Top 5 Ways to Prioritize Mental Health in Remote Work Cultures

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In March 2022, we hosted the second edition of Tea Time with Braindate, a 6-part series of group conversations on the buzziest topics being discussed in the events, communities, and HR space. The discussion was an Ask Me Anything on the topic of Mental Health and Remote Work. 

At Braindate, one of our core values is to lead with love i.e. we strive to create a culture where every employee can succeed and reach their full potential. Like many organizations, we’ve recently had to transition to a remote/hybrid work model. In this new reality, we’ve asked ourselves the questions:

how can we create conditions for our people to thrive in a remote setting? How do we, as a company and as individuals, take care of each other, despite being separated by screens? 

Knowing that our community of tea-timers could relate to our concerns, we decided to host our March discussion on this topic. We invited mental health experts from Mindcurrent and Nurau to lend their expertise to the discussion.

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Close to 30 professionals across industries joined us with their most pressing questions and concerns about remote work and mental health. Based on the discussion, we are sharing the top advice our experts shared with us. 

The 5 biggest challenges of working remotely

  • The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues. 
  • Blurred lines between work and home life necessitate organizations taking a larger responsibility for their employees’ mental health and wellness.  
  • The remote work setting makes it a challenge for HR professionals and managers to proactively identify signs of fatigue and burnout. 
  • Employees are struggling with the transition to remote work and maintaining a work-life balance. 
  • HR professionals and managers need additional training to support their employees with resources related to mental health and wellness.

Top 5 ways to create a remote work culture centered on mental health and wellness

Checklist for top 5 ways to create a remote work culture centered on mental health and wellness

1. To boost retention, organizations need to prioritize employee mental health as they transition to remote or hybrid work.  

Through the pandemic and with the move to remote work, we’ve become incredibly isolated from our teams and colleagues. The lack of connection has taken an enormous toll on our mental health, leading to higher instances of anxiety and depression. This is evidenced in the increasing rates of burnout. 

We experienced collective trauma during the pandemic. So, it’s easier than ever for people to lose their footing on an emotional, professional, and personal level. Within this context, if an organization does not prioritize mental health, it’s making a conscious decision that communicates: “I don’t want to keep my people.”

With the parallel pandemic of mental health, all of us have some degree of post-traumatic stress from the events of the past few years. So, it’s the duty of organizational leaders to bring about solutions and create spaces for open dialogue on issues relating to mental health and wellness. 

2. In a remote setting, HR leaders and managers need to proactively look out for signs of fatigue and burnout. Here’s how. 

Mental health is a complex set of issues. People managers at companies must first begin by educating themselves on the difference between fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout. What are the causes of each, what do they look like, and what’s the expected recovery period? 

A good question to ask yourself is, is an employee exhausted because my team is experiencing a particularly stressful week? Or is the employee struggling on a more consistent basis? 

Managers must get into a habit of preemptively checking in with employees about how they’re doing generally. In instances where there’s been an obvious change in behavior or a lack of productivity, managers should feel comfortable addressing it. A question as simple as, “I’ve noticed that you’ve not been yourself lately, what can we do to help?” can make a world of difference. 

It’s also important to remember that many people are good at hiding how they’re feeling. For example, Type A personalities tend to be very good at being functional even when they’re going through a depressive episode. So, it’s crucial for managers to lay the groundwork and create a safe environment where their employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health. 

3. Ease the transition to remote work by creating a comprehensive onboarding plan. 

Creating a comprehensive onboarding plan for remote work for all employees, old and new, is key to easing the transition to remote or hybrid work. You can ask yourself the question: what does my employee need to feel supported in their work and connected to the company culture? 

Things to consider include the number of check-ins; the types of check-ins (related to progress on projects or wellness checks); regular use of solutions like Donut or Slack’s Huddle feature; accepted etiquette for video calls (camera on or off?); giving employees autonomy over their working hours, etc.  

Spacing out the onboarding process over a period of time will allow people the space to adjust to the new work environment. Within 3 weeks, you should be able to see progress, even if it’s small. While stress is a normal part of the process, if your employee is unable to perform in the new environment, it may be a sign of other issues. Perhaps their home environment is unsuitable for work, or maybe they’re going through something. Whatever the case may be, create psychologically safe environments for them to express themselves. 

4. Equip your HR team to provide mental health resources to employees

Your HR team must be able to support your employee’s wellness at work. While you shouldn’t expect HR to act as counselors, you can equip them with resources to better support your team. These resources could include a list of mental health professionals employees have access to via the company insurance, ways in which employees can use company benefits to support their wellness, and more. Your HR team should also be trained on being able to proactively identify moments where they can intervene and offer their support. 

5. With blurring lines between work and home life, employers have a bigger responsibility for their people’s wellness. This begins with managers. 

Don’t limit any training related to employee wellness to your HR staff. Make sure to equip your managers with the same sets of skills and resources. This is because most employees view going to HR as a last resort. As an employee’s immediate point of contact, it’s important to equip managers with the ability to gauge how their team is doing, and then practice good mental health practices themselves.

This doesn’t mean that managers must be paragons of wellness. They can demonstrate good mental health practices by allowing themselves to be vulnerable with their teammates. This could look like communicating with their team when they’re having a bad day or when they need rest.  The more we are open, the more people feel comfortable connecting with us. 

Managers should also work on getting to know their teammates as people. This can be achieved by organizing after-hours team building activities or by something as simple as starting off meetings by sharing what everyone did over the weekend etc. By doing the above, they’ll be able to bring a human element to the virtual workplace. 

Finally and most importantly, managers should also create a safe environment where their team members feel comfortable talking about mental health issues without the fear of being judged or penalized for it. 

Want more? Watch the recording of the entire session below.

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