Mental Health Strategies Every Business Should Consider for Employees Returning to Work

As we ease further into our new, pandemic-altered reality, many businesses are beginning to recognize the need to focus on employee wellness. Regardless of any pandemic, this should be a top consideration, as responsible businesses should always put a premium on the health and wellness of its employees. The pandemic, though, is bringing about new challenges relating to this subject.

This is addressed to some extent in our article about how to pandemic-proof employee wellness. The idea there was to touch on a few ways to go about designing a wellness program in response to the pandemic and what it’s done to so many workplaces. The discussion included recommendations to include employees in decision-making, track participation, and emphasize the culture of wellness, among others. But in this article we’d like to follow up with a few specific strategies anyone running a business might consider implementing as part of a mental health and wellness strategy specifically.

Allow Time & Flexibility

CNBC quoted Mark Cuban recently supporting the notion that companies should be careful about how quickly they ask employees to go back to work. He described it as both a safety issue and a business issue, essentially making the point that companies’ reputations may suffer if they make poor decisions. This is an interesting point, but we’d expand on the health side of things by pointing to the mental health effects as well.

To say the least, many people are going to beuneasy about returning to physical workspaces. Even if and when those spaces are deemed safe from a pandemic perspective, the idea of being back in shared environments will be stressful for plenty of employees — particularly those withunderlying conditions or compromised immune systems. For this reason, one of the most basic strategies a business can choose to embrace regarding wellness is to adopt a flexible stance on return to work. Employees, wherever possible, should be given the time and flexibility they need to work in a manner in which they feel safe and comfortable.

Make Communication Regular

While it’s not always the first thing we think about with regard to workplace wellness, isolation can be one of the most challenging aspects of this whole pandemic situation for plenty of people. Particularly for those who are used to going to work, the lack of day-to-day socialization — even regarding work —can leave a discomforting void. For this and other reasons, businesses should also look to emphasize interaction and communication while employees are returning to work. This might mean open meetings, online or otherwise; it might mean setting up a social or recreational safe area in the office; it may even mean team breakfasts or lunches. Whatever the specific solution, giving employees a safe option to be social again might be a good way to provide some sense of a return to normal.

Provide Help with Financial Strategy

It’s best to face facts: Employees all over the world have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic, and that can have a profound impact on mental wellness. Now, it’s not the place of a business owner to impose on the financial specifics of an employee. But for a business that can’t necessarily offer additional financial support, a little bit of financial guidance and strategy might be appreciated.

Most appropriate might be to provide some tipson how employees can manage debt they may have accrued (or simply struggled to pay off) during the worst of the pandemic. This could begin with something as simple as a written guide made available that covers some debt reduction strategies, and perhaps links to some helpful resources related to the topic. With a tool like this, interested employees could privately take advantage of help and begin to constructively work on a burdensome financial issue.

Similarly, some businesses that aren’t able to provide a direct financial boost might instead provide information and resources about loans that could help people to manage difficult times. Americans were already relying heavily on loans heading into 2020, in what some saw as a worrying sign for the economy even before the pandemic struck. Now, however, personal loans can be all the more essential in helping people through a particularly difficult time. While this may sound like a somewhat personal topic for a business to get involved in, the financial support from personal loans could provide assistance to employees who need to consolidate debt or need additional cash to maintain their financial wellness during these tough times. Some applicants will be able to obtain financial assistance of this nature with no sign-up fees, and with virtually no waiting time. Simply by making this sort of information known, a business can provide vital financial support — which in turn can lead to less financial anxiety and thus greater mental health among affected employees.

Financial wellness is in a sense its own topic within broader discussions on mental health as relates to the workplace. But it's a very real issue, and needs to be among the things businesses are prepared to address for the good of their employees.

Consider Adjusting Benefits & Perks

If possible, business owners should also consider making minor adjustments to benefit packages and other company perks, with the specific goal of assisting employees with their mental health. Most employees, at this stage, won’t be expecting businesses to be able to raise salaries or offer significant monetary bonuses. However, there are some smaller steps a business can take that can have a real impact on health.

Ideally, this might start with covering mental health appointments or treatments under a healthcare policy, if they aren’t already covered. However, if this isn’t an option at present, or if it’s too much of an expense, a business could even make a nice (and effective) gesture by covering fees associated with mental health apps. While these aren’t necessarily fitting substitutes for professional mental health treatment, the positives are real in an examination of some leading health and meditation apps. They all act differently to some extent, but by and large these apps can help with stress management, as well as give users the feeling that they’re addressing problems.

This may seem like an unorthodox step to take, but by covering relatively small membership fees, a business can give employees access to tools that might significantly help them with any mental adjustments to the new normal.

Encourage Wellness Discussion

For a final point — but perhaps the most important of all — we’d note that businesses should also encourage any discussion of wellness. Too often, there is a stigma attached to the very idea of mental health, and in workplaces this can translate to employees feeling uneasy bringing up concerns in this area. To combat that problem, under the current circumstances especially, businesses should make it known that employees are welcome and encouraged to bring up any and all concerns they might have relating to their mental health and general wellness. With this sort of approach, a more open and accepting environment can be established, and employees can know that they’ll have the support they need if mental health becomes an issue.

By embracing these strategies and making mental health a focus, a business can position itself as well as possible to successfully welcome employees back to work.