It’s nearly the end of 2022, and well over two years into one of the most drastic pivots in the corporate landscape—flex schedules, hybrid and remote work, and resignation rates never before seen. And yet the way corporate America approaches mental health among its employees is still severely lacking. According to a study by Mental Health America, only 34 percent of employees have seen their company leadership speak openly about mental health. And while the mental health coverage and benefits employers offer have been expanding recently, only 38 percent of employees would be comfortable using those services, and over half still don’t even know those benefits exist.
The nationwide discussion surrounding mental health in America has opened up dramatically. But many workplaces still struggle to find the right culture strategy and operational policies to join in the conversation with genuine support and credibility. So, as the corporate culture continues to find its new status quo in a post-pandemic landscape, leadership must take authentic steps to make mental health a cultural reality—not just another item listed on the benefits package. Here are three ways your can fast-track your own organization’s culture towards better mental health offerings and inherent well-being for employees:
Embed scheduling flexibility for true work-life balance
First things first: you have to make sure work is not overtaking your employees’ lives. Most employees cite work as the source of their day-to-day relational, financial, and personal stress. With that knowledge, it’s clear that many employers still have a long way to go to create more sustainable environments that encourage healthy living both physically and mentally for employees. And one of the simplest ways employers can start this is by instituting more flexibility in their employees’ schedules.
In the wake of the pandemic and shift to remote work, more and more companies have begun piloting new work schedule arrangements, such as the four-day work week or hybrid models with half the week spent in-office and half not. While good-intentioned, many of these schedules fail to hit the true spirit of what employees want (and need) to maintain their personal lives with their work responsibilities: flexibility. Instead of prescribing a new schedule, throw out the schedule entirely (kind of).
Employees want to work, but they want to be able to work when it works for them. Some surveys have found that the so-called four-day work week actually raises employee stress levels, and employees end up working longer and harder just to get one more day added to the weekend. But with a truly flexible schedule, employees should be able to determine when is best for them. This requires a high level of trust and accountability from both employers and employees to ensure productivity remains high and the business maintains success. But this type of freedom is exactly what promotes proper work-life balance as busy employees (especially working parents or caregivers) can get the same amount of work done but done during the blocks of time that fit each individual’s needs.
Simplus, for example, having been a remote, flex company from the very start, knows how this type of radical scheduling freedom can work for both managers and employees alike. We have years of operational experience and a proven infrastructure for managing employees of all backgrounds, many of whom are parents with young children at home or caregivers to loved ones. We have the HR benefits, the operational processes, and the cloud-based collaborative software to formally support and cater to these unique work needs and schedules. More importantly, our culture has also been grounded in a spirit of genuine, authentic stewardship from day one—we take care of each other and share in each other’s personal lives without hesitation. This means our team never feels like their personal responsibilities are in the way or have to come second to work in order for them to be successful at work. That type of cultural freedom is huge for creating a place busy employees truly want to work.
Ensure interpersonal relationships don’t get neglected with hybrid or remote setups
Another area that should be of top concern for organizations prioritizing a strong mental health culture is interpersonal relationships. On the flip side of working parents and caregivers burdened with perhaps too many relationships and associated responsibilities are employees with a smaller social circle—workers who, in a previous corporate landscape, used to thrive on in-person interactions and building both professional and personal relationships through work. The advent of hybrid and remote work arrangements has many benefits, but it also comes with the threat of depression and loneliness for many.
Many employees have reported a lower sense of work connections or support from their colleagues and managers since the pandemic began. While employees don’t want to feel overtaken by work, they also don’t want to feel too much like an island of one at work. As Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas from the Harvard Business Review noted, “a culture of connection is key — from regular check-ins that make time for the question, “How are you?” to healthy working relationships to meaningful interactions among teams.” It’s employers’ responsibility to provide the opportunities for promoting these types of relationships even when remote or completely virtual, and managers should be trained in authentic communication with their direct reports—the type of communication that sees the person first and then the worker.
With the example of upper management’s sincere compassion in communication, a robust culture of interpersonal communication can thrive throughout the organization. You can recreate the organic bonding that tends to happen in person with digital tools and by being consistently proactive about your work socialization. Remote workers have to be far more deliberate about establishing meaningful connections because the casual chat in the hallway isn’t just going to happen anymore. At Simplus, it’s always the team members who take the time to check in on a personal level, set aside work, and just ask about life with their work peers that are also the most successful professionally. Individual mental health breeds widespread company health.
Create dedicated spaces for listening and supporting each other
Finally, a large part of comprehensive mental health support in the workplace is creating dedicated spaces to listen and share common journeys with a support network. Historically underrepresented groups hold a disproportionate amount of mental health diagnoses, with groups such as LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx far more likely to struggle with symptoms. From 2019 to now, the number of survey respondents who said mental health is a DEI issue increased from 41 percent to 54 percent.
If your organization isn’t actively addressing DEI priorities and investing in support for these groups, you’re missing the complete mental health picture. Companies can support this intersection of mental health and DEI concerns by reviewing their hiring practices, forming employee resource groups (ERGs), and integrating feedback from anonymous employee surveys or peer listening strategies. Real, supportive change requires both the forums for listening and clear actions to back it up and make employees feel heard.
Ultimately, all of these mental health services and options are no longer just a recruiting nicety; they’re a must for attracting and retaining valuable talent. By embedding implicit flex schedules into your company culture, holding up strong interpersonal connections in the workplace despite the remote or hybrid infrastructure, and forming dedicated spaces to listen, companies can begin building out more supportive mental health cultures—the compassionate, empowering workplaces of the future.