Dr. Gloria Horsley is Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, an open community where people can find hope after loss.
No matter where your organization is located, it’s a universal truth that winter has an impact on mental health. Even if you’re not enduring extreme cold, less daylight combined with holiday stress and post-holiday letdown can create a mood-dampening cocktail.
Regardless of your industry, the winter blues are real, and they’re here. As an employer, it’s important to support your team members’ mental health during this challenging season.
1. Make Mental Health Part Of Your Company Vocabulary
Even 10 years ago, talk of “workplace mental health” could be met with a grimace. But its recent inclusion in leadership meetings isn’t a fad waiting to disappear. As mental health continues to become a more prevalent topic of conversation among healthcare providers, so too should your leadership discussions evolve.
After a global pandemic that followed years of anxiety-inducing “hustle culture” and unfavorable work conditions, the American worker is tired. Address the mental health impact by reviewing individual and team workloads to ensure that they’re manageable. If they’re not, get feedback from your employees to determine what would be achievable—and by whom and in what timeframes—before making changes.
When the opportunity arises to relate your personal experience with mental health, do so. Sharing stories of your own challenges and how you overcame them will both destigmatize discussions of mental health and give employees hope. Emphasize the mental health resources your organization offers—anything 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 does little to enlighten students about mental health, let alone how to manage others’ experiences. But your team’s success often relies 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. Frequently, the idea of discussing such a personal matter as mental health can feel awkward. Additionally, employees and managers may have a fear of overstepping or violating privacy rules by asking their colleagues questions. Include examples of what’s acceptable as you create your training modules.
Develop training for both individual contributors and those at the management level. This training shouldn’t be just another box to check; rather, the lessons learned should be integrated into daily work. Include prompts within standardized meeting agendas to check stress levels, concerns and needs. The more you talk about mental health, the more normalized it’ll be, as leaders pave the way for lasting change.
3. Empower Managers To Extend Flexibility For Mental Health Needs
You may already offer plug-in wellness benefits through your health benefits provider, but how effective are they? Augment the standard suite of benefits with more tangible practices, many of which don’t require budget approval. Instigate brief post-lunch team walks (weather permitting), or outfit a hot beverage bar to introduce some cozy comfort to your team’s workday.
In addition to encouraging such breaks in the routine, examine your organizational culture. A culture of work overload can lead to stress that exacerbates the stress of daily life. Shift your perspective by asking questions about capacity and accommodations colleagues make at work. Empower managers to make the calls they think are right. If they need to change a deadline or offer an employee a mental health day, allow them to do so. Managers have the opportunity to improve employee well-being while still ensuring that work gets done.
Adjust policies and procedures to increase autonomy and give managers approval authority for certain actions. 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 Season
There are probably few moments in your team members’ year when everything is in alignment with work and life. Just when they’re expecting a season of stability, well-laid plans can get derailed. While not every impact can be expected, you can plan for seasonal shifts as you contemplate the year ahead.
Consider the physical and emotional tolls 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 winter to avoid icy commutes, make changes that support your employees’ mental health in all seasons. The more stress you remove from your employees’ lives, the better. When your employees enjoy good mental health, they’ll be more able to contribute to your mission.