We often hear companies boasting about their health initiatives, like offering wholesome snacks and encouraging breaks for physical activity throughout the day. However, it's not as common that emotional wellness is emphasized.
According to a survey by Cigna, nearly half of Americans either sometimes or always fee alone or left out, and one in four rarely or never feel like others understand them. This is an alarming statistic, especially coupled with how little we focus on improving mental health at work.
Mental health and well-being are just as important as physical health, yet many employers overlook the emotional needs of their workers. This issue should be addressed by leaders in all industries. In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Month, below are three ways business owners and managers can encourage emotional wellness in the workplace.
1. Lead by example.
As a leader, you need to set a good example for employees. If you're constantly stressing out or prioritizing work over your health, they'll likely pick up on those habits or assume they need to be just as dedicated.
"Ask how people are doing, and actively listen to their responses," said Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, a Texas-licensed marriage and family therapist. "Show them how important taking breaks are by implementing them into your day. Show [employees] how important it is to have a life outside of work by not bringing your work home with you when you leave the office each day."
Your employees don't want to feel like they're robots showing up every day just to get the job done. They want to know they serve a greater purpose and that they are more to you than just another employee.
"If you've worked to create a positive and safe culture, hopefully employees feel more comfortable speaking up when they're stressed out," said Patricia Thompson, Ph.D., executive coach and corporate psychologist at Silver Lining Psychology. "Compassion and a caring and listening ear can go a long way … If you're a leader, it can be helpful to acknowledge when the group is under pressure – not in a way to scare them but in a way that allows them to know that you are human and open to hearing about their experiences."
2. Empower employees to seek resources.
According to Anastasia Turchetta, health empowerment conversationalist, employers should incorporate a health empowerment strategy into their business, just as they would a financial or marketing plan. This show workers that it's common to struggle with mental health issues and that they aren't alone in their fight. [Looking to create a health and wellness plan for your business? Here's how.]
"It is powerful to recognize that stress, anxiety and depression exist," she said. "Some ways they can do that is by featuring weekly messaging targeting a specific struggle in company newsletters or health-focused interactive surveys."
Seeking resources is something employees need to do on their own, but reminding them of their options and empowering them can make this step easier.
"Make sure employees are fully aware of the resources available," said Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of Study.com. "It can be easy for someone to forget that relevant resources are part of their benefits package, so reminders can make a huge difference."
Additionally, be supportive and open to any questions they might have, so your employees feel they can come to you, Ridner added.
3. Create a sense of belonging.
When workers feel like they belong in their position, at the company and among their colleagues, they're usually more motivated to come to work each day. It's important to ensure everyone has the chance to fit in and understands the value they add to the organization.
"Creating a sense of belonging extends beyond personal recognition for their accomplishment or the freedom to express opinions," said Turchetta. "Belonging is inclusive. There is enormous value in sharing our personal stories … [Employees] can learn who or what empowers them and why. Storytelling [invites] belonging, because inclusivity holds court with empathy, vulnerability, comedy and harmony."
You also want to play to each employee's strengths. No two workers are the same, and that's a good thing. Find out more about each employee and offer incentives based on that information.
"In addition to creating a culture that makes it easier for them to get to know one another, it can be helpful to talk with employees about their career goals," said Thompson. "Ask about what motivates them. Then with that information in mind, strive to give them opportunities that can help them work toward those goals. When employees know that their employers care about them and are committed to helping them succeed, it can be incredibly motivating and create a greater sense of loyalty to the company."
"Talk to [employees] one-on-one and find out how you can best help them and what they are wanting from this job," added McBain. "But also in the future … show them that you want them to be happy and challenged and that you support them and their goals and dreams for the future, even if it means they don't work for you forever."