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How to prioritize mental health for employees and leaders

3 company behaviors to improve wellbeing and performance at work
How to prioritize mental health for employees and leaders
Illustration: melitas (Shutterstock)
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Yvette Cameron is SVP of global product strategy at Oracle Cloud HCM. As a known HCM product leader for 25+ years, she’s worked for Gartner, Constellation Research, and her technology startup, Velocity Career Labs.

Mental health at work has been a growing concern for years. But only recently have workers started building stronger boundaries and increased their expectations of the impact of work on their wellbeing. It’s affecting not only people’s professional lives but also their personal lives. A global study found that 70% of people feel stuck in their careers and say it adds extra stress and anxiety outside the workplace. It’s an issue that cannot go ignored. But many organizations don’t know where to start, how to evolve their employee experience, or how to lead the change.

As companies continue to settle into more permanent work schedules—whether back in the office, remote, or hybrid—they have the perfect opportunity to prioritize mental health and workforce wellness no matter where their teams are. In addition, small, more personal changes can significantly impact treating employees like valued people versus disposable talent.

A primary focus should be ensuring managers check-in and make their teams feel heard. These don’t have to be work or performance-related check-ins but touch points with employees to ensure they feel listened to, supported, understood, and valued. Investing and dedicating specific time to connect with people will help build trust and open more lines of communication, whether in-person or virtually.

3 tactics to build connection and check in on employees

Wellness wednesdays or meeting-free Fridays

Dedicate regular days or hours for employees to focus on balance, wellness, and mental health. The delivery method can flex based on what the company can accommodate. For example, some may offer a full day off from meetings every week or month, while other companies can allow for a few hours every week to self-care mentally and physically. Whatever the format, make it a recurring commitment to enable and encourage employees to invest time in themselves.

Walk-and-talk meetings

Break free from the computer or conference room and go for a walk. This strategy could be beneficial for remote teams where it’s far too easy to go an entire day without stepping outside or away from the desk. Identify calls that don’t need to be in front of a computer or swap out your regular check-in to take a break from the screen. While video conferencing is great for meetings like brainstorming and workshopping collaboratively, there’s nothing wrong with a phone call check-in while getting fresh air or taking your dog for a walk. This is a great way to connect with your team and get some movement in without losing productivity.

People-first pulse surveys

Offer quick, easy ways for your teams to find their voice and be heard. Pulse surveys can be an excellent channel to check in on sentiment and quickly share what’s on employees’ minds. To make these surveys effective, they should be short and focused on the people, not the company. Remember to ensure that some quick pulse surveys aren’t anonymous to encourage addressing issues directly.

Managers should initiate short, frequent touchpoints with their teams to have meaningful day-to-day interactions that will help build stronger, more trusted employee-manager relationships outside the traditional performance management conversations. Managers and HR teams can act in the moment and track changes over time by taking a regular pulse—daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly—on sentiment, needs, or other topics. With data to spotlight trends, leaders can better act on and implement change before it’s too late.

Ultimately, when organizations think about addressing mental health at work and prioritizing wellness, it all comes down to building a strong culture and personalizing employee experiences. Employees want to feel heard, listened to, and connected to their company. If managers and business leaders start by investing the time to conduct these small acts of concern for employee wellness, they can make a difference for those feeling alone or disconnected.