Promoting positive mental health practices in the workplace is a topic that has always carried significant (and essential) weight. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 4 in 10 American adults have reported anxiety and depressive disorder symptoms, which is a significant increase from what was reported in 2019.

With more individuals experiencing negative impacts on their mental health, it is essential that franchise owners not only bring up the topic to their employees, but provide a supportive mental health plan that includes strategies to benefit staff wellness and create a safe and encouraging work environment.

Mental Health in the Workplace

A study conducted at the end of March and early April 2020 by Qualtrics and SAP polled more than 2,000 employees across 10 industries to determine the state of their mental health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two out of five (41.6%) people surveyed reported that their mental health has declined, while the number of those who rated their mental health as a three or under (out of a 10-point scale) more than doubled since the pandemic started.

Within the same study, workers reported a lower average of mental health and significantly lower “lows” since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, 66.9% reported higher stress levels, 57.2% reported more anxiety, and 32.5% reported being less productive since the pandemic began.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also provides insight into mental health in the workplace and points out that a negative work environment can lead to problems related to physical and mental health.

With an estimated 264 million people around the world who suffer from depression, and with many of those individuals also experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it is extremely important that business owners take the lead to create a workplace that is beneficial for everyone involved. Let’s discuss five ways to do so.

1. Recognize the good work employees do

Recognition in the workplace is a simple, yet effective way to increase positive feelings, and is a great way to help support the mental health of your employees. If employees do not feel seen or recognized for the work they are accomplishing, it can increase the likelihood of them feeling sad or upset at work and is one of the top reasons why employees quit their jobs.

The part of recognition that makes the most impact is the sense of security it can provide. Not only does it help illustrate to employees their company values them for what they are doing, but it also comes down to a fundamental human need to feel appreciated.

In the study we referenced earlier by Qualtrics and SAP, less than half of employees said their manager is attuned to their wellbeing, while only two out of five feel supported by their manager. This helps illustrate just how important recognition really is, especially when employees may often rely on this to determine their feelings toward the work they are doing.

How should you show recognition as a franchise owner? There are a variety of ways to do so that can best fit within your existing workplace culture. For instance, you can give shout-outs during meetings, offer various professional growth opportunities, give balanced feedback, or provide more flexibility for that employee. Even simply saying thank you can make a big difference.

2. Have regular check-ins

This is an important one because to know the state of your employees’ mental health, you actually need to know and find out from them. Having regular check-ins can help achieve this, but it is important to go beyond the conventional “how are you doing” questions, especially if you have never held a check-in before. For employees to feel comfortable enough to open up about how they are feeling, the space needs to exist. A great first step is to ask a couple of specific questions, actively listen, and encourage employees to bring up questions and concerns.

By holding consistent check-ins, which don’t necessarily have to take up a large chunk of the day, they can help create this safe space to talk and discuss anything that might be occurring that is impacting the workplace environment. However, it is important you are consistent with it, that way you can ensure employees are meeting business goals efficiently, that there is enough engagement in the workplace, and that motivation levels remain high.

When should you hold check-ins? This is dependent on how your workplace functions. For instance, some employees might feel micromanaged if you hold multiple check-ins in a day or week, especially if things are really busy. However, other workplaces can benefit from a quick meeting during the day or a bit of a longer one at the end of the week or month. The important thing is, is that you’re doing it, especially since 41% of employees state that they want their manager to proactively ask them about their mental health.

3. Ensure support is available in the workplace

Mental health is just as important as physical health, which is why external support employees can reach out to and utilize is essential. As a franchise owner, it is often out of your hands if there are certain employee assistance plans that you can offer, largely because the franchise itself would need to supply this.

That being said, insurance plans that cover mental health support are important to flag to your franchisor, and will more than likely be automatically offered and outlined either in your Disclosure Document or in future documents provided by the franchisor.

In lieu of this or even as additional support, providing resources to mental health support in your area can be a great addition to the workplace. Rather than signaling anyone out, having the resources easily accessible to every employee can allow whoever needs them to access them. It’s also important to promote these resources, especially since many employees can feel like they do not have mental health resources actively shared with them.

What types of resources work best? Free workshops in your area, online workshops that employees and franchise owners can accomplish together, therapy in your area, etc.

4. Effectively Communicate

Clarity is extremely important in the workplace. In order to feel like your employees are correctly achieving what is required of them, it highly comes down to the way their responsibilities are communicated to them.

If there are any changes to the organization or modified workplace practices, employees need to know, but in a way that is clear and effective. This may be through an online space, such as an employee messaging board, through emails, or in person.

Clear communication is also important when it comes to workload. Feeling overworked and overwhelmed can lead to burnout, which is a major concern when discussing workplace mental health. A great way to help counter this is by communicating to your employees what needs to be done in the day (or week, month) and prioritizing certain tasks that need to be achieved. It’s also a good idea to communicate what your business goals are. That way employees understand what you’re looking to achieve, and they can have something to work towards.

Communicating with your team can also help reduce the stigma that is unfortunately attached to mental health. Similar to what we suggested with regular check-ins, there needs to be a safe space for communication to occur, even if the topics do not relate to mental health. Keep the conversation going with employees, invest time in their lives, and show that you care.

Especially throughout the pandemic, clear communication in the workplace is a must. Back to the study by Qualtrics and SAP – they found that 70.6% of employees said company communications have helped them to stay informed regarding how to continue in their role. Meanwhile, 65.8% said that this communication has helped them feel more confident in their actions in terms of their own well-being.

5. Promote work-life balance

To maintain a healthy work environment, proper work-life balance amongst employees is extremely important. With burnout and chronic stress at the forefront of mental health issues in the workplace, flexibility is essential. Of course, flexibility will look different for every workplace, and what one workplace does may not work for yours.

For instance, allowing more remote work can be a great option to implement. However, depending on your franchise industry, this may not always be an option. Another option can be encouraging your employees to take breaks and have a separate section of your workplace they can go to unwind. The same also goes for reminding employees about vacation time.

As well, regularly reviewing your employees’ workload and schedule is another supportive mental health practice you can take on to ensure no one is working more than they need to. You can also regularly ask employees if they are feeling overworked – remember, communication and creating a safe space are important.

By implementing a mental health strategy in the workplace, you can help ensure your employees are maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When employees are prioritizing their health, this balance can come naturally. Of course, it’s important to lead by example as well. When you implement mental health strategies, it can create comfort and reassurance that employees can as well.

Promoting supportive mental health strategies is an important part of any workplace. As we’ve seen with the pandemic, things can change on a dime, so remaining flexible and adaptable to your team’s needs and mental health is imperative to maintaining a positive and proficient work environment.