Mental health is on everyone’s mind, as the pandemic forced us all out of our comfort zones and into a whole different world. It’s at the forefront in May, which marks Mental Health Awareness Month.
For many, the pandemic brought a new world of isolation, with little contact outside of the home where we were alone with our work, thoughts and news cycles. Work duties and managing family obligations continued despite an uncertain world, and as we neared the one-year mark of the pandemic, feelings of burnout spread like wildfire.
Employees spoke up, and some companies listened. In 2021, LinkedIn, Nike, Hootsuite and many others implemented mental health days or time off programs to combat pandemic-related burnout. Workers around the world seemed to rejoice for the time off, but providing a few days or weeks off a year ago hardly solves mental health struggles in the long term.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but are leaders still showing up for their employees’ mental health?
The short answer is: It depends.
The world remains uncertain, and we’re still recovering from the collective trauma of the past few years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety and depression increased 25% globally in the first year of the pandemic—and women and young people faced the biggest impacts of mental health struggles.
While the WHO study didn’t share the underlying reasons for women and young people struggling more, we can infer that young people had to navigate new work or school arrangements and women were responsible for more household management and caring for the family. These heightened responsibilities likely wore on these populations. Case in point, women are even leaving the workforce in greater numbers than men—by nearly 2 million.
Covid-19 wanes in parts of the world and surges in others, so we’re still navigating uncertainty and a constantly changing landscape of public attitudes, health requirements and policies. As more people become comfortable with in-person activities, reintegration brings its own questions. How do we have normal interactions after being out of practice for literal years? The little decisions we make throughout our days carry anxieties and fear as we readjust to the new “new normal.”
Unless the company has a long-term plan for mental health, that time off that so many companies granted back in 2021 will be long forgotten.
How Employers Can Help Employees For The Long Term
Here are a few ideas for how employers can better support the mental health of their staff:
1. Provide training to managers, helping them identify mental health struggles and offer support to employees.
2. Make mental health care available and easy to access via your HR benefits team or systems.
3. Implement strategies such as company-wide days off or no-meeting days that help employees recharge.
4. Work to remove stigmas attached to mental health issues via education.
5. Walk the walk: Champion taking time away from work for oneself.
6. Rethink the time and location requirements for staff, helping them work best on their own terms.
7. Tell potential hires about the company culture and benefits offered around mental health care, via job postings and at other stages of recruitment.
In a survey from Group Risk Development, a U.K.-based industry association, only 22% of organizations share the company benefits during the recruiting process and instead wait until onboarding. What a missed opportunity!
Another survey from Staples found that in the U.S., 62% of employees would choose better benefits over a higher salary. Now, we shouldn’t pay employees less simply because of this, but the benefits package at an organization that champions mental health could be the deciding factor in a worker’s choice between companies.
Making Mental Health An Organizational Priority
Some leaders might question how much responsibility a company has over its workers’ mental health. While, of course, employers aren’t solely responsible for individual mental health, work takes up a huge part of our days and, thus, our lives. To have toxic, unsupportive environments in daily life is sure to weigh on anyone’s mental health.
In fact, a 2019 report from Mind Share Partners found that 61% of workers feel their productivity is affected by their mental health, and 37% added that their work environment was a contributor to their symptoms. In 2021, the organization found that 84% of respondents have workplace factors that negatively impact their mental health. The top factors listed were emotionally draining work, challenges with work-life balance and lack of recognition.
The working arrangements of the past that were the norm—with little time to care for oneself, let alone another person—need to become part of the history books.
Leaders reading this article, how are you helping your employees with their mental health? I urge you to share your current practices with other leaders. Let’s get some ideas circulating to help your staff—for right now and for the long term.
“Why Mental Health Awareness Should Be a Year-Round, Long-Term Effort” originally appeared on Forbes.com.