May is Mental Health Awareness Month: how to support your employees

May is Mental Health Awareness Month: how to support your employees

Supporting employee mental health matters all year, but since May is Mental Health Awareness Month it is a perfect occasion to acknowledge the importance of employee mental health and revisit your workplace policies.

Mental Health Awareness Month, which focuses on awareness-building and advocacy, takes place each May in the United States. It is an ideal time to think about employee mental health, which the World Health Organization defines as “the psychological, social, and emotional well-being of individuals in the workplace.”

It is incredible that more workplaces are focusing on employee engagement and creating positive work cultures. Yet, the unfortunate fact remains that 83% of employees in the United States experience work-related stress, according to The American Institute of Stress. The major causes of this stress include things like workload, interpersonal issues at work, and the challenge of balancing work and personal life demands. 

When left unaddressed, stress can lead to burnout and its characteristic exhaustion, demotivation, negativity, and diminished effectiveness. Beyond stress, many employees live with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. 

While mental health can sometimes feel like a sensitive subject to address at work, it matters, and there are things you can do to support employees in feeling and performing their best. In fact, in a survey conducted jointly by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, respondents even noted some specific things like increased flexibility and access to PTO and mental health days, as well as workplace wellness programming that would go a long way in this area.

In this post, we explore a few ways workplaces are opening the door to conversations about mental health and ensuring employees are supported.

Create safe spaces to speak up about mental health struggles.  

To build a culture where employees feel safe talking about mental health, start by ensuring everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives lay the groundwork for employees to feel safe telling their supervisors they are struggling.

Consider offering your people managers additional training so they feel comfortable checking in with their reports about how they feel at work and in general. With many industries experiencing layoffs, employees may hesitate to admit they are having a tough time. But talking about the struggle and making changes to accommodate your employees' needs can help them stay motivated, engaged, and out of crisis.

Remember that remote work makes it trickier to spot when something is wrong. It's much easier to put on a happy face for an hour on Zoom than to keep that same smile on throughout an entire workday at the office. Yet, addressing stress early is crucial before things escalate to true burnout. And if an employee is living with a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or OCD, the sooner they seek help, the better.  

Make mental health resources and support easy to access.

Assess current practices and remove barriers to getting help to address stress or a mental health condition. Some things you might do include:

  • Adopting an Employee Assistance Program and ensuring employees know how to access their mental health benefits confidentially
  • Making it easy for employees to take time for therapy or other appointments necessary for their mental well-being
  • Proactively sharing resources with entire teams to send the signal that wellness matters in your organization
  • Being conscious of language when discussing mental health conditions

Intentionally promote well-being through your policies and practices.

Encourage your team to set healthy boundaries that allow them to separate from their work throughout the day and after hours. For instance, something as simple as making it an acceptable norm to take a proper lunch break or not answer emails in the evenings or on weekends can make a big difference. It helps, especially when managers and executives model this behavior.

Flexibility can also make a big difference. The American Psychological Association reported that 34% of employees say flexible hours would help their mental health. And according to Flex Jobs and Mental Health America, 56% of workers surveyed listed increased flexibility throughout the workday as the most significant way their employer could better support them. It builds considerable goodwill and reduces stress when you trust your employee to get their work done and still pop out early to attend their child's school event or pick up a relative from the airport.

Find fun ways throughout the year to show your employees you care.

Some companies also implement half-day Fridays or summer Fridays to offer employees bonus time to spend with their family or on personal pursuits. At PlumTree, we have created a special Summer Fridays Mini kit packed with items supporting employee rest and relaxation.

If your employees are onsite, you might consider hosting monthly or quarterly wellness-focused events such as yoga classes, chair massages, or educational speakers on topics like sleep and stress management. 

We hope that these thoughts have inspired you to consider how your organization promotes employee mental health. Connect with PlumTree on LinkedIn and share what your company does to make employees feel safe and supported.


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