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. 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 many unforeseen challenges 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. We’ve compiled a list of impactful and creative ideas from a wide range of businesses.
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 and 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 well-being. 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 a 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.
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.
“Most break rooms are an afterthought in the office planning process, but simply creating a space for employees to take a break isn’t enough,” says Ruben Gamez, Founder & CEO of SignWell. “Update your office break room with more comfortable furniture, meditation pillows, a diffuser, herbal tea, healthier snacks, relaxation books, and other items to help create a space for your team to zen out.
“If you have the luxury of extra space, use another small room as a quiet zone away from employees that love to chat. Ask your employees what items or features they want so they can get involved in the planning phase, then enjoy the big reveal on World Mental Health Day.”
Art is a powerful tool for mental health. Expressing creativity leaves many people feeling safe and relaxed.
“We plan to open a creation station for an entire week in the office, giving our team access to arts and crafts tools, painting and drawing courses, and screenings of art documentaries,” says Nunzio Ross, Owner and Head Director of Majesty Coffee. “Our remote teams can also enjoy these art-focused activities through art kits sent to their homes, which include canvases, paint, and coloring materials, and encourage them to present their work by the end of the week.”
“Team members can celebrate by honoring work for part of the day and dedicating the remaining time to enjoy self-care and wellness activities as a group,” says Sasha Laghonh, Founder of Sasha Talks. “This can encompass group meditation activities, yoga options (for e.g.), hiring a subject matter expert speaker to mark the occasion, engaging in community social work, taking a field trip to a team building activity, enrolling in a mental wellness app paid by the company, or simply working half a day so people can go home and relax.
“Mental health works in conjunction with our emotional, physical and spiritual health. When one is out of alignment, it’s only a matter of time when other variables also fall out of line. It’s a day to honor an aspect of our health, and educate ourselves on how to take better care of ourselves without forgetting health is wealth.”
“The stigma surrounding mental health is still very real even in modern workplaces, and World Mental Health Day is an excellent opportunity to help the employees of your company know more about mental health,” says Mary Jurgensen, Community Outreach Director, of Gary and Mary West PACE. “One of the best ways to do this is to invite a speaker from the mental health space to talk to employees about their mental health and even leave them with ideas on how to take care of their minds.”
“Mixing departments is always refreshing and it allows people who don’t usually mix to get to know each other a little better,” says Alex Mastin, CEO and Founder of Home Grounds. “Sitting across from someone in a cubicle or office makes it easier. Crossing floors, taking lifts, and different buildings can create barriers. Try and choose a time in the day where employees can come together to get to know one another by asking about each other’s lives.”
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!