Over the course of the past few years, employees and employers alike have begun recognizing the importance of caring for their own—and each other’s—mental health. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety rates have only increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It can be difficult for business owners to watch their friends and employees suffer from mental health issues, especially when we know that there isn’t a quick, catch-all solution to most mental health disorders.
Unlike a case of the flu, people don’t recover from mental health issues over the course of a few sick days. Depression and anxiety can last for months and years or be lifelong, even with the help of medication. While many think of mental health as a personal battle requiring the help of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, there are ways to show that mental health is respected in the workplace, too.
According to Darcy Gruttardo, the director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health, extra-long work hours, high stress, and a lack of support from managers and co-workers can all contribute to anxiety at work. Thus, being supportive and providing accommodations to make life easier for those who are anxious and depressed in the workplace certainly can’t hurt. As psychiatrist Vikram Patel says, “There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business.”
Experts say that it’s important to check in on your employees’ mental health regularly, even if they’re not actively diagnosed with a mental health disorder. After all, there’s a reason that business owners hire human beings rather than robots in the workplace. Employees act kindly toward one another and their clients. They have passion and put in extra effort when asked.
Their productivity may occasionally be slowed down by emotions like frustration, grief, and sadness, but that’s part of being human. Employees expect their mental health to be prioritized in the workplace just as employers expect employees to prioritize their work. That includes working in a space that is open, accepting, and understanding. Kathryn Minshew, CEO and Co-Founder of The Muse, says, “Understanding your employee’s perspective can go a long way towards increasing productivity and happiness.”
If you look at the companies with the highest percentage of employee satisfaction, you’re likely to find that business flexibility and a positive company culture are some of the most significant factors. If you’re looking for more specific tips, though, check out advice from these business professionals on how to acknowledge and support mental health needs in the workplace.
Mental health disorders like depression can be very isolating. Sufferers may feel hopeless or like their mental health issues are a burden to those around them—including their coworkers and boss. Lina Miranda, VP of Marketing of AdQuick, recommends connecting with your employees on a personal level and reminding them that they are appreciated.
“There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health,” she says. “I think most of us have experienced a rough patch at some point in life, and it’s important to be transparent about our experiences and how we got through them. I have noticed that 20-somethings who are just starting out in their career are especially looking for advice from those of us who have been there and done that. It’s so important to reassure them that they’re not alone.
If you have personally struggled with depression and anxiety, remind them that there is light on the other side of the tunnel. Telling your team members that their work is appreciated and supporting them if they choose to open up to you might be just what they need at that moment.”
If you want to show your business’ commitment to mental health advocacy and decreasing stigma, you might consider promoting and even donating to mental health government programs or non-profits like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Jae Pak, Founder of Jae Pak MD Medical compiles a list of mental health services for employees.
“When most employees start out at a new company, they ask about health insurance and other medical benefits. Most don’t even think to ask about mental health benefits because it isn’t commonplace for businesses to offer those resources. I think that’s just sad. Some forward-thinking companies partner with mental health apps or counselors. If you can do that, that’s amazing. I think it also shows great initiative to provide a list of free services that your employees can access, including helplines and community centers. You want your employees to know that you care about them as people, not just as workers.”
Make Your Work Environment Comfortable
If your team seems worn out by their current work environment, Dr. Michael Green, Chief Medical Officer of Winona suggests listening to their concerns and upgrading your office’s routine in order to make their lives easier.
“If you work in an office like me and your team members spend most of their time staring at a computer screen, you could all probably use some time away. I think encouraging your employees to spend time outside, either during lunch at work or as a way to socialize after work, is worthwhile. Also, investing in ergonomic chairs or aesthetically pleasing desks can be a great way to show your team members that you care about their comfort and personal space at the office. You can’t build a great team if your team is stressed out working in the environment that they’re in, so a change of pace is always helpful.”
People with certain mental health issues may struggle to feel motivated and meet deadlines and find themselves taking more time off from work. Max Schwartzapfel, CMO of Fighting For You finds that it’s better to allow employees mental health days when they truly need them rather than refusing it and further decreasing productivity.
“Our company culture is all about putting our employees first, and that includes letting our team members take time off when they need it. If employees can take vacation days, then they can also take mental health days. No questions asked. When I became a business owner, part of the reason I chose to take on all of that responsibility was so I could treat my employees the way they deserve to be treated. Most of the time, when employees need time off for themselves, they’re taking it so they can continue to produce high-quality work for you. That’s a true partnership, and I always respect that.”
Check out: Stats & Facts about Teen Mental Health