How’s Your Team Really Doing? 5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health

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employee wellness

For many people, the pandemic is not only a threat to physical health, but also a mental health  risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three times more people are struggling with anxiety disorders this year than last year; when it comes to depression, the numbers this year are four times greater than they were in 2019.

Earlier this summer, we at CHG Healthcare surveyed workers across the US on how COVID-19 has impacted their mental health and how their mental health has impacted their work. Here’s how they described their challenges:

• 21 percent were worried about working from home
• 19 percent were uncertain about their employment
• 18 percent struggled with a lack of connection to their coworkers
• 17 percent were worried about an increased workload
• 11 percent reported poor management
• 7 percent were worried about decreases in salary/benefits

If you’re a leader, the chances are high that at least one of your team members is struggling with mental health concerns right now. However, it isn’t always easy to detect such struggles, and even if you do, knowing how to proceed can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you help your employees through this difficult time:

1. Recognize the Signs

Helping your people starts with being aware of what they’re going through. Mental health experts say these signs can be indications a person is in crisis:

  1. Irritability
  2. Not wanting to socialize
  3. Eating changes
  4. Sleep changes
  5. Mood swings

It can be tough to notice some of these changes, especially when employees are working remotely. Sometimes it may not be what you see but what you hear — or don’t hear — that alerts you to the fact that something isn’t right. When you do notice something, make the person exhibiting those signs your priority.

2. Normalize Discussions of Mental Health

It’s important to be able to talk about mental health, even if it feels uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask a colleague, “Are you okay? You seem down.” You won’t want to raise the subject in the middle of a team meeting or other public event, of course, but you can arrange a private conversation where you can listen actively. Ask yourself how you would want someone to approach you if you were struggling. Always remember to be kind and nonjudgmental.

It’s also important to talk about mental health at a company level. We’ve made it a point at CHG Healthcare to use our internal communication channels to routinely share stories about mental health and resources employees can access. This includes messages from our CEO, information on our intranet, and discussions in team meetings. Normalizing the topic helps us fight the stigma many people fear when it comes to being open about mental health struggles.

3. Help Your People Help Each Other

In times of stress and disruption, it’s human nature to be worried or fearful. How employees cope with those feelings can be as varied as the individuals themselves. One of the ways we’ve tried to help our employees support each other is by hosting virtual webinars and employee roundtable discussions on topics like taking care of yourself through positive self-talk, coping with anxiety and stress, and meditation.

These sessions create safe spaces where employees can talk to each other and lean on each other for support. These sessions also help people gauge whether peer support is enough or professional help may be needed.

4. Beef Up Your Benefits

Just about every benefits package includes health benefits. In recent years, we expanded our benefits to cover mental health counseling, and it was a game-changer for our people. Suddenly, they had easy access to resources when they needed someone to talk to — and that was before the added stress of the pandemic.

If your company offers similar mental health benefits, regularly remind your team members that those services are available. Provide employees with as much information as you can about company or community mental health services, including phone numbers, websites, and guidance on how to make an appointment.

5. Remember to Stay Connected

This final tip is probably the most important: Stay connected to your people. People crave connection, especially when we are used to working in an office and now find ourselves working solo, remotely.

You can help your employees stay connected through a number of methods. Sometimes, it’s by recognizing your people in a team meeting, a one-on-one, or through an old-school thank-you card. Other times, it’s by taking some of the stress away by letting people have a little fun at work with a virtual scavenger hunt, online Family Feud, or a socially distanced lunch in real life.

The time we spend connecting with our teams — whether in person or virtually — pays huge dividends in terms of engagement, effort, and job satisfaction. Being connected also helps us more easily spot team members who may be struggling.

Our own survey helped us understand that there is no such thing as overcommunicating about this important topic. Be honest, be available, and be empathetic as you set out to support your employees’ mental health and well-being.

Kevin Ricklefs is chief culture officer at CHG Healthcare.

By Kevin Ricklefs