11 Ways to Improve Mental Health at Your Small Business
(Pandemic or No Pandemic)
Mental health issues in the workplace have certainly been exacerbated by the global pandemic, but they most certainly existed before the pandemic hit. In fact, pre-COVID statistics show that mental illness was already a leading cause of disability in Canada. Every week at least 500,000 Canadians miss work due to mental illness and the resulting personal, workplace and economic impacts can be devastating. Mental illness is estimated to cost the Canadian economy approximately $51 billion each year, a number estimated to hit $2.5 trillion by 2041. So it is important, pandemic or no pandemic, to do what you can to help take care of your employees’ mental health. And there are many ways you can do so. Try starting with these 11:
- First, you need to start the conversation
Mental health has become far less stigmatized in recent years, but the stigma has not disappeared. It can still be an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss. So normalize it. Whether it’s an article you read or a personal experience you had, talking about it openly and without shame will help others realize they aren’t alone. Then you need to keep the conversation going. You can’t just mention it once and hope it becomes acceptable. You need to find ways to incorporate the subject into your employees’ days so it stays top of mind.
- Model healthy behaviours
Leaders should share what they’re doing with their teams. Let them know you take a mid-afternoon walk to shake off the cobwebs, or that you have a counsellors appointment to help you cope, or that you’re using some of your time off to take a staycation. When they see you doing it, it becomes more acceptable for them to do it.
- Keep your employees informed about changes
When people are informed of what changes are coming and how things are being addressed, they are better able to cope with the change.
- Build a culture of connection through check-ins
Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports on a regular basis is more critical than ever. With so many people working from home, it can be very difficult to notice the signs that someone is struggling. Go beyond “how are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Then really listen to the answer.
- Encourage the use of mental health days off
It might be time to end the doctor’s note to justify a day off policy and trust your staff to know when they need some time to decompress and come back better able to do their job.
- Let them know about the resources available to them
If feasible, make an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) part of their health benefits and let them know how to access it – stressing the confidentiality of the program. Otherwise let them know about other government or community programs they can access.
- Communicate more than you think you need to
The more information your team has, the less stressed thy will be. Keep them informed about any organizational changes or updates. Set clear policies about modified work hours, but be flexible and recognize each staffer’s specific needs. Set expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done, and acknowledging what can slide if necessary. Make sure the communication is two-way by providing an easy way to get in touch with you if you’re all working from different locations.
- Acknowledge the emotions that your employees will be experiencing
This is not a normal time, and it is very normal for people to be experiencing anxiety and many different emotions at this time. It is important to acknowledge that and to let your employees know they are not alone.
- Make sure they have the tools to do their jobs
With so many employees working from home, it’s important that you ensure they have all the tools they need to keep doing their job. Do they have the computer/laptop they need? Proper internet access, cyber security measures in place, etc. Asking them what their specific needs are and getting them to help set things up gives them a modicum of control over the situation.
- Create opportunities for employees to build connections with each other
Try social events, affinity groups, or, more practical during the pandemic, electronic message boards. Studies show that employees are more vulnerable to the negative impact of stress inside and outside of the workplace if they have not built strong positive relationships at work. The idea is to make work interesting, social and fun so nobody is working in isolation.
- Stress that we are all in this together
Let your employees know that there is a purpose to why we are all making the changes and sacrifices that we are making right now. That meaning and purpose is to keep each other safe.
And one that is completely pandemic related:
Mental health needs to be a priority everywhere in life, including the workplace. The cost of mental illness is too great to be ignored. To the economy but, more importantly, to the individual. As a business leader, you have the ability – and responsibility – to make it a priority at your company. It will benefit your business and everyone involved in it if you do.