Times are tough these days. Recently companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. These are excellent initiatives and we’d love to help spread the word. We reached out to more than a dozen leaders to share ideas that companies should offer to promote mental wellness. Please enjoy their ideas below.
Jen Fisher, Deloitte Chief Well-being Officer
- Encouraging open conversations. We are focused on creating a safe workplace where our people feel comfortable speaking openly about mental health. Mental Health @ Work is our initiative to encourage teams to make mental health a priority and it provides resources, tools, and educational opportunities to help them.
- Making recovery a priority: At different points in the year, and at year-end, we all disconnect together to allow everyone time for rest and recovery. We call these days, collective disconnect, and they are in addition to paid time off and holidays.
- Building mental health literacy: We offer Mental Health First Aid virtual courses to our people so they can build mental health literacy and learn how they can support a colleague who may be struggling or in crisis.
- Supporting health habits: We offer a well-being subsidy to help offset the costs of well-being related products and services, like meditation instruction, yoga classes, and fees associated with hiking trails, charitable runs, horseback riding, and more.
- Storytelling: We encourage our people to share their experiences related to mental health and tell their stories in their own words. These stories are shared and promoted throughout the organization.
Nathan Christensen, Mammoth HR & ThinkHR
- Provide space to process grief: In the wake of COVID-19, many employees are struggling with loss in different forms right now, including loss of routines, loss of relationships, and loss of travel. Earlier this year, we hosted a grief workshop to make sure that our managers understand, identify, and acknowledge grief they may be feeling and are also prepared to support their team members.
- Create outlets for wellness: With so many employees stuck at home due to COVID-19 and, for those on the west coast, dealing with smoke from the wildfires, we realized we could help fill the void. So we partnered with a third-party vendor to offer a range of wellness sessions for our employees. Each session is a 25-minute segment a few times per week, focused on stretching, meditation, positive parenting, yoga and mental health care. We also gave all employees a year-long subscription to “Headspace” and mailed coloring books to employees (and their families).
- Leverage our team: Bringing in outside experts can provide an important resource for employees. But often we overlook one of the most important resources we have — each other. Our colleagues can be a source of strength, empathy, and comfort for us, particularly since we share a common experience of working together. After we transitioned to a fully remote environment, we had to create new ways for our employees to connect with each other, including online small group sessions and virtual happy hours.
- Stay on top of PTO usage: With travel more restricted than it used to be, we’re unable to take the type of time off we may be used to. As a result, PTO often falls to the wayside. At Mammoth and ThinkHR we are closely monitoring the usage of employee PTO to make sure our employees are giving themselves time to refresh and rejuvenate, even when it feels like there is no place to go. We’re seeing PTO usage rates at two-thirds of historical norms for this time of year, and we’ve been training and encouraging managers to work individually with employees who have taken little time off this year.
- Shorten meetings: Now that we’re working in a remote environment, in which nearly all communication and collaboration is scheduled and planned, we’ve seen our employees’ calendars fill up with back-to-back meetings. As a result, employees aren’t getting time during the day to eat, hydrate, use the restroom, or help a child with school work, and they’re drained at the end of the day. To address this, we now require that anyone scheduling a meeting include 5 minutes of break time for every 25 minutes of meeting time. Meetings that were scheduled for 30 minutes are shortened to 25 minutes. Meetings scheduled for an hour are shortened to 50 minutes. This change makes sure that employees have an opportunity to transition and reset themselves through the day.
Sabriya Dobbins of Project Passport
- One thing that I know companies have been doing for mental health is inserting “fun” into the day. This is done by adding physical and virtual games or competitions between team members and attending events like escape rooms together. This type of initiative is focused on self-care and stress relief through the concept of play. Google installing slides is a great example of adding fun into the workplace.
- Another initiative is more access to EAP benefits. Companies already often invest into these programs but most times the team members do not utilize them. In fact, many studies are saying that less than 10% of employees use their Employee Assistance Program benefits, which are designed to help with many areas including mental health. Health fair initiatives by the EAP partners and companies are being put into place where team members get to go out and meet the partner health and wellbeing companies there to serve them through the EAP.
- Companies are bringing internal mental health professionals into teams to help employees in crisis or conflict and when they are needed right on-site. This is a newer initiative that expands EAP to be even more accessible. Companies like Mars report to have a trained professional on site who can help employees needing help right then and there.
- Online Slack channels and talk groups for employees have been growing rapidly within companies. These channels allow employees to form affinity groups to discuss their mental health concerns in a “safe space” and to connect with their peers. This is common in many tech companies like IBM where team members can form connected communities in areas which they identify in such as race, gender, and other important identities.
- Finally, companies are having open discussions, trainings, and conversations with partner mental health organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where they are able to allow for focus groups and open dialogue between team members. This is also a highly educational opportunity for team members to learn how to better care for others with mental health issues and themselves. One company I know that has done this is Red Hat (now acquired) in their partnerships with local NAMI chapters to discuss mental health in the workplace.
Amy O’Neill, VP at Liberty Mutual Insurance
- Remove cost barriers to access mental health services– we expanded our Employee Assistance Program free counseling sessions from 6 to 10 days per year, per issue. This is a really great program that provides access to certified mental health professionals for any life challenge employees may face in their lives.
- Expand virtual — we have really worked to emphasize and promote virtual behavioral health visits through our relationship with United Health Care. Recently, we offered a $100 incentive for employees who used at least one virtual visit during the year. Virtual care is often lower cost and a more easily accessible avenue of care, especially for mental health services
- Offer programs that target a specific need — we recently introduced Sleepio, a digital sleep management program. Recognizing that sleep issues impact so many Americans and is closely correlated with incidence of depression and anxiety, this is a great way to help maintain healthy sleep habits.
- Focus on stress management and resiliency — through our partnership with meQuilibrium, we have raised awareness of individual “stress triggers” and offer tools to work through and overcome day-to-day stressors
- Normalize the conversation around mental health — this October our CHRO is delivering a message around the importance of mental health and will re-promote Angst, a documentary about anxiety in teens, which is applicable to anyone who has experienced anxiety in their life. Our CEO will also be speaking about this topic in the coming months. In light of the environment we find ourselves in –a global pandemic, racial injustices, work/life lines being blurred — stress and anxiety is at an all-time high; we need to open the conversation around this topic and let our employees know it is ok to ask for help, and that they are not alone in their feelings of depression, anxiety or any other mental health struggle.
Brendan Street of Nuffield Health
- We have given ALL staff free access to a proven effective online self-help cognitive behaviour therapy platform. This aids staff to develop skills and coping techniques to improve mental wellbeing in many areas (sleep, money worries, body image, stress, resilience etc.) Uptake of this platform has been high with positive feedback.
- We also developed and delivered Emotional Literacy Training (via an online platform) to all staff. This was designed to equip all employees with the skills to hold conversations confidently around mental health (as managers and employees) and give them a common language to discuss their feelings. This training builds a positive culture around mental health, helping employees notice signs of distress in others and giving them the confidence to approach them appropriately. In fact, at Nuffield Health, over three-quarters of employees have successfully completed Emotional Literacy Training. It is notable that this training was not made mandatory, with high uptake mainly due to good initial internal communications and then word of mouth. Following completion of the training 94 percent of participants stated that they felt confident supporting a colleague showing signs of emotional distress.
- In addition, we have trained 230 Emotional Wellbeing Champions (via our internally developed Mental Health First Care Training course) across all areas of the business. These individuals act as ambassadors of the open culture of mental health and normalize conversations around mental health. They give employees the knowledge that there’s someone to talk to who is empowered with the knowledge and empathy to listen to them and point them towards the right support. This network of Emotional Wellbeing Champions, in combination with emotionally literate line managers, have the confidence to encourage conversations around mental wellbeing and to ensure employees gain access to the right support at the right time.
- Within Nuffield Health we have also offered a range of webinars as well as ½ day, 1 day and 2 day courses on subjects such as sleep, stress, resilience, the menopause. This maintains a conversation about mental wellbeing and builds a culture where discussions about mental health are both welcome and expected. We have also developed a Wellbeing Hub, which is a fantastic repository, on our intranet that stores a range of articles, guide, and tools to support mental, physical, financial and social wellbeing.
- Finally, we offer access to psychological therapy free of charge to ALL staff. Staff are able to access a booking portal on the Nuffield Health intranet. If an employee is concerned about their mental health, they book an appointment with a mental health professional who will then offer advice and if necessary, get the individual booked in for treatment with the appropriate mental health professional. Data we have collected internally suggests that our progressive approach, has been very effective during the most difficult of circumstances. Having tested what works and how, we have the expertise and confidence to guide our clients to develop their own wellbeing strategies using some or all of the elements above.
Cynthia Ring, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
- Increasing our flexibility on work hours. To help meet employees’ individual needs, we understood the need to offer more options beyond a traditional 9–5 workday.
- Continuing to investigate and invest in new tools that make connecting with one another easier.
- Ramping up our training efforts on new tools and offering refresher sessions for things like video conferencing that some employees may be using for the first time.
- Stressing the importance of vacation time and offering suggestions for stay-at-home vacations.
- Minimizing screen time between 12–1pm several times a week in support of employee well-being and to encourage time outdoors during daylight savings.
Tony Bates, Genesys
- At Genesys, leading with empathy is a priority. One of our first steps when the pandemic hit was to launch our “COVID Task Force” to lead a focused effort to engage employees on how to move forward together during this precarious period. To ensure that employees are set up for success and feel supported while at home, we created self-service content spanning topics like staying connected, navigating uncertainty, managing virtual teams, building resilience and developing coping skills.
- This year, we introduced “Free Fridays,” giving employees every Friday off during August. Summer is a great time to be outside and enjoy family and friends — those moments can help people relax and recharge.
- At Genesys, we have always offered employees weekly sponsored exercise sessions such as Zumba, yoga and strength training to help them feel centered and take a break from work. We have continued this throughout the pandemic.
- An inclusive environment directly correlates to mental well-being. Amid the civil unrest stemming from racial injustices, Genesys engaged our employees in conversation to reiterate company-wide support for Black Lives Matter and our commitment to our black and LGBTQ+ colleagues. It’s a core priority at Genesys to close equity gaps and foster a culture of inclusion and equality. To that end, we have established new affinity groups and recently hired the company’s first global diversity, equity and inclusion officer to advance these initiatives.
Cara McNulty, CVS Health
- First, make sure to take care of yourself. Focus on healthy eating, sleeping, and staying active. Make sure to encourage your colleagues to take care of themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can help, or let others know that you need help.
- Check in with a doctor, a counselor, or even family and friends to make sure you are doing well emotionally. If you are a manager, make sure your employees have someone to check in with. And if you are comfortable, make yourself available to them as that person.
- Third, engage with others, and make sure to stay connected to your friends, family and colleagues. Managers should be open about their connections and encourage employees to do the same.
- Find ways to relax, whether that’s gardening, dancing or cooking. Be open about your activities and ask your colleagues how they choose to relax. And don’t forget to encourage employees to unplug when not in the office.
- Finally, it’s important to know the signs of emotional suffering, so if you see them in a colleague, you can reach out and offer support. This is especially important for managers, so you can help your colleagues. You should also understand how your employees would prefer to receive support, if necessary.
Corey Berkey, JazzHR
- Raise awareness: Improving mental wellness begins with understanding mental health. Business can provide access to resources in a number of ways, like inviting health professionals to speak, celebrating events like World Mental Health Day, and making sure your team knows where to find access to care.
- Embrace overall wellness: Mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Companies can help to promote overall employee wellbeing by encouraging a healthy lifestyle through individual actions and ongoing programs. At JazzHR, for example, we offer standing desks to all employees, provide team members with branded water bottles to encourage hydration, and collaborate with our benefits provider to offer ongoing resources and support.
- Improve engagement: Engaged employees — those who feel connected to your business’s culture, mission, and goals — feel their work lives benefit them psychologically, according to a Gallup poll. To improve mental wellness, consider creative ways to boost engagement. Our team, for example, hosts weekly happy hours, participates in daily trivia competitions, and plays virtual games to stay connected from afar.
- Foster an open dialogue: Work-life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and real-world issues impact each of us in different ways. To promote mental wellness across your team, create safe spaces for employees to share their unique experiences with others. Here at JazzHR, we host virtual coffee sessions between cross-functional team members to increase connection.
- Promote positivity: Practicing optimism is proven to reduce stress and boost wellness. To spread positivity at the organizational level, pay close attention to how your company communicates at all levels and in all directions. Use encouraging language that aligns with your company mission, and consider new ways to share positivity among team members like a gratitude-focused Slack channel.
Angela Gillespie, W2O
- W2O F.I.T.: In order to allow employees to work smarter, not harder, we encourage them to create a schedule that is Flexible, Intentional and Tech-Enabled. This program allows the individual to prioritize what they need in order to stay mentally fit, and to be afforded the flexibility they need to support their family and their individual needs during this time. This may mean a later start to their day to have family breakfast, a mid-day break for exercise, or a schedule that allows distance learning supervision with a split schedule.
- Mental Health Support Offerings: While employees have access to mental health benefits through our health benefits provider, we realized that a commitment to a therapist may not be for everyone right now. We provide additional support so employees can schedule up to three completely confidential tele-counseling sessions with our in-house licensed clinical social worker. We also provide employees (and their dependents) with the Modern Health app for six coaching sessions per year and six therapy sessions per year. Modern Health also provides unlimited access to a suite of helpful meditations and programs.
- W2O Families: An employee-led Employee Resource Group (ERG), W2O Families serves as a forum for working parents to discuss opportunities and challenges and learn from one another. W2O Families also offers support, resources and opportunities for families of W2O to help them integrate key facets of their lives — career, self, family, community — in a healthy and sustainable way. This ERG has offered ongoing programming in recent months to give parents a break from being “Chief Entertainment Officer,” including learning sessions, improvisation, story time, music and a Navigating Parenting in a Pandemic panel event.
- W2O Tutoring: In partnership with Sylvan Learning, W2O is offering a new program to support parents of school-aged children (K-12) who are now navigating the additional task of distance learning. W2O employees can get discounted (and subsidized) tutoring for their children across multiple subjects. And for every hour our employees purchase, Sylvan is donating tutoring to underserved communities through partners like the Boys and Girls Club to help address the education divide.
- Access the Light Mindful Meditation: We offer two live 30-minute group meditation sessions weekly. We also offer one-on-one sessions on demand for those who prefer individual sessions. Each session offers time to breathe and connect in a way that helps our employees better focus throughout the workday.
Sammy Courtright, Ten Spot
1) Transparency — let colleagues know what is going well and what isn’t going well (within reason!)
2) Make employees feel accountable and responsible for their work. When someone feels ownership over a project or initiative, it makes them feel responsible for its success.
3) Celebrate the small wins. From closing deals to birthdays, celebrate it all. It brings people together and creates a sense of community.
4) Increase the frequency of your one-on-one meetings. This hasn’t been easy for anyone, and connecting with your colleagues to see how they are doing speaks volumes.
5) Get to know each other. Randomly schedule 10 minutes to chat with another colleague (ideally someone who does not report to you) and try not to discuss work.
Amber Olson Rourke of Neora
- Offer mental health coverage as part of benefits so that employees have somewhere they can call and get access to coverage.
- Provide a space for reflection. We have a yoga meditation room in our office where people can take a break to meditate and think.
- Encourage self-care. We have offered free wellness classes including yoga, meditation and deep breathing courses online so that employees can participate and learn these skill sets to include in their day-to-day tool kit.
- Make an open-door policy for people to talk about any issues they might have with their manager and human resources team.
- Vocalize your support for your employees so that they know they are appreciated and their hard work is recognized.
Jessie May Wolfe, HeartRise
1) DAILY PLUG IN OR MEDITATION TO ANCHOR EMPLOYEES: Giving them something to listen to is key. Offering a short morning meditation or inspiring message can really help to keep employees grounded and set the right tone for the day.
2) BREATHE: Inviting employees to practice breathing when they are overwhelmed is key, so often we rush through the day without taking healthy breathing breaks to slow down. Just by setting up time, whether its group times on the calendar or mini morning and afternoon breathing breaks. This can be a game changer.
3) GET OUT AND MOVE IN NATURE: Encourage employees to incorporate an element of nature into their individual every day routines. Screen Fatigue is real and so getting outside, even if for a short 10 minute walk or simple stretching is tremendous medicine and helps balance all of that screen time. If being outside is less accessible, movement indoors will generate the blood flow and circulation to wake up the body and restore the mind too.
4) SHARE: With so many varying times zones, schedules and working hours, having a dedicated community chat space for employees to share their daily wins + experiences helps with accountability, inclusion and support.
5) LISTEN: Have regular weekly group check-ins where employees can get support and resolve issues collectively. We offer these with HeartRise where we see our company teams work through reframes in each others presence, where they can all learn and feel inspired by the action and breakthrough.
Martha Switzer of Sprout Wellness
- Communications from leadership and management let employees know that their wellbeing is of utmost importance.
- Share examples from team leaders of how they are staying healthy. Your company is in this together and personal examples go a long way.
- Send reminders to your workforce to take their breaks, lunchtimes, and to make time for family and connecting virtually with friends during non-working hours.
- Provide resources and tips on how to build and maintain healthy habits
- Create company-wide wellness goals. Use your company’s communications channels to share updates and/or for employees to post about their own.
Dr. Courtney Tracy
- Connection: Leaders and employers need to actually meet the humans that are working for them. I meet with each of my employees once a month for an hour simply to discuss what they need from the company and to offer connection as two human beings living life and working for the same company. Your employees are working for money to support their family, and they hopefully believe in the mission of your company, so get to also know the mission of their life and who they are, and how you can best support them and their mental health. They are using their minds to get their job done so make sure their minds are healthy.
- Space: Open door policies. When forming a company, open door policies should be factored into the mix. If an employee doesn’t feel safe to discuss what’s going on in their personal life, then you won’t ever know how to help them with certain issues they may be having at work. You don’t have to solve their personal problems, but you should provide a nonjudgmental space for them to explain why they may be forgetting things or showing up late to work. Studies show that employees don’t disclose a lot of information in ‘set meetings’ and an open door policy allows for them to come to you when they feel comfortable sharing what’s going on.
- Compassion: Meeting with my employees and providing them with an open door policy works wonders, but it wouldn’t work if I didn’t have any compassion for them and what they’re going through. There are times when I get worried that some of my employees personal life concerns will significantly impact their work performance, and sharing my compassion with their situation while also noting what needs to be done keeps things human and allows us to strategize for a solution together. If you’re a leader and you know an employee’s loved one died, and your only concern is how their work is going to get done, then you are way too far away from compassion for others, likely compassion for yourself, and gratitude for the real good things in life.
- Flexibility: The 40 hour work week will be changing soon. I can feel it. We need to be flexible with our employees. Right now, I literally don’t have one employee who works 40 hours a week and I only have one employee that works 5 days a week, and that’s just because we’re close to expanding and need that person on-site right now more so than we will in the future. Realize that every employee is a human with different abilities, different tasks and a different life. People don’t need strict 8-hour days with 40-hours a week. We definitely need guidelines and limitations so people don’t get overworked — but that’s just a maximum. It shouldn’t be a minimum. I also provide an hour a week for anyone who needs to attend therapy. I don’t care what time it’s at or what day it’s on. If you need to go, go.
- Vulnerability: In order for your employees to be open about their mental health, leaders need to be open about their own mental health too. A year and a half into my husband and I opening our company, he had a complete and sudden mental breakdown after the birth of our first child and it was publicized on the news. How did we handle it? He left the company andworked on himself. I was completely open about how it was and was not going to affect the company and held steady to the fact that we are all human and we are vulnerable to the mind’s struggles. I am open about my past and how it has actually supported me in my vocational and educational ventures to date. It takes vulnerability to receive vulnerability. That’s just how we’re wired as humans.
So, in summary:
- Truly connect with your employees and get to know them. Schedule times to do this.
- Make sure your employees know they can come to you with what they’re facing even during unscheduled meetings.
- Work on yourself as a leader so you have space to have compassion for others.
- Be flexible with the conditions of your work week and allow creativity to be a part of productivity.
- Be open about your own mental health to allow others to be open about theirs.