Dr. Gloria Horsley is the founder Open to Hope FoundationAn open community where people can find hope after loss.
No matter where your organization is located, it is a universal truth that winter has an impact on mental health. Even if you’re not tolerating extreme cold, short daylight hours combined with holiday stress and post-holiday lethargy can make for a mood-wrenching cocktail.
Regardless of your industry, the winter blues are real, and they’re here. As an employer, it is important to support the mental health of your team members during this challenging season.
1. Make mental health part of your company vocabulary
Even 10 years ago, talk of “workplace mental health” could be encountered with a grim look. But its recent inclusion in leadership meetings is not a fad waiting to disappear. As mental health becomes a more prevalent topic of conversation among healthcare providers, so should your leadership discussions.
After a global pandemic that followed years of anxiety-inducing “hustle culture” and hostile working conditions, the American worker is tired. Address mental health impacts by reviewing individual and team workloads to ensure they are manageable. If they aren’t, get feedback from your employees to determine what can be achieved — and by whom and in what time frame — before making changes.
When there is an opportunity to relate your personal experience with mental health, do so. Sharing stories of your own challenges and how you overcame them will both defuse mental health discussions and give employees hope. Emphasize the mental health resources your organization provides — from light therapy lamps to peer listening programs — and encourage team members to access them. Normalizing mental health and discussing how you navigate difficult seasons can have far-reaching benefits within your organization.
2. Provide mental health awareness training for managers and individuals
Most formal education gives students very little information about mental health, let alone how to manage others’ experiences. But your team’s success often depends on how well they can establish and maintain mental health boundaries.
Review your current mental health awareness training against employee feedback and industry benchmarks to identify any training gaps. Often, the idea of discussing a personal matter like mental health can seem awkward. Additionally, employees and managers may fear infringing or violating confidentiality rules by asking questions of their colleagues. Include examples of what is acceptable when creating your training modules.
Develop training both for individual contributors and at the management level. This training should not be just another box to check; Rather, the lessons learned should be integrated into daily work. Incorporate prompts into standardized meeting agendas to check on stress levels, concerns and needs. The more you talk about mental health, the more common it will be as leaders leading the way in lasting change.
3. Empowering Managers to Increase Resilience to Mental Health Needs
You may already be offered plug-in wellness benefits through your health benefits provider, but how effective are they? Augment the standard suite of benefits with more substantial practices, many of which do not require budget approval. Outfit a hot beverage bar for an after-lunch team walk (weather permitting), or to introduce some casual respite to your team’s workday.
In addition to encouraging such breaks in routine, examine your organizational culture. A culture of workload can lead to stress that adds to the stress of daily life. Change your perspective by asking questions about the competence and accommodations of coworkers at work. Empower managers to make the calls they feel are right. If they need to change deadlines or offer an employee a mental health day, allow them to do so. Managers have the opportunity to improve employee well-being while ensuring that the work gets done.
Adjust policies and procedures to increase autonomy and give managers approval authority for certain tasks. This flexibility will enable them to use their best judgment for the benefit of employee mental health. Establish quarterly check-ins with your leadership team to discuss mental health needs and identify future opportunities to support your colleagues.
Supporting your team in any weather
Your team members probably have moments in the year when everything is in line with work and life. Just when they are hoping for a season of stability, well-laid plans can go off the rails. While not every effect can be anticipated, you can plan for seasonal changes by thinking ahead for the coming year.
Consider the physical and emotional toll each season takes on your colleagues and consider how your organization can make life easier. Whether you offer summer Fridays or allow more remote work in the winter to avoid snowy commutes, make changes that support your employees’ mental health in all seasons. The more stress you can remove from your employees’ lives, the better. When your employees enjoy good mental health, they will be more able to contribute to your mission.
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