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January 16, 2023 • read

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8 ways to improve employee mental health in the new year

January isn’t exactly the brightest month of the year, and your employees are likely feeling that. With holiday bills piling up, colder, darker days, and summer vacation seeming far away, this time of year can take a toll on their mental health and workplace performance. 

And don’t be surprised if, on Monday, January 16, you notice an even bigger shift in your employee’s mood since it’s “Blue Monday.” What started as a gimmick from a travel company — dubbing this the “most depressing day of the year” — rings true for many three weeks into the coldest month. 

But, this is also an opportunity to focus on your employees’ mental health and set the tone for the entire year. Here’s why this should be a priority and how you can implement changes that benefit your team and organization. 

Why should mental health be a priority for employers this year?

Research shows that as many as one in five Canadians experiences a mental health issue yearly. Based on the size of your team, just how many people may be affected by this? When an employee’s mental health isn’t taken care of, it can have a ripple effect on the organization — more workplace absenteeism and reduced productivity. 

A workplace focusing on mental health also helps with employee retention and attracting new talent. In fact, mental health is so important to Canadian employees that a 2020 report showed 77% would leave their current jobs for the same pay if their new employer offered better mental health support. 

January is the perfect time to make a change by prioritizing your team’s mental health and well-being and adding value to your organization. 

What are the main causes that negatively affect employees’ mental health?

A handful of things can negatively affect your employees’ mental health. They include:

Workplace stress

This can be caused by anything from heavy workloads to a change in job roles. Studies show higher employee stress can

lower productivity significantly in the workplace. It may even cause some to take stress leave from work, which can also put a strain on your other team members. Additionally, stress can trigger mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety, or worsen it for team members who already struggle with these illnesses.

No work-life balance

Dedication is important, but your employees’ mental health can suffer if they don’t have enough time to themselves outside work. Work-life balance provides employees with a healthy work environment and boosts productivity and engagement. Without it, your team is at an increased risk of mental health issues like stress, anxiety, and depression affecting their work.

Negative workplace culture

Employees thrive in a positive workplace where there’s transparency about a company’s values, beliefs, and goals. Everything from workplace flexibility to inclusivity falls under this umbrella. Without workplace culture, your team is at risk of being unsatisfied and stressed, resulting in reduced productivity and higher absenteeism.

Toxic leadership

Managers who don’t align with a company’s culture or struggle to connect with their team create an unhealthy environment for all. This can damage — or further damage — your employees’ mental health, causing anxiety, depression, and more.

Lack of support

Whether from a manager, team members, or not having health benefits, employees who feel unsupported at work can only put their best foot forward for so long. The draining effect on their mental health and even their self-esteem can seep into their everyday work, making them less passionate and less productive.

8 ways managers can support employees’ mental health

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help support your team’s mental health.

1. Talk about mental health in the workplace

Conversations about mental health are one of the best ways to address mental health in the workplace. Talking about it helps create a safe space for employees who struggle with mental illness and their team members. But not everyone is open to talking about their personal struggles. One study showed that only 36% of employees would discuss a mental health concern with their manager. 

Let your team know that they don’t have to share anything personal but that your organization is here to support them through their mental health journey. You don’t need to offer advice either; leave that to the professionals. Having intentional check-ins with employees, providing comfort and support through listening, offering employee mental health days, and encouraging your team to use their benefits plan with mental health resources can be extremely helpful. 

2. Conduct regular mental health training for leaders

Managers aren’t expected to be therapists or have extensive mental health training. But conducting regular mental health training sessions can help managers lead by example, create a psychologically safe workplace, make employees feel comfortable, and reduce absenteeism and turnover. 

One study found that just three hours of mental health awareness training enhanced leaders’ knowledge and attitude towards mental health and the intent to promote it in the workplace. The study also found that this resulted in a reduction in the duration of employee short-term disability claims. 

Consider training your managers in skill sets that support mental health and positive work relationships, implementing regular check-in questions, creating a welcoming and safe work environment, and educating team leaders about your organization’s employee assistance programs for mental health

3. Offer a hybrid work model

The pandemic normalized working from home for many people. If it has been tough trying to get employees to return to work in the office — especially after the holidays — consider a hybrid work model. This allows your team to reap the benefits of work-life balance while still coming into the office two or three times a week. 

A study from Cisco even found that more than three-quarters of Canadians surveyed believed hybrid and remote working improved all aspects of well-being. A hybrid work model is a great way to improve employee retention and have a happier, healthier team invested in their roles. 

4. Team-building activities

Social connections at work and mental health go hand-in-hand. Employees spend most of their week interacting with coworkers, likely even more than with their loved ones. A team that works well together and enjoys each other’s company helps build trust and makes for a positive, collaborative, and productive workplace. 

Don’t be afraid to get creative with team-building activities, either. Try board games, team lunches, themed meetings, or anything else that comes to mind — your employees will likely appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to boost morale.

5. Implement employee mental health days

Mental health days are designed to give employees time away from their workplace and its stressors. In a recent study, 82% of Gen Z employees said mental health days are important to them — but it’s not just this demographic that can benefit. Offering mental health days at your workplace can help reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout, and improve productivity for teams of all ages — it also helps to destigmatize mental health.

6. Manageable workloads

Losing sight of how much your team has on their plate can be detrimental to their mental health. In one study, most people ranked workload as their biggest cause of stress. Being aware of just how heavy your team’s workload is and ensuring there aren’t unrealistic deadlines can help prevent employee stress and other mental health issues. 

Ensure your managers have open lines of communication with their teams about their workloads. If employees feel overwhelmed, they should be able to talk to their manager about extending applicable deadlines or delegate tasks to others who may have more time.

7. Encourage taking breaks

It’s easy for employees to lose sight of how much time has passed without a break — some may even feel guilty about taking them. But doing so can reduce or even prevent stress and contribute to improved memory and creativity. Even a five-minute break can help keep stress at bay, and your team engaged at work. 

Let your employees know that breaks are encouraged and meant to help them recharge. Taking breaks or having your team leaders take breaks can also help model healthy behaviours for everyone else.

8. Offer mental health benefits

Employees want to feel supported, especially regarding their mental health. Providing comprehensive mental health benefits shows that your organization fosters a culture of compassion and can positively impact your team’s overall well-being. 

Offering mental health benefits also helps with employee retention and attracting new talent. This rings true for 84% of Canadians between 18 to 34 who say that mental health benefits are essential. And 42% of employees with mental health benefits say they’re more likely to stay at their job than if they didn’t have them. 

How Maple can help employers

There are so many benefits to addressing mental health in the workplace. If workplace wellness is your goal this year, it’s the perfect time to get in touch with Maple about health and well-being support for employees

Through Maple’s virtual care platform, your team gets access to same-day, online booking with Canadian-licensed therapists with Mind by Maple. Mind by Maple’s mental health programming is an excellent addition, complement, or both to paramedical benefits your team has access to.  Knowing that their mental health is always taken care of is a win-win for both employees and your organization. Take a proactive approach to your team’s mental health this year, and consider offering Canada’s leading solution for teams. 

If you’d like to speak with a member of our team about supporting employees with their health and well-being, the impact of a quality virtual care solution on employee health and well-being, and how to bring your employee benefits to the next level, please reach out. We’d be happy to share our insights with you as Canada’s leading virtual care platform.

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