How companies can support employees mental health

Andara Puchino

With the ongoing pandemic and current sociopolitical climate, anxiety and depression rates are booming, and the calls for greater attention to mental well-being are loud. Yet the majority of employees do not feel their employers are doing enough to support their mental health. Closing this gap is only going to get more important for employers who want to stay competitive; a recent report revealed that mental health support is the top career expectation among recent grads.

According to Julia Hunt, director of mental health services at Tia, a modern women’s healthcare company, chronic stress is the greatest threat to health today. Since work is a major source of stress (a recent Headspace report shared that 30% of employees feel work harms their mental health), comprehensive corporate mental health support is a vital lever to enhancing well-being broadly.

While, fortunately, Tia and many other mental health companies (e.g. Talkspace, Ginger, and BetterHelp) have launched over the last seven or so years, many employers have been slow to embrace mental health needs. Sure, most provide access to mental health professionals through employee health benefits, but those offerings are only one part of what should be a multipronged approach.

Innovative companies are promoting mental health

It’s one thing to provide access to mental health professionals and quite another to shout it from the rooftops. Daisy Auger-Dominguez, chief people officer at Vice Media, stresses the need for clear, consistent communication. “We communicate constantly what’s new and what’s available as a way of normalizing these critical resources” she says.

Auger-Dominguez, Hunt, and Shelby Wolpa, founder of Shelby Wolpa Consulting, agree that mental health starts from the top. As Shelby puts it,”If employees see their leaders and managers investing in their mental health, they’ll know it’s encouraged for them to do so, as well.” Leaders should talk about their own mental fitness routines; for instance, when employees ask managers how their weekends went, “I meditated and journaled” is just as compelling a response as, “I took a run and went out to dinner.”

Both Auger-Dominguez and Wolpa encourage companies to train managers to check in about their reports’ mental well-being and promote paid-time-off.

Specific mental health benefits on offer

InVision has always been a mental health trendsetter. When Wolpa was VP of people operations there, the people department offered:

  • A flexible time-off policy
  • Free access to meditation app Headspace and optional company-wide meditations on Mondays. (Calm is another mediation app)
  • A monthly wellness stipend that employees could choose how to use for fitness classes, at-home gym equipment, massages, even travel
  • A virtual healthcare service, Spring Health, that gave employees six free visits with on-demand mental health experts. (Modern Health, Galileo, and One Medical are other virtual services)
  • A partnership with TaskHuman that provided free 1:1 wellness coaching to employees
  • A full-time, in-house director of employee happiness for employees to chat with

At Vice, Auger-Dominguez offers:

  • Days of Pause to help employees replenish, in addition to a generous PTO policy that allows employees to use sick days as mental health days
  • A Mental Health Resources Guide with webinars and manager check-ins
  • A Wellness Community Group that hosts group sessions and shares content

Exciting new trends on corporate mental health roadmaps

1. The much-discussed four-day workweek. While companies are experimenting with this trend, some mental health advocates discourage it. While well-intentioned, the concept is still quite prescriptive. Rather, Wolpa suggests that companies encourage work-life integration versus such overt work-life balance. By integration, she means letting employees choose when their work gets done (while still honoring core meeting times and deadlines).

2. Tools that promote mobile meetings. With “zoom fatigue” plaguing us throughout the pandemic, Wolpa recently started working with Spot Meetings, a company that promotes walking work calls. Walking is proven to benefit physical and mental health, creativity, and focus. Spot makes it possible to take more walks during the workday and digitally collaborate while doing so.

3. Broadening the definition of “wellness.” This would expand to include women’s health, parental support, and financial stability. More and more companies are offering:

  • Women’s health and fertility support through Carrot, Elanza Wellness, and Maven Clinic
  • Support for women going through menopause through Elektra Health and Midi Health
  • Parenting and caregiving support through Cleo
  • Financial wellness benefits through Origin, Northstar, and Brightside

Auger-Dominguez is definitely on board to provide parental support at Vice. “Given the rapid rise of mental health issues in young people, we’ve been securing thought leadership and resources to better support parents of young children and teenagers,” she says.

And Hunt from Tia is a strong advocate for mental health support in conjunction with fertility support since “50% of women show signs of depression, and 75% show signs of anxiety while going through fertility treatment,” she explains. Tia just announced fertility as their newest service line with a specific focus on mental health.

We’re living in a renaissance of mental health resources. Even if companies are budget-strapped or early stage, they can still nurture employees’ well-being through free touch points or by embracing mental health from the top. Employees don’t want to return to “business as usual.” As we chart a new way forward in the workplace, employers will be called to lead by example, listen to their teams, and practice empathy and self-awareness if they want to retain talent.

Heather Hartnett is the CEO and general partner at Human Ventures.

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