With the rise of the Great Resignation, we know that remote work is here to stay. With this in mind, there is a clear need to support remote workers’ mental health.
While mental wellness has always been a focus for traditional companies, remote companies struggle more with it because of a lack of physical infrastructure.
Moreover, there has been a rise of companies going fully remote over the last two years, accelerated by the pandemic. There is little to no precedence for tackling the rising cost of poor mental health for remote companies. Problems range from higher employee turnovers to disengaged employees.
In this article, we outline six ways to begin supporting remote employees’ mental health.
Healthy conversations around employee mental health
We already know mental health is a difficult topic to talk about. To begin the discourse, get leaders within the organization involved.
Here, the goal is not to make it a one-time campaign.
Rather, the hope is to create a habit of being vulnerable and open about personal mental health in a safe way.
Modeling such behavior becomes important in organizations because it gives employees implicit permission to join the conversation, resonate, be inspired, and share about their own challenges.
Leaders, regardless of how senior their position in the organization is, are only human and would have challenges they have gone through over the years.
This is an opportunity to bond over things that connect leaders with employees working alongside them.
Managers can only guess how to support their employees, they do need employees to communicate their specific needs as well as challenges.
Therefore, managers must build trust and open up a safe two-way dialogue.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month 💬
We’ve written a comprehensive guide on how to celebrate mental wellness at work.
Communicate how employees can seek mental health support
Company resources are not being used by employees when they need support for their mental health.
One reason is that many employees do not know the full extent of what resources their organization has to offer for support as well as what accommodations the company can give them during times of need.
Another reason is that employees are hesitant to ask about such resources or use them when they know about them.
This is part is that remote workers face fears of being reprimanded, invalidated, and not being taken seriously. Workers fear being seen as incapable or even having opportunities taken away from them purely because of the mental health struggles they go through.
Make it easy for employees to access mental health resources through your organization.
Routinely announce both existing and new programs you have to offer for support.
Including but not limited to insurance policies, employee assistance programs (EAPs), a list of accommodations that can be offered to employees, telehealth, or other mental health-related subscriptions.
Also, take great care to assure the confidentiality and safety of employees when they use these resources through the company.
If possible, consider making an e-booklet, or a website link that employees can bookmark to access at any time.
Depression, anxiety, or burnout may make it even more challenging for employees to seek out help. Fatigue and a lack of energy are common symptoms.
When company procedures are lengthy, this can cause employees to abandon seeking help. Keep procedures short, and make it easy for them to follow through on seeking support through the company.
Promote physical wellbeing at work
It’s easy for workdays to become a blur of sitting in front of the computer, taking meetings online, and ending the day with little to no time left for self-care for remote workers.
43% of remote employees spend more than 7-8 hours doing actual work, not accounting for commute or lunch.
Especially for companies where asynchronous work is possible, normalize walking away from the keyboard in between work.
Employees do not need to respond immediately to every piece of communication. This allows for them to take breathers in between blocks of work.
They can perhaps take a short walk to grab a coffee nearby, walk their pets, or even take a break from the screen by walking outside for a little while.
Physical breaks are a great way to regulate energy levels and moods.
If you notice employees being constantly at their workstations, encourage them to pencil in a break on their calendar. Otherwise, they may never make time for it, especially during busy days.
Provide a remote mental wellness budget
We have heard of gym memberships, & subscriptions to mental health apps (like Headspace or Intellect) before.
Apart from this, consider setting up a small mental wellness budget for employees.
Depending on the size of the budget, employees could possibly invest in a standing desk or set up a mini-workout station at home (perhaps a yoga mat, or a swiss ball).
Encourage them to think outside the box and consider what might be good for their mental health. Perhaps it is a ticket to the museum or even a book to help them slow down.
Each person’s mental health needs are unique and this is the perfect opportunity to be able to support employees in a personalized way.
You could even send a goodie bag that can include an assortment of things that promote mental wellness like a stress ball, a journal, a fidget toy, or a small plant for their home office.
Make it easy for remote employees to socialize
Remote working brings a very acute problem: loneliness & isolation.
Not being surrounded by colleagues during working hours means that employees have to go out of their way to make social connections possible through work.
Humans are social creatures, and we need to co-exist and co-create within a community to feel like we belong.
Without a regular office setup, remote working leads to declining mental health for employees.
Poor mental health further makes people want to withdraw from being social, it is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break out of.
When working in a remote setting, consider hosting a weekly calendar block of casual office open hours virtually. Attendance doesn’t have to be mandatory, but employees who want to socialize, or simply be in the presence of others can use this time to just show up.
Conversations during such times can be more casual, leaning away from work matters and towards topics that are meaningful to employees.
Such time blocks serve as a space to for employees catch up with each other, but also as a way for managers to gauge how team members are faring on a personal level.
Promote an empathy-first culture at work
Being empathetic at work simply means that employees are able to understand & be open with each other.
Empathy is a learned skill. So regardless of what your office culture looks like today, it is possible to pivot it towards building a more empathetic culture.
In the course of everyday work, make it a habit to listen to, acknowledge & validate other people’s experiences in small ways. This could be about a colleague sharing their opinion about a particular topic, or bringing their expertise to the table for a work-related project.
The habit of being busy at work often leaves us with little energy to be fully present with the people we work with. Being able to demonstrate that we are listening, reflecting on their lived experiences and that we accept them helps build deeper connections.
This form of everyday support and understanding increases trust over a period of time, and belonging in the workplace for employees.
Without such positive affirmations and a sense of belonging, employees may become disengaged or feel invisible at work leading to chronic feelings of low self-esteem or insecurities.
Validation as a part of everyday language in the workplace is a defense against loneliness and poor mental health.
Improving mental health for remote employees is a long ongoing battle, with few short-term solutions. The important thing is to keep showing support to employees in the form of deliberate action to let them know that it is not just company policy on paper.
For companies who are beginning to rethink what it means to have a healthy remote workforce that is both productive and engaged over a long period of time, it can help to shift from designing your organization for efficiency to designing for resilience.