The new circumstances in which our society now lives, social distancing and quarantining, bring some health-related problems with them: stress, anxiety, and overall mental vulnerability. Take for example China, where a number of 35% of people*¹ in quarantine suffered from some kind of psychological stress. 

Needless to say, nobody is immune to mental distress. That’s why HR leaders, managers, and business owners are taking proactive steps to offer a variety of mental health employee resources to help their employees during these uncertain times.

Here are five ways we think are very valuable, to help your teams feel appreciated, productive, and healthy:

1. Make mental health a company initiative

To make mental health a priority in your company and create awareness, it’s important to clearly explain how you plan to support mental health as a company-wide initiative. Time to make sure everyone knows why every company should focus on employee wellness and mental health.

Normally work has a positive effect on mental health, however, a study by WHO*² found that challenging work environments can lead to both physical and mental health problems. These cost the global economy over $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

It’s important to create an open environment about mental health and give your employees a safe space so they know they can discuss this openly. Education is key here and by educating a wider employee group, employers can help their employees feel comfortable talking openly about this topic. These companies are leading by example:

  • EY: Their  “r u ok?” program offers 24/7 counseling sessions and educational tools. This way, people are encouraged to talk about what challenges them. They also offer counseling sessions by phone or face-to-face video.
  • American Express: The Healthy Minds program provides part-time counselors and professional clinical psychologists to employees.
  • Barclays:  Their “This Is Me” campaign challenged the stigma associated with mental health in the workplace. The company wants to create a safe place for employees to comfortably speak about their mental health challenges.

2. Create opportunities for togetherness

According to one survey, over 45% of employees working from home*³ struggle with loneliness. People that spent their workdays socializing a lot with co-workers now experience loneliness due to the fact that they’re working from home. 

Most teams are already using video chat tools like Zoom or Demodesk to conduct meetings, but it would also be supportive if companies sponsor ways for employees to socialize beyond work meetings. Here’s some inspiration to set this up:

  • Virtual coffee breaks: we all know the social moments at the coffee machine in between work. By virtualizing them and creating new topics every day, employees get the chance to interact with each other on another level.
  • Non-work slack channels: Share pictures of your pets, discuss movies, music, or anything that your team has a passion for. 
  • Start a club: A book club or other interest groups. Some teams use Facebook live to host realtime get-togethers around their favorite topics.

3. Allow a healthy work-life balance

It is common for companies to say they support a healthy work-life balance, but in reality, employees then get pressured into a big workload and late working hours. A healthy balance in this is critical to ensure that employees work in a healthy environment. Employers should encourage this by following up on this healthy work-life balance. 

An easy way to balance this is to take enough breaks during the day. People working from home have to make a conscious effort to unplug, and companies can help by encouraging and reminding them to take breaks. More breaks reduce stress and even help prevent burnout*⁴. Here are 3 great ways companies find a healthy balance:

  • Offer mental health days: This discretionary leave is meant to focus on the employee’s wellbeing. Yet most people (72%) feel pressure when requesting time off*⁵, so employers should reinforce the value and provide tips*⁶ on how to spend the day.
  • Allow flexible work hours: Some people are more productive in the morning, others at night. A good tip for balance is to let the employee decide himself to work when they feel best. Employees who are offered flexible work hours are proven*⁷ to be more satisfied, less absent, and to have higher productivity.
  • Create “me time”: To raise awareness for mental health more than 60 tech companies, including Lyft and Dropbox, gave their employees*⁸ a “me time” during work hours. Try designating 1 hour per week to give your teams some “me time”.

4. Provide physical wellness programs

Physical fitness is proven to be a factor of employee productivity*⁹ and that it reduces absenteeism, but it also helps regulate mental health issues.

Exercise can have a positive impact on depression*¹⁰, anxiety*¹¹, and other mental health issues. It helps relieve stress, improves concentration, and boosts your overall energy levels. Physical health and mental health are a couple that always goes together. Here is how you can help your employees stay active:

  • Corporate fitness programs: Offer your employees exercise options as part of your benefits package. A service like OneFit Live provides online fitness options to fit all your employees’ needs. Interested? Get in touch.
  • Remote challenges: A fun team-building activity is to organize monthly wellness challenges. The group events can be tailored for remote work*¹², and there are plenty of possibilities. Think for example about push-ups, planking challenges, drinking water, or other fun stuff.
  • Meditation breaks: Offer relaxation opportunities as well. A meditation app like Tap in provides live sessions*¹³. This is great for some togetherness because you’ll be part of a community. No one needs to meditate on his own!

5. Get Feedback and Give Recog­ni­tion

The easiest way to support your employees is to ask them how they are doing and give them some undivided attention. It sounds simple, but it is often taken for granted or skipped when work gets too busy. 

Weekly or monthly check-ins or 1:1 meetings are an ideal opportunity to build stronger bonds, encourage employees, and establish trust. Beyond discussing work, ask how people are feeling and offer compliments and recognition. Try using a personalized feedback tool like 15 Five to learn how your employee is doing before a call. You can also give public recognition using an app like Bonusly where everyone can see each other’s achievements.  

Acknowledgment can have a positive effect on a person’s mental well being. Personal praise from a manager can mat­ter more than mon­ey*¹⁴ while 88% of employ­ees*¹⁵ believe praise from their man­ager is a huge motivator.

Employee mental health matters more than ever

An Axios/Ipsos Poll*¹⁶ found that around 80% of respondents are either somewhat or extremely concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak. There are a lot of uncertainties, and according to psychologists, anxiety is a natural response to the unknown.

The question is not whether your employees will experience mental health challenges during this time, but rather what will your organization do to help those people that will need help during this crisis.