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Employee Mental Health: 9 HR Experts Share Their Opinion

Posted on December 22, 2020 // All, Human Resources (HR)

Wellbeing and mental health in the workplace are really important. 

Companies should be doing all they can to address mental health issues and support their employees as part of a long-term strategy that aims to keep employees happy and motivated, especially during a crisis like the one we’re going through right now. 

The COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 has led to companies adopting a work from home approach in order to decrease social interactions and help limit the spread of the virus around the world. 

This new approach has come with some struggles and challenges for companies and their employees.

In fact, according to Buffer’s State of Remote 2020 Report, employees working remotely are reporting struggles like being unmotivated, feeling overwhelmed, and getting lonely in relation to remote working as some of their main challenges they’re facing. 

Image Source: Buffer

We’ve approached nine HR professionals to share with us their insight on what companies can do to make sure they’re successfully dealing with employee mental health. 

In this post, we’re sharing with you the HR experts’ opinions on the topic. 

More specifically, we’re getting insightful tactics that companies can use to normalize conversations around mental health in the workplace and many more ideas about how to help employees overcome mental health issues that are affecting them negatively. 

With this roundup, we hope to take a tiny step in making the workplace a better place for employees. 

Without further ado, let’s get right into it. 


Table of Contents

Here’s What We’ve Asked the Experts

Expert #1: Natalie Morgan from CareerPlug

Expert #2: Abtin Mehdizadegan from Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C.

Expert #3: Katy Caselli from Building Giants, LLC

Expert #4: Carol Cochran from Flexjobs

Expert #5: Jana Tulloch from Tulloch Consulting

Expert #6: David Zinger from David Zinger Associates

Expert #7: Jay Gadi from Soapbox

Expert #8: Hiba Amin from Soapbox

Expert #9: Rebecca Clarke from Recruitee


Here’s what we’ve asked the experts

Before we dive deep into the insightful chats we had with nine HR experts, let’s have a look to the questions we asked them:

Question #1

Mental health issues are often considered a taboo topic of conversation in the workplace. What do you think HR professionals can do to ensure their employees feel comfortable speaking up when they need to?

Question #2 

How can companies support good mental health at work for employees working remotely?

Question #3 

What are some tactics companies working from home can use to maintain employee engagement and make sure that their employees feel emotionally secure?  


Expert #1: Natalie Morgan from CareerPlug

Director of HR at CareerPlug –  a fantastic hiring software – Natalie has given us some helpful insights on employee mental health issues and tactics that companies working from home can use to keep their employees motivated. 

Our first question to Natalie was how, in her opinion, can HR professionals open up the discussion between the human resources department, management, and employees in order for the employees to feel free in speaking about mental health issues in the workplace. 

She said the following:

Have managers do this when they first meet with new hires and are setting expectations for the role.

Something as simple as, “We value employee wellness here and want people to be their whole selves at work, that means supporting work/life balance and your physical and mental health. Please know you can come to me anytime.”

Then, if people do share, validate that it was the right thing to do and express your commitment to supporting their wellbeing however you can in the workplace. 

In everyday interactions, HR, managers, and leadership can normalize this by setting the example. 

As a case in point, the term “mental health day” is a frequently used, positive term in our culture and a valid use of paid time off. 

Next, we asked Natalie about how companies can actively support good mental health within the workplace when employees are working from home. 

Here’s what she replied:

Leadership should model a healthy work/life balance in their remote workplace. 

Companies should also make available, and remind people on a regular cadence, of mental health resources that may be included in benefits plans or an EAP. 

Last but not least, Natalie also shared some very effective tactics companies can use to make sure they’re taking care of their employees and how they’re feeling in terms of work engagement. 

More specifically, she told us the following:

Start 1 on 1 meetings asking employees how they’re doing. 

Go beyond the superficial answer of “fine” by rephrasing or by asking follow up questions: how’s your week been? Tell me more? 

Create space for social interactions. For example, allow for a few minutes of non-work chat at the beginning of meetings, have communication channels like Slack dedicated to social chatting, or host virtual happy hours, trivia, or other events. 

Natalie also pointed out the importance of expressing gratitude sincerely and often

In fact, 58% of employees stated that receiving recognition for their work is one of the top drivers and what helps keep them motivated at work. 

Image Source: HRU App

Following from recognition, our expert here also suggested:

Create avenues for employees to give feedback and make sure you listen and follow-up. 

Do not ever, for one second, tolerate toxic and/or abusive behavior at your company – take complaints seriously and act swiftly. 

A “let it be” attitude when it comes to threats to someone’s emotional safety is damaging to your culture and will rightly cost you good employees.

Let’s now move on to the second expert’s opinion. 


Expert #2: Abtin Mehdizadegan from Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C. 

Abtin, Employment Attorney and Director at law firm Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C., also shared some fantastic ideas with us. 

The firm helps companies build healthy, constructive, and authentic relationships with employees. 

One of the first things Abtin shared with us in terms of what HR professionals can do to ensure their employees feel comfortable speaking up when they need to, was the importance of taking proactive steps. 

More specifically, Abtin underlined the following points:

Mental health can be a taboo topic for a number of reasons. 

For instance, an HR professional may find it prudent to take some time to remind his or her employees about the business’s Employee Assistance Program – if one exists – or about the mental health coverage under the company’s extant health insurance programs.

To our second question on what companies can do to support good mental health within employees working remotely, he said:  

The research suggests that businesses, to foster positive mental health while working remotely, should consider: 

  1. Encouraging employees to keep a regular schedule, including one with regular breaks and exercise 
  2. Requiring employees to work from a designated space away from family space 
  3. Staying connected by using Zoom, Teams, and GoToMeeting
  4. Setting boundaries on work schedules

Based on Abtin’s last point, we’ve found some super easy to follow steps in order to unplug when working from home and avoid burnout and loss of engagement. 

Image Source: Instagram

Let’s now continue with our expert’s words: 

Several of my clients have found success in breaking up the monotony by encouraging teams to eat “together,” albeit remotely. 

Other clients have allowed employees to enjoy more flexibility in establishing work schedules to accommodate family life and related obligations

In addition to this, another client of Abtin has requested and received training from its EAP on fostering psychologically healthy remote working practices. 

When we asked Abtin about effective tactics that he’s found to work in terms of maintaining employee engagement and making sure employees are staying motivated, he specifically stated:

Communication is essential to engagement.

Over-communication may in fact be a better rule, whether this involves one-on-one video conferences, more frequent emails from management about updates in the business – particularly those that demonstrate work stability, and more substantial use of employee surveys. 

Here’s a nice tactic that one of Abtin’s clients has followed:

One of my clients that has a particular focus on employee engagement has gone a bit further.  

Prior to the pandemic, my client gave all employees monthly lunches and hosted several periodic employee appreciation events throughout the year. 

Now that its employees are working remotely, the client has continued these practices remotely, by: 

  • Sending SnackBoxes to employees’ homes with candy, popcorn, and Redbox movie rental certificates for a nice family evening
  • Allowing employees on a particular day to go pick up lunch for the entire family at the company’s expense from a designated restaurant in their area
  • Hosting Zoom-type monthly awards ceremonies for employees who flag the highest number of phishing/scam type emails, with the winners receiving some gift cards 

Moving on to our next expert. 


Expert #3: Katy Caselli from Building Giants, LLC

Katy, Organizational Psychologist, Founder, and President of Building Giants, LLC. – a company that offers corporate training – has given us some truly insightful answers to our questions. 

Katy shared with us her valuable knowledge about organizational psychology and helped us understand employee mental health issues a little better. 

Their brain forms a “rut” of negative thoughts around that feeling of helplessness, until the thoughts come easier and more frequently, reinforcing negative feelings.  

For people working from home, I feel like frequent check ins by their direct leaders can be very helpful, as well as peer communication, similar to water cooler chat we used to do while in the office.  

Fun surprises, such as contests or jokes, happy hours via an online tool, and encouraging random acts of kindness are good for both the “giver” and the recipients.  

Additionally, Katy pointed out the importance of employee recognition, which has come up several times from almost all of our experts in this roundup. 

We therefore understand that it’s a must do for all companies. 

Check out how Katy puts it: 

The important thing for remote teams is for members to feel like they’re truly part of a team, they’re encouraged to depend on each other, they’re reminded to be respectful and are rewarded to be so.

One way to help employees feel secure in their job and keep focused is to give them opportunities to learn and develop, so that part of their job is to sharpen their skills and lay the groundwork to learn enough for the next stage in their career. 

Meaningful development plans and time for learning is a great way to engage employees from the very beginning, or even towards the end of a career. 

Having learners report out the substance of what they’re learning can encourage other team members so that they’re interested in picking up new skills as well.

Keep reading to find some more insightful mental health quotes from HR experts.


Expert #4: Carol Cochran from Flexjobs

Carol, VP of People and Culture at Flexjobs, gave us some very helpful feedback on the role of companies when dealing with mental health in the workplace. Flexjobs is a handy database for freelance and flexible schedule jobs. 

We first asked Carol how companies can engage with mental health issues in the workplace and support good mental health when their employees are WFH. 

She shared with us some truly practical and easy to follow things that can make a positive difference in the workplace and promote good mental health. 

Have a look at the interesting points she raised:

HR needs to take an active role in helping workers practice healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives.

Offering flexible scheduling to employees can have a dramatic impact on reducing burnout, since rigid work schedules usually magnify conflict between work and family, leading workers to mental exhaustion.

Carol talked about a survey her team had conducted to explore the correlation between good mental health and flexible work schedule.

The bar chart that follows says it all:

Image Source: FlexJobs

More specifically, it seems that employees that have flexible work schedules are almost twice as likely to have better mental health. 

She went into specifics for us:

According to FlexJobs and Mental Health America, having flexible work options contributes positively to workers’ overall mental health and wellness. 

In fact, 54% of people with flexible work options say they have the emotional support they need at work to manage their stress, and 57% with work flexibility say they have the ability to change stressful things about their work. 

Carol also stated the following points which we find incredibly valuable in terms of prioritizing employee wellness within institutions:

Most importantly, 

Especially with remote work, but really with all professionals, there are friction points between work and personal responsibilities and focuses, even in the best of times. 

The pandemic has amplified all those issues for all of us. 

Employers need to understand that they can play a role in helping employees reduce that friction and take care of themselves, and it’s a smart business practice because it helps employees in terms of their productivity, satisfaction, stress levels, and more. 

To our last question about practical strategies companies could – and should – employ to maintain and boost employee engagement, Carol, underlined flexibility and setting boundaries between one’s personal and professional life. 

Flexible work can play a very positive role in supporting employees who have mental health issues or who are going through difficult life circumstances.

Flexible work provides more than just flexibility — it also gives employees the space they need to find a better work-life balance.

According to Mental Health America, more than half of employees are afraid to take a day off to attend to their mental health

Allowing employees to work flexibly reduces the conflict that we all experience between our personal and professional lives, and equips everyone to better meet their mental, emotional, and physical needs. 

I believe flexible work can help improve the health and happiness of our nation’s workforce and our communities, which is one of the reasons I’m such a passionate advocate for it.  

Here are some tips for workers to consider and that their HR should support:

  • Develop boundaries between work and life; literal and mental
  • Encourage more personal activities by scheduling them in
  • Communicate with your boss about expectations and, if needed, ask your boss for flexible hours
  • Set yourself up to focus during work so you don’t feel behind and need to work more hours
  • Take a mental health screening if things feel unmanageable. Our partners, Mental Health America, have an anonymous mental health screen.

Let’s move to the next expert. 


Expert #5: Jana Tulloch from Tulloch Consulting

Jana, Lead Consultant at Tulloch Consulting, a company that supports businesses with their HR strategy and recruitment process, shared some sharp insight on the importance of building relationships with your employees. 

Jana pointed out the importance of creating relationships in the workplace. 

She also told us how significant it is for companies to prioritize employee wellness and organize initiatives to keep employees engaged. 

More specifically, she said:

Building relationships first is key

Getting to know your team members, talking about things other than work, is the first step and helps build trust and raises opportunities for open conversations about overall wellness. 

This is a key message for managers with direct reports: building those relationships with their team members and leveraging it to both help spread awareness as well as identify when someone might be needing some additional support. 

Employer branding initiatives that promote the company as committed to their employee’s well being plants that seed right away. 

Onboarding programs that include pieces on wellness and programs or supports the employer offers, and options for confidential support, continue to cement wellness with equal importance alongside all the other processes and policies we train people on when they join a company.

Continuing to ‘market’ these initiatives to staff internally through staff meetings, posters, or on your employee portal, helps keep that message in the forefront.  

Ultimately, it’s about ingraining it in the culture of the organization, and ‘normalizing’ it as just another facet of our work lives. 

To our question on what can be done to support employees working from home in relation to mental health issues as well as keeping them engaged, Jana talked about the challenges people working from home have to face. 

Remote workers are more challenging, because our ability to meet face-to-face and interpret body language or other cues are diminished. 

Even better, she shared some actionable tips with us.

Here’s some practical tips: 

  • Arranging more frequent check-ins to see how someone is doing 
  • Asking about their challenges whilst working from home 
  • Telling employees about what supports they could use to help make things easier/more connected 
  • Paying attention to how your employees are interacting – or not – with their teams and how ‘visible’ they are in the virtual workplace can also provide clues as to whether or not someone may need some support
  • Integrating open discussions on the challenges of working remotely – there are people who are thriving working from home but there are many who are negatively affected by the isolation and inability to separate their work and home life
  • Organizing “lunch and learns” where the featured speaker is a wellness professional
  • Creating a Slack channel dedicated to “Remote Working Tips” where everyone can share best practices, and HR can chime in with articles or other resources. 

Jana closed the chat with some tactics that can be used to maintain employee engagement and make sure that employees feel emotionally secure. 

It’s about creating a culture where talking openly or seeking support is the norm and this can only be done through leaders modeling the right behaviors. 

Storytelling is a great way to do this

Leaders who share personal stories of challenges they’ve faced can help normalize feelings of anxiety, of being overwhelmed, of feeling lost or unable to focus, of trying to balance competing demands, and so on.  

Promoting self-care can also be a great tactic. 

Asking employees to practice being mindful of their mental health by scheduling 10 minutes each day to prioritize, meditate, or just sit and think is one way.  

Asking employees to share their self-care best practices with each other is another

Making sure people take their breaks is also a good one: not from the perspective of “you’re entitled to your break”, but from the position that breaks are an important piece to the puzzle of overall good health, both mentally and physically, and repeatedly promoting those benefits through newsletters, meetings, etc. 

Staff surveys are a great tool to help assess how comfortable employees feel in discussing mental health issues, and identifying issues that may be stopping them from feeling emotionally secure. 


Expert #6: David Zinger from David Zinger Associates

Engagement speaker, educator, and consultant, David Zinger from David Zinger Associates shared with us some fantastic insights on employee engagement and employee mental health. 

It’s more about drawing employees out rather than putting in all kinds of messages and ideas. 

It’s helpful if a few leaders can make authentic disclosures to lead the way and make it okay. 

In terms of engaging with employees and supporting them while working remotely, David gave us some helpful tips: 

Checking in with employees and putting it on the agenda to ask how they’re doing and really letting people know you want to know the answer to your question.

I think having resources – internal or external – such as employee assistance counselling or career development coaching can be very helpful.

Teaching employees skills in mental health from mindfulness to cognitive self-development are helpful.

Additionally, we got some great tactics from David that companies that work from home can use to maintain employee engagement and make sure that their employees feel emotionally secure. 

Here you go:

  • Encourage people to rate their engagement every few hours and to seek interventions if it starts to go quite low
  • Invite employees to ask this question of themselves a couple of times a day: What can I do right now to enhance my own engagement or the engagement of someone else in the organization?
  • Encourage employees to maintain and foster strong relationships – we get by with a little help from our friends!
  • Teach employees micro-recovery skills to enable them to keep their energy flowing for their work, from breathing exercises to stretching, to reading inspiration.

Moving on to our next expert. 


Expert #7: Jay Gadi from Soapbox

Jay, Senior Engineering Manager at Soapbox, participates in our expert roundup with some fantastic quotes on supporting remote workers and how to maintain emotional security and employee engagement. 

Soapbox is a platform that helps managers establish good management practices and optimize the performance of their teams.

Jay focused on taking practical, active steps that can bring about a positive difference in the workplace. 

More specifically, Jay hit us up with the following tips:

  1. Run frequent 1:1 meetings, whether they’re done on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cadence. 

These meetings are a great way to check-in on your team and take a pulse of how they’re feeling overall, from their workload to their personal or professional aspirations. 

It’s also important that leaders keep track of who’s taking vacations, and more importantly, who isn’t. 

If employees aren’t taking a break from work, bring it up during your 1:1s and encourage them to take time for themselves.

  1. Provide employees with a wellness budget

This can be spent on things like gym memberships, meditation apps, ergonomic workspaces. Really, anything that’ll contribute to the health and wellness of employees.

  1. Start at an internal committee that’s dedicated to health and wellness – here’s how we started Brainbox at Soapbox.
  2. Have one no-meeting day every week

Make this an organisation-wide mandate if possible. 

For example, at Soapbox, we have wired-in-Wednesday where no one in the company is allowed to schedule internal meetings.

It’s a dedicated day to focus on your work, uninterrupted.

  1. Don’t monitor your employees

That’s the fastest way to lose trust. 

Measure people on their productivity and the work they’re getting done instead of the hours they’re clocked in.

This is especially helpful for those who need more flexible schedules, like parents. They might not be online between 2-3 PM for example but will be more productive at 7 PM. 

That’s okay!

One that note, we want to take the opportunity that the tips from Jay and everyone else gives us to to share with you some data that should get us all thinking. 

A great number of employees in Canada are considering quitting their jobs. 

Have a look:

Image Source: HCAMAG

It looks like employees feel that companies are failing in keeping them engaged because they haven’t properly addressed issues of loneliness, the lack of social interaction, and they haven’t thought of adjusting workloads during the current crisis. 

Even though these numbers refer to employees in Canada, we can only assume that similar situations might be happening in other parts of the world. 

We therefore understand that taking measures is now more important and relevant than ever. 

Following from the tips we’ve covered already, Jay added in a few more tactics that companies can use to maintain engagement and ensure their employees feel emotionally secure.  

Schedule recurring 1:1 meetings but leave the status update at the door. 

Instead, use this time to talk about your employee’s motivation, growth, and to share ongoing feedback. 

These are the levers that’ll actually keep people engaged in the workplace.

But, don’t forget to open up first

You’re in the position of power in these meetings and you’ll need to set the tone by opening up first

Other things companies can include in the process of keeping employees engaged and emotionally secure, according to Jay are: 

  • Spending time outside of work to hang out as a team – if possible
  • This can be virtual or in-person lunches, coffee chats, spending time after Demo Days to just hang out and relax
  • Running remote events for team-building like escape rooms, video game nights, trivia quizzes, etc.
  • Running remote meditation sessions. When we were in the office, I ran a daily 15-minute meditation for anyone to join. Since going fully remote – not because of COVID – we’ve moved those sessions to a digital platform. Anyone can join the Hangout and participate in a virtual 15-minute meditation
  • If people need a personal day, give it to them without prodding or making people feel guilty.

Well-rested employees will perform better anyway.

Such a beautiful approach, isn’t it?

Let’s move on to a few quotes from another Soapbox member.


Expert #8: Hiba Amin from Soapbox

The Marketing Manager at Soapbox has put the topic into perspective, talking about the role of managers in dealing with mental health issues in the workplace. 

Hiba talked about the responsibility of managers in keeping employees happy and motivated when working from home.

I think that the responsibility isn’t just on HR professionals, but rather the managers too. 

This is something that should be an ongoing requirement for any people leader, including HR professionals. 

Leaders should continue practicing vulnerable leadership and lead by example.

Hiba also shared an example of emotional struggle at the workplace and how such an issue can be solved. 

At the start of the pandemic, I was struggling a lot. 

We had just laid off half of our team and I’d been feeling everything from imposter syndrome to survivor’s guilt.

I didn’t give myself the time or space to process anything and just put my head down into my work. It was detrimental to my mental health.

It wasn’t until our CEO, Brennan McEachran, called out to our entire team that not only were we working through a crisis, but that survivor’s guilt was a likely feeling most of us were going to feel.

He opened up about how he was struggling and the anxieties he felt and, for me, seeing how open and honest he was through such a tough time made it that much easier for me to open up to him and create a plan of action that worked best for me and my mental health.

Let’s move on to our ninth expert. 


Expert #9: Rebecca Clarke from Recruitee

Rebecca, Head of People and Talent at recruitment software Recruitee, pointed out how significant it is that companies make it explicitly clear that they’re there for their employees. 

To our question about what  HR professionals can do to ensure their employees feel comfortable speaking up when they need to, Rebecca replied:

Too often in companies, the path towards getting help is unclear, which creates the first barrier to raising any concerns. 

Companies can also consider making an external person available for consultations at any time. 

Following from this, in terms of how companies can support good mental health at work for employees working remotely, Rebecca underlined the importance of empathy, recognizing the impact and significance of isolation and loneliness, and much more. 

Have a look:

  • Managers should lead by example and frequently encourage employees to find a healthy balance both in and outside of work
  • Show empathy towards your employees. A strong leader needs to show empathy towards their team and the challenges that they face
  • It might be worth reviewing targets or goals set for teams over this period. Stretching goals and aggressive targets can promote working overtime to employees and can increase stress levels
  • HR teams need to be visible and available for their employees but also have the right resources in place to support mental health
  • Recognise the impact of isolation and loneliness employees may face when suddenly working remotely. It’s more important than ever to stay connected; not just virtual weekly meetings, or status updates. 
  • Making the extra effort to connect and socialize through team events, virtual parties, etc.

In addition to these, Rebecca shared with us some strategies companies working from home can use to maintain employee engagement. 

Let’s go through them:

A simple way to start is asking your employees how they want to be supported. 

Most companies run engagement surveys, and in times like these, it’s a good idea to adapt them to home in on what’s really affecting your employees, especially in these times when the “normal” way of working has been impacted significantly.

Also, review wellness benefits and programs

Frequent communication from the leadership team is vital alongside all initiatives and efforts.

Let’s wrap this rich conversation up with some final thoughts.


Conclusion

A recurring topic that was raised by our fantastic participants has to do with the role of managers and HR experts in terms of opening up the mental health conversation within the workplace. 

In fact, many of the participants specifically underlined the importance of those in power in the workplace to be the example for employees and normalize conversations around mental health and emotional security. 

Additionally, the opinions of experts in this roundup highlighted the importance of support being visible and available inside companies and organizations. 

Mental health shouldn’t be avoided; it should be taken care of by all of us. 

We’d like to thank all experts who’ve participated in this roundup for sharing their thoughts and knowledge and for agreeing to being quoted in this post.  


Featured image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

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