2020 was a tough year in many ways, and 2021 hasn’t been much easier. From battling a frightening pandemic to making ends meet during an economic recession, many of us have been through trying times recently. Research shows that around 80% of people living with mental illness have felt negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the current state of the world. Additionally, in late June of this year, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, according to the CDC.
As an HR professional, this year you’ve likely tackled new COVID-19 regulations, furlough paperwork, and lay-offs with poise. Yet, perhaps the most impactful role HR can currently play within an organization is supporting employee mental well-being.
World Mental Health day is an international day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma. As it creeps around the corner (October 10th) this year, HR teams are wondering how to honor this significant day virtually. We’ve compiled a list of impactful and creative ideas from a wide range of businesses to celebrate this day remotely.
Meditation has long been recognized as a tool to master the mind, provide mental health benefits, and help people deal with stress. Studies have shown it can reduce anxiety, depression, and even alleviate chronic pain. While your team may not be able to meditate together in-person, Natalie Underdown, Organizational Psychologist at The NU Company suggests organizing a guided group meditation class on Zoom. From free videos on YouTube to guided live meditation platforms like StopandBreathe, your team can experience soothing breathing, relaxation and empowerment techniques while staying safe.
While adapting to everything the year has thrown at them, employees may feel like they don’t have the time to take a mental health day. Alicia Hough, Corporate Wellness Expert at The Product Analyst, says, “We are planning to mark the World Mental Health Day as a permanent holiday to allow our employees to rest and understand that mental health is special and we should take time valuing it.” What better way to honor mental health and personal time than by giving employees a day to focus on themselves?
Even if you can’t quite make it a permanent holiday, Sturgeon Christie, CEO at Second Skin Audio, suggests surprising remote employees with a paid day off. “By offering up a no-questions-asked mental health day to employees, you’re showing them you care about their mental health and want them to be able to do their best work,” Christie adds.
Like physical health, it’s extremely beneficial to continue tracking and supporting your employees’ mental wellbeing. One of the best ways for your team to nurture positive mental health is through your benefits policies. Laura Handrick, Contributing HR Professional at Choosing Therapy, reminds HR pros to promote mental health benefits and promote their Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Additionally, remind your employees of their health insurance plans, leadership training opportunities, PTO and flexible work policies that can have a positive effect on mental health. Many health plans offer mental health support and 24/7 resources, which can be life-changing for your employees.
Mental Health Applications (MHAs) can be a great alternative or complement to traditional therapy, meditation, and stress management practices. Applications like Headspace and Calm are strong options for easy use at home, high user engagement, anonymity and consistency. However, some users may not have the means to pay for a membership on their own.
Zane Dalal, EVP of Benefits Program Administration recommends that employers offer reimbursement for the Calm App or HeadSpace. “Many experts recommend meditation for anxiety and depression, which many people are feeling while working from home,” Dalal adds.
Modern HR software like GoCo makes it easy to create automated workflows for any HR process, including reimbursement. Employees can easily initiate workflows themselves to file an expense for reimbursement through payroll.
“It is important to remember the small things that add up to make a big difference. At GoCo we paid for everyone to have Headspace subscription. When GoCo sponsors a benefit, we go on the record as saying that it is a priority.”
Though it’s easy to blur the lines between work and relaxation in remote work settings, research has shown time and time again that taking mental breaks can be very beneficial for work quality and mental health. Encourage team members to block out time on their calendars for breaks. “Give ideas on how to use the time: go for a walk, meditate, exercise, spend time with loved ones, watch a funny show, and practice self-care,” states Underdown of The NU Company.
Bridge the gap between the leadership team and employees by reminding them that senior leaders are human too. “I personally love it when a senior leader or CEO ‘comes out’ about their personal mental health struggles… The more employees recognize that nearly everyone, including top management, has experience dealing with mental health issues, the more likely they’ll be open to getting help for their own concerns,” Handrick emphasizes.
In addition to group meditation, virtual meeting platforms are perfect for team building activities. Michael Alexis, CEO at TeamBuilding believes that digital team building activities help create bonds between your people, which in turn builds trust and engagement to support mental health. “You might play a game like ‘Can you hear me now?’ or ‘Never have I ever’,” Alexis suggests. Give your organization the opportunity to connect on a personal level.
The breaking down of stigmas and misconceptions about mental health shouldn’t only happen after-hours. Anxiety symptoms are often minimized or brushed off, so HR teams can play a crucial role in educating the organization.
“The HR team can gather statistics on mental health and publish a deck or infographic to share information such as how prevalent mental health is, especially mental health issues like anxiety and depression,” Handrick encourages.
In addition to presenting statistics on mental illness, businesses can also turn to medical professionals and psychologists for helpful sessions. Pete Sosnowski, VP People and Co-Founder at Zety says, “A workshop with a psychologist that discusses the challenges of remote work, isolation, and burnout is a great way for employees to express their worries and discuss problems with a specialist.” Employees can explore new ways to unload stress and address problems in the virtual workspace.
If you’re a team of visual learners, using visual aids like mental health infographics in your workshops can help make important and complex mental health information more digestible.
Research shows that people who exercise regularly tend to feel more energetic throughout the day, have better sleep at night, and feel more relaxed and positive in their day-to-day. To promote physical activity, you can encourage employees to participate in the 2020 World Mental Health Day Virtual Race and run against the stigma together.
Emily Deaton, Financial Journalist at LetMeBank adds, “Businesses can encourage employees to post pictures or short videos of themselves participating in the race and use hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, etc. to spread awareness.”
Since many businesses are still operating remotely, why not use internal communication apps to celebrate mental health awareness? “Depending on the level of transparency and openness, you may want to create a Slack channel where team members can share work-appropriate examples of work-related stress they’ve been able to overcome,” Handrick comments.
Employees can ask for peer support on current challenges, or offer personal suggestions for others.
Supporting your team is as simple as following the Random Act of Kindness principle. Chris Waltenbaugh, Payment Processing Expert at Payment Depot, states, “We’ll be doing random messages of kindness to honor World Mental Health Day this year. One team member is nominated to set it up and each person sends a positive message about another member to the nominated organizer.” Reminding every person in your organization that they are loved, supported, and appreciated can go a long way.
While World Mental Health Day only happens once a year, it’s now more important than ever to re-evaluate your team’s overall efforts around positive mental health and breaking the stigma. Working remotely can leave your employees feeling more lonely and helpless than before. Though honoring WMHD may look different this year, we at GoCo are excited to help HR pros continue focusing on what’s important. Read more great HR resources here!