be welcomed by all.
Offer flex schedule options
For many remote workers with children, there may be scheduling challenges that increase stress. Giving your team members flexibility in scheduling and the chance to make their own schedules will not only relieve them, but it will also likely result in better productivity because employees can work during the times of least distraction.
Flexibility in scheduling does not mean lowering your standards. Empowering your team members to set their own schedule will likely help them find ways to work more efficiently. Additionally, it shows that you trust your employees, which will free them to trust themselves and be more confident in their work.
Model self-care strategies
It's important for your employees to see you modeling good mental hygiene and self-care practices. If you are consistently burning the candle at both ends, your team members will feel that this is what is expected of them too. Let your workers know when you are taking a break to exercise, stretch or meditate. Keep them informed of times when you will not be available because you need to unplug. Take vacations where you don't work at all. When your team members see you taking steps to prioritize your own mental health, they will see this as normal and accepted and be encouraged to follow suit.
Mandate vacation time
A mandatory vacation policy is a policy that requires employees to take a set amount of vacation days per year. It could be a minimum of one week off, five consecutive days off, or the policy might allow employees to spread out their vacation days, taking one or two at a time.
Employees who take a mandatory vacation are more likely to return to work with a renewed sense of purpose. Because many jobs can be done from phones, many employees have a hard time ever leaving work, even when they physically leave the office. This leads to burnout and many other health issues. With mandatory vacation time, employees can take a real break to recharge.
Some companies will enforce a paid leave at specific times in order to ensure that employees are there during the busiest times and away for the slowest times. Some companies will even close their doors for a time to give all employees a vacation where they truly won't be needed at work. This not only leads to decreased burnout and higher productivity, but can also allow smaller businesses to plan their year more efficiently.
Offer assistance with personal and professional development
Many times, burnout has less to do with being overwhelmed with the amount of work, and more to do with the type of work. If an employee is bogged down in tedious, monotonous tasks for months on end, burnout can happen quickly.
A true leader will always be looking for ways to develop his or her team. When employees are able to pursue their interests within the company, or perhaps even attend classes to learn a new skillset, they will feel more invested in the work and the company. Additionally, moving up in the company, or even laterally moving to a new department, can give an employee more purpose and confidence in themselves and in their work.
Offer a gym membership
It is no secret that physical health and mental health are deeply connected. A healthy lifestyle that includes good nutrition, sufficient sleep and exercise can help prevent mental-health conditions, particularly depression and anxiety. It can also prevent these conditions from worsening and can even play a big role in mental-health recovery.
If your business is able to offer employees a gym membership, this can start a huge ripple effect in the health of employees. Even a minimal amount of consistent exercise can increase energy levels, improve memory and brain function, help with relaxation and sleep quality and improve overall happiness. So, even if your employees aren't eating healthily or sleeping well, if they start exercising regularly, they may end up improving both their sleep and eating habits (because better sleep and more energy generally lead to less cravings). Better physical health will then lead to better mental health.
Gym memberships can be costly, but many gyms offer corporate discounts. In the end, it is a small sacrifice to make in light of the huge potential pay off.
This last year and a half has brought health to the forefront of everyone's mind. Workplaces have had to institute brand new physical-hygiene protocols such as social distancing, masks, remote work and more overnight. Mental hygiene is no less important. As we begin to prioritize wellness in the workplace more and more, now is the perfect time to start implementing mental-health support for your employees into your overall business culture. This will lead to happier, healthier, more resilient employees, who will be ready to tackle the big challenges for your company.
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