Optimal mental health is a team effort

Prioritizing your own wellness is key, but the support of employers can make a world of difference

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While navigating the global health crisis, people have been reevaluating what’s really important to them, including how they spend their waking hours. They want jobs that can intertwine with real life in a way that is supportive and conducive to prioritizing personal time, family, friends, hobbies, and health. To put it simply, they don’t want to work themselves to death anymore—who would have thought?

The great resignation speaks to a lot of people who are fed up with workplaces and employers that have not been supportive of real-life considerations and goals. We’ve realized that work and life can’t be completely separate, and the workforce continues to seek more opportunities that help promote true balance. If the workplace or a manager has been causing someone’s anxiety and depression because of things like unsafe working conditions, unreasonably long hours, being gaslit for the sake of the company’s bottom line…well, then it makes sense that folks may want to look for greener pastures. 

As a chorus of people ask, “Where can I work that I feel valued, respected, compensated fairly, and cared for as a fellow human?” more companies are trying to answer that question. At BetterHelp, we support a healthy workplace by offering leadership development opportunities demonstrating an understanding of the reality of the top-down trickle effect when it comes to work aspects like flexibility and trust between managers and their teams; benefits, perks, and PTO; flexible hybrid schedules, satisfactory workspace, wellness initiatives, recognition of hard work, and more.

WeWork is partnering with BetterHelp in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month. All WeWork members and guests will receive a free month of professional therapy, and there will be wellness events in 10 WeWork locations across the U.S. and Canada. As the head of clinical for BetterHelp, I will answer some questions below to share ways we can all prioritize our mental health, and how companies can create support networks for their employees. 

What does maintaining “good” mental health mean to you?

Overall wellness is holistic: Your body, your mind, and your spirit/soul are interconnected, and these systems are constantly leaning on one another to keep you functioning. Nourishing and fueling your body with nutrient-packed foods, engaging in regular movement to promote cardiovascular health, strength, stamina, and balance, and getting good, solid sleep every night are ways to care for your physical and mental health. In addition, by having a creative outlet and consuming media and art that fulfills, energizes, and inspires us, nurturing social connections and strong bonds with other people, and getting out into nature to enjoy Earth’s splendors, we nourish the non-physical components of who we are, which helps maintain overall wellness. 

Why is it important for a company to consider employee mental health when building its culture and policies?

It’s no secret that someone suffering greatly from mental unwellness will not be as motivated, driven, collaborative, or caring. 

What are the most valuable things an employer can do to support its team’s mental well-being in the workplace?

Honor and respect when someone needs to take time off, regardless of whether they have a doctor’s note. Creating an environment where managers and their reports reciprocally trust one another helps everyone feel safe and less out of sorts (part of this comes from ensuring that leadership is sensitive to DE&I and values interpersonal communication, and is at least vaguely aware of emotional intelligence and implicit biases). This means making expectations clear, creating many opportunities for employees to share their own feedback (and have the company/leadership respond to it with action), rewarding and recognizing hard work, and doling out criticisms and feedback in productive, collaborative, and solution-focused ways that are absent of discriminatory, ad hominem language.

How can a company best support its employees in avoiding burnout?

There are a few ways to do this:

  • Establish and honor expectations around boundaries to help employees feel respected and secure. 
  • Have a robust option for employees to take paid time off for themselves, to communicate that the company supports balance.
  • Incorporate relevant trainings and education to ensure employees are equipped with the knowledge and skills to do their jobs well.
  • Hire managers and leadership who are attuned to their team’s responsibilities and needs, have strong interpersonal communication skills, and are generally solid “people people.”

What role does the physical office play in someone’s mental health? 

I think we’ve all learned by now that many people don’t want to be mandated to come into the physical office when they feel they can get the job done just as well—or even better—from anywhere else. By having the physical office as a reliable workspace option and hub for in-person collaboration, networking, and mingling, an employee begins to see the office as a healthy, positive place to be versus a place they are forced to go for no good reason. 

Can a physical space be optimized for better overall wellness?

Yes. An office should offer open spaces for collaboration as well as enough private spaces when employees need privacy throughout the workday. Make sure your employees are equipped with all the hardware and software they need to effectively do their work, as this will allow for a more seamless day. Windows and plants make a huge difference in helping to uplift people’s moods, and luxuries like a well-stocked snack pantry, quality caffeine sources, free parking on-site, and accessible public transit are amenities that many companies have begun to prioritize, and for good reason! Companies that promote getting up from your workstation once in a while to stretch, walk, and mingle may benefit from higher employee satisfaction as well.

What guidance do you have for someone experiencing stress or anxiety in the workplace?

My hope is that you feel safe enough to bring these concerns to your manager. Your manager should help you navigate this and work on some kind of plan to help you find your confidence and wellness both in the workplace and on the team. Consider speaking with HR to see what resources are available through your employer assistance program or if there are other wellness initiatives your company offers. And, of course, take ownership of your wellness and prioritize self-care at and outside of work.

Haesue Jo, MA, is a licensed marriage and family therapist with clinical focus and interest in Asian American mental wellness, anxiety and stress management, relationship and family dynamics, trauma relief, and gender identity–related challenges. Jo is the current head of clinical operations at BetterHelp, the world’s largest online therapy service, where she empowers other therapists in being successful at bringing their skills online.

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