May is Mental Health Awareness Month -- while this is important to note, it carries an even stronger implication this year.
With the lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic disrupting every aspect of our lives, mental health is more important than ever. Many people are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress and adverse situations and many have had their usual mental health services eliminated or altered.
This is where employers need to step up. It creates an additional challenge, however, since most employers have many (if not all) of their employees working from home. This raises the question:
How can employers implement tools and strategies for a positive remote mental health culture?
Provide tools to stay connected. The isolation and loneliness that stems from stay at home orders is one of the biggest obstacles facing your workforce right now. They are used to a daily routine that involves interacting with colleagues in person. Now, they’re routines are broken and their interactions are limited to phone calls and emails.
Employers can provide tools like video conferencing and chat software to allow “face to face” meeting and more frequent communication. This also gives people a way to check in with each other and talk beyond scheduled meetings.
Utilize social media. Social media is a powerful tool for reaching all of your employees at once about mental health. Utilize social channels like LinkedIn to share resources and activities that reduce stress and give helpful information about mental health during the crisis and beyond. You can also use social channels to share information about the mental health resources available to your employees, so they do not have to request it, which may be uncomfortable for some.
Social media can also be used to share tips for how employees can improve their own mental health. Some tips might include:
- Keeping a regular schedule
- Stay connected to friends and family
- Get ample sleep
- Exercise and stay active
- Get fresh air
- Stay informed, but take news breaks when you’re feeling overwhelmed
- Set work schedule boundaries
- Find ways to be creative and try new things
Be available, empathetic, and flexible. Most of your employees are juggling working, caring for children, assisting with their children’s education, and caring for other family members. They may also be dealing with a family member becoming ill or losing a job, which puts additional strains on their situation. Now is the time to be outwardly empathetic and more empathetic and flexible than usual. Knowing that they have the support of their employer to tend to family needs will make a huge difference in your organization’s mental health culture. You can provide flexible work schedules, block off calendar time with employees that can be used to discuss/address anything they want, and most importantly -- express that you understand their needs stretch beyond work right now.
Know the signs of isolation, loneliness, and other mental health issues. Make sure your employees do too. One of the biggest challenges of a remote mental health culture is not being physically around employees to gauge their mental health status. It’s important to remain well versed in the signs of a mental health issue that you can detect virtually. These include:
- A decline in productivity
- Less participation during phone calls and meetings
- Keeping to themselves and not reaching out to other team members
- Missing days of work
It’s important to share these signs with the whole team so they can recognize the signs in themselves and their colleagues.
Contact your healthcare plan provider. With such a massive shift to remote work, your healthcare plan provider might be offering resources or services within your plan that employees can utilize remotely. Reach out periodically to see what they are offering and be sure to share with employees immediately.
Encourage employees to do things that improve mental health. While this may be more difficult with a remote workforce than an onsite one, there are still things employers can do to encourage employees to participate in activities that promote a positive mental health culture. You can reimburse online at-home workout programs, healthy meal kits/services, or create an at home “workplace” challenge for doing things like exercising, eating healthy, or getting outside when possible.
Offer telehealth options. Telehealth is a great option for remote workers to seek mental health services because it has no physical or time restraints. It’s also ideal for our current situation given that in-person non-emergency services are closed. Employees who need mental health services can get counseling, prescriptions, and a variety of therapies via telehealth. Often, telehealth is even an included part of your health insurance plan and is typically underutilized.
The American Psychiatric Association released extensive guidance for the proper implementation of videoconferencing-based telemental health for your reference.
While promoting a positive mental health culture is challenging in a remote work environment, it’s possible with the right strategies. For help implementing these strategies into your remote workforce through employee benefits, contact us to get started.