Shifting to remote work was a necessary transition for many companies at the start of the pandemic. But, in those early days, most assumed it would only be a temporary situation. Fast forward almost two full years later, and it looks like remote work will stay around longer than we thought — but at the risk of one critical element in the workplace: employee mental health.
These are just a handful of the stressors remote workers are experiencing that are adding up, leading to higher levels of employee burnout than we’ve ever seen before.
Read on for three solid ways to support your remote employees’ health and wellness that almost any company in any industry can learn from and implement.
Regularly Talk about Mental Health
You don’t have to bring the topic up in every email or every meeting. Instead, hold occasional team and individual check-ins that include mental health discussions, and always approach those conversations with a listening ear and an empathetic “no judgment” approach.
Listening to employees’ mental health concerns is an act of emotional validation. It doesn’t mean you have to solve anything—you only must understand and accept how the employees feel.
Provide Meaningful Wellness Programs
Most employees now understand that wellness isn’t just about physical health, and that work is a massive contributor to their mental health state. But unfortunately, most companies’ standard employee wellness programs are outdated and irrelevant for the variety of mental health struggles remote employees face today.
An emerging wellness program that does fit the bill is a flexible wellness stipend, typically by reallocating unused office perks budget. By design, these programs are relevant and inclusive for all remote employees, regardless of location and mental health needs.
With a flexible wellness stipend or wellness allowance, companies can choose a fixed amount, recurring monthly, quarterly, or annually, that their employees can spend on whatever they feel is most meaningful for their mental health and overall wellness. Tools like Compt make the administration simple for everyone. Employees can spend it on anything from therapy sessions to running shoes, yoga gear, home gym equipment, a wellness app, and many other options. Programs like these tend to have higher utilization and engagement; meanwhile, employees genuinely appreciate flexibility and support.
Another easy program to implement is a curated list of mental health resources that applies to a wide range of employees’ potential mental health needs. Whether it’s for stress management or other things like anxiety, depression, behavioral disorders, substance abuse, or addiction, set up that comprehensive list and share it with all employees privately.
Be sure to include information about how to access those mental health resources, relevant details to your company’s industry and location, and how to use your company’s employee assistance program if one exists.
Give Employees a Break
As remote work continues indefinitely and employees continue to be cooped up at home, one universal way to recognize and address their mental health is to offer company-wide days off specifically dedicated to wellness and burnout prevention.
Whether it is one day or one week, this has become somewhat of a trend. LinkedIn, HubSpot, and Hootsuite are a few companies that have made headlines in giving their full-time employees a paid week off specifically for their mental health. Other companies like SAP, Thomson Reuters, Google, and Cisco have opted for a company-wide mental health day for the same effect while being more flexible for both employees and employers to plan around.
Aside from giving employees a much-needed break and permission to unplug and recharge, a company-wide break from work shows that you value employee mental health enough to forgo those days of productivity.
There’s also a third benefit. Proactively giving all your employees PTO simultaneously alleviates a specific type of guilt employees often feel when taking time off: 41% of employees feel guilty about leaving their work to someone else when taking PTO, particularly those who work closely in teams.
As remote work continues and for some companies becomes a permanent fixture, the need for meaningful health and wellness support for remote employees will only grow. And while no law requires your company to take any action, the dangers in ignoring your remote employees’ mental health are:
Knowing the risks, it’s up to your company to decide how much your employees’ mental wellness matters. In this impossible hiring market, along with the everyday challenges of promoting remote employee engagement, supporting mental health is the least you can do to become a good employer.
By Linda Le Phan