This year has taken its toll on the workforce physically, economically, and emotionally. We could all use a little more self-care to preserve our overall wellness during stressful times like these. But it is not enough for people to only prioritize their well-being outside of work; employers can play a critical role in promoting wellness and self-care for their employees.
Through carefully chosen benefits and flexibility, employers can support their employees’ self-care goals and create a happier, healthier workforce. Promoting this starts with active leadership that not only communicates these ideas but leads by example. Here are ways you can lead your employees to better self-care through benefits and flexibility:
1. Encourage employees to use their PTO
A 2019 study by Mental Health America revealed that more than half of the workforce is afraid to take a day off to attend to their mental health and well-being. But this way of thinking only exacerbates existing issues.
Even though your employees probably do not have vacations planned right now, encourage them to use their PTO anyway, even if it’s just to stay at home and watch their favorite movie. Make sure to send frequent communication about the PTO policy and take PTO yourself to set the stage for everyone to do it. Also, be sure to set expectations for PTO days -- management and team leads should try to respect PTO boundaries and not overwhelm employees with work upon their return.
2. Prioritize mental health benefits as much as physical health benefits
Taking care of mental health is an important part of self-care regardless of whether a person is currently facing a mental health challenge or not. Many people do not utilize their mental health benefits because they aren’t sure what they are or how to utilize them.
Prioritizing mental health benefits the same as physical health benefits will shed more light on them and help employees find new ways to care for themselves. When approaching your Open Enrollment, make sure information about mental health coverage (therapists, counseling, medication, in/out-patient treatment, etc.) is predominantly displayed on communications.
3. Provide stress-reducing perks
Even the smallest, most simple benefits can have a big impact on employee well-being by allowing them to have time and resources for self-care. For example, having a massage therapist come to the office for the day can give employees the chance to get a message that they normally otherwise wouldn’t. If your team is still working remotely, consider sending gift cards for a self-care service or offering reimbursements to have the same effect.
4. Be flexible with policies and procedures
Sometimes it’s not only about what benefits you offer, but how you offer them that can make a big difference in your efforts to support employee self-care. For example, offering paid leave to care for a sick family member is a great benefit, but if it can only be used under very specific circumstances it may end up being even more stressful.
Being flexible in how you offer benefits will take that pressure off and allow people to use their benefits in the way that really works best for them. For example, being flexible about your work schedule can allow parents more availability to attend their children’s school events or activities while being flexible about dress code can provide a higher level of comfort in the case of having to wear a mask in the workplace.
5. Invest in mental health training
Providing training for management and leaders or resource groups for employees can debunk myths around mental health, reduce stigmas, and promote skills that help people better take care of themselves. Not only is that considered self-care, but it also sets everyone up with tools they can use in the future.
While this may require additional financial investment, it will be returned via increased productivity, better employee health, and an overall more engaged and happier workforce.
6. Provide the flexibility needed to use wellness benefits
“I just don’t have the time.”
That’s probably the most common rebuttal when asked why people don’t take as good care of themselves as they should. Allowing flexibility in the work schedule and workplace setup to promote self-care is a good way to ensure everyone is participating. You can schedule self-care activities during work hours or encourage employees to shift their work schedules to accommodate self-care. And again, stress the importance of taking PTO days for any reason.
Remember, an employee self-care initiative isn’t a “set it and forget it” type of thing. It requires long-term active efforts to be successful. Make sure you are checking in frequently, providing praise and encouragement, and communicating more than you may think is necessary. All these actions are part of backing your strategy and help to set the right example in a time where it’s needed more than ever.