Mental health at work is a serious issue.
In the UK, 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace, while 83% of US employees suffer from work-related stress.
For 21st century businesses, taking care of workers’ mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after their physical health. It should be something you do for all of your workforce but it’s particularly important if you manage remote employees. Not seeing them in person means it’s much harder for bosses to spot any problems and it’s easier for remote staff to feel isolated, alone and disconnected.
Poor mental health has a huge personal impact on the individuals concerned, and it can also cause serious issues for employers such as increased staff turnover, a rise in sickness absence and a decline in company productivity and efficiency.
Businesses in Great Britain lost 17.9 million working days in 2019/20 due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, while US businesses lose up to $300 billion a year as a result of stress and $51 billion because of depression-related absenteeism.
All this shows that promoting good workplace mental health is in everyone’s interest. See below for ten wellbeing ideas for remote workers, with a particular focus on managing remote employees based in the US.
1. Encourage open conversations
At the heart of your business should be a company culture of open communication. Just like with work conversations, employees should know they are able to share how they are feeling personally and communicate any mental health concerns. This starts at the top so if leaders of the business are open about their own mental health experiences, it will make team members more comfortable about talking about it themselves.
Employees should not be forced to talk about personal issues at work but ensure that you have an environment that means they know they can if they want to.
2. Stay connected
Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report found that loneliness is the biggest challenge for a fifth of remote employees. Working on their own for long periods of time can lead to feelings of isolation for remote workers and negatively impact their mental health.
It’s important that remote workers don’t feel like they’ve been forgotten so managers should check in with them every day via email or online chat. They should also set up a regular one-on-one video call to give workers the chance to raise any issues, ask questions and discuss their performance. This is also a time to provide praise and positive feedback on their achievements.
If you’re scheduling company-wide meetings, consider the impact on remote workers in another time zone so they are not having to join particularly early or late in the day.
3. Offer mental health benefits
Services and resources to support employees’ mental health should be among your staff benefits.
Setting up an employee assistance programme, using companies such as Ulliance and Impact Suite, provides staff with access to confidential counselling and advice services on issues such as stress, substance abuse and work/life balance.
There are also a plethora of apps offering tips, exercises and techniques for meditation and mindfulness. You could cover the cost of subscriptions for your staff. Examples include Headspace, Calm, Buddhify and Portal.
4. Provide mental health resources
Remote employers may not know where to turn for help on mental health so create a list of useful resources and share it in a place where all employees can easily access it. The list could include details of:
- mental health charities
- support helplines
- local therapists and psychologists
- employee assistance programmes and other company benefits
- educational content about mental health illnesses
Check the list regularly to make sure all the resources are up-to-date.
5. Encourage employee interaction
Socialising among employees has many business benefits. If staff get to know each other better outside of work it can improve productivity, encourage greater collaboration, and boost team morale. Remote workers don’t have the same opportunities to meet in person though and they can easily feel excluded so recreate the experience online.
If you’re using communication channels like Slack or Microsoft Teams, set up threads where employees can bond around common interests such as music, sport, food and drink and movie reviews.
Modern technology also means everyone can come to a staff party. Virtual quiz nights, Zoom cooking events and Teams cocktail masterclasses are among the ways you can encourage employees to socialise across borders.
6. Promote physical exercise
Research shows that physical exercise benefits mental health as it can boost your mood, decrease stress levels, help with anxiety, and improve sleep.
To encourage physical activities, you could set up a regular yoga, pilates or fitness class that’s live-streamed online so remote workers can join in. You could also fund the cost of online services like Yogi Approved, Glo and Yoga International so employees can access classes on demand.
Group fitness classes will not appeal to all workers so consider allocating a set amount of money for each member of staff to spend on a physical activity of their choice.
All staff should also be encouraged to take regular breaks. It can be particularly easy for remote workers, without the distractions of a busy office, to not take time away from their desks. You could incentivise the taking of breaks by providing fitness trackers that monitor exercise and reward staff for being the most active. Some companies have a policy of no meetings during a certain hour of the day to ensure that staff take a lunch break.
7. Set up a perks programme
If employees feel valued and rewarded, it will help their well-being. You can help make that happen with an employee perks programme. These provide discounts and special offers on a wide range of businesses and services such as grocery shopping, theatre tickets, cinema trips and personal development training. Companies providing such programmes to US employees include Perks at Work, Fond and Access Perks.
8. Appoint mental health first aiders
Employers are used to appointing traditional first aiders to help with accidents and emergencies in the workplace, but mental health first aiders are becoming increasingly popular too.
Mental health first aiders are professionally trained in how to help someone who is developing a mental health issue or experiencing a mental health crisis. They can function as a point of contact for employees who will know they are someone who understands their needs. For remote workers, they can be available via online and video chat.
9. Survey your workers
Not all employees will feel comfortable discussing mental health with their manager, so surveys are a good way to highlight any issues that you need to deal with.
Questions you could ask include:
- how stressed do employees feel on a daily basis
- do employees feel they have a good work/life balance
- do employees feel supported when dealing with a personal issue
- do employees believe the company provides enough mental health resources
Encourage employees to make suggestions for improvements.
10. Inspire your employees
Bringing external people into the business to inspire and educate is the final point on our list of wellbeing ideas for remote workers. Providing employees with new knowledge and skills can help them to feel empowered and positive about their job.
You could invite an entrepreneur to tell their story or have experts deliver presentations on areas such as marketing, SEO, leadership, and problem-solving.
It could be an in-person event for your office-based employers and live-streamed online for remote workers. Record the events and you’ll soon build up a library of valuable content staff can turn to when they are looking for inspiration.
According to the Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Workplace Report, the future of workplace mental health is culture change – of openness, transparency, and compassion from organizations and leaders. Based on the study conducted by the Mind Share Partners, respondents who felt supported with their mental health by their employer tended to be less likely to experience mental health symptoms, less likely to underperform and miss work, whilst having higher job satisfaction and intentions to stay at their company. Furthermore, they had more positive views of their company and its leaders – reinforcing the tie between the workplace culture and its ability to support mental health at work when done intentionally.