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This article originally appeared on the National Alliance for Eating Disorders' blog.
Just two years ago, the professional landscape looked drastically different. Most of us worked alongside our coworkers, in person, without fear of catching anything worse than the flu.
At that time stress, burnout, uncertainty, and compassion fatigue didn’t have nearly as prominent a place in our vocabulary, though many of us likely experienced those emotions more often than we realized. Very few of us knew there could be another way to work and live outside the current norms.
COVID-19 has brought immeasurable pain and devastation to individuals and communities globally, but it has also offered new focus and possibility.
Before the onset of the pandemic, it was rare to share your mental health struggles publicly, let alone expect your employer to provide meaningful support in that area. Today, support for mental health in the workplace has quickly been elevated from a nice-to-have to an absolute necessity.
Access to a comprehensive mental health solution through your employer is a bit like access to preventative wellness for you and your coworkers. By providing a healthy, supportive work environment for individuals and the collective, employers are focused on preventing or mitigating mental illness and its pernicious effects.
And HR professionals have the opportunity to create this kind of culture by giving their employees the mental health support they need.
What is comprehensive mental health support?
Prioritizing and providing access to comprehensive mental health support involves creating a holistic environment that promotes mental wellbeing.
A workplace focused on comprehensive mental health strives to ensure that everyone has access to the support needed to care for their mental wellbeing, no matter where they find themselves on that mental health spectrum.
Company guidelines are a fundamental part of the company culture, and often include such measures as having open discussions about work-life balance, learning how to communicate effectively with each team member to understand degree of risk and consequent need, and making mental health self-assessment tests freely available and common practice.
If an employee is experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety, consistently feels like their work is not recognized or valued by the team, or has other critical needs, it is imperative they know how to seek help for those various issues.
Comprehensive mental health for your employees
Not all employees share the same level of need, want support in the same way, or share a baseline knowledge of or appreciation for mental health and available support. With the recognition that it’s not one size fits all, here are four ways HR professionals can help build environments that broadly foster comprehensive mental health for their people.
Offer mental health screenings
As part of a larger campaign to increase individual knowledge around the range of mental health issues, employers can offer regular mental health screenings to team members. In the same way we regularly go to the dentist to prevent cavities, HR professionals can normalize the idea that having your mental health checked regularly is a great way to stay in optimal mental and emotional shape.
Ensure these screening materials are in an easily accessible location in the workplace, such as a nearby room or an online portal, and on your company intranet.
Institute work-life balance measures
Employees benefit from having boundaries between their work and personal lives. However, in a culture of constant connection and 24/7 availability, it’s vital for organizations to be clear about what those boundaries and expectations are.
Simple measures, such as instituting a policy that work emails sent after 6 p.m. should not expect a reply until the following business morning, can be helpful when it comes to keeping employees from burning out.
Also, establish that vacations aren’t just opportunities to check work email from a different geographical vantage point—they’re a time to truly rest, recharge, and reset.
Each one of your employees is unique, with different circumstances, needs, and ways they work best. While this statement may seem obvious, the practical implications require nuance and dexterity from HR professionals.
Be prepared to work with your employees to accommodate their individual needs. Some individuals, for example, may benefit from being able to attend a regular weekly therapy appointment during traditional working hours.
It’s easy to maintain comprehensive mental health by allowing employees some flexibility to adjust their schedule as needed without negatively impacting their productivity or team.
Provide mental health benefits
Creating a holistically healthy and supportive environment is a key part of supporting comprehensive mental wellbeing. Providing excellent mental health benefits is another.
By partnering with an experienced and data-driven provider such as Spring Health, companies can address any issues an employee may be having rapidly and with the right level of support.
From self-assessment tests to coaching, teletherapy, and so much more, we provide our global members with tailored care that’s precisely right for them.