Normalizing Mental Health and Wellness Programs in the Workplace – How to Manage Remotely


Mental health issues can affect anyone: Your family, friends, co-worker, employee, boss, or even yourself.

One in five Americans are affected by mental health issues, with depression being the most common problem.

Because of the pandemic, we are having more open conversations about mental health and wellness. As leaders, it’s your duty to create a positive work environment — including those battling with mental illness. Start by re-evaluating existing practices that may exacerbate the psychological distress of your employees or even find opportunities to humanize your management approach around mental health.

Instead of separating that area of life, here are 4 ways to normalize mental health practices into the day-to-day life of your employee and drastically improve your company morale, productivity and performance even across remote teams.

1. Stop the blame game. Step up. Be a leader.

It’s easy to spot an underperformer and assume quick judgments. However, don’t be quick to bucket lackluster performance as a signal of defiance. Instead, step out of your fuming managerial pretense and take a step back.

Being proactive and finding the root cause of the problem can help you learn about their condition and seek ways to provide support. Stigma and shame around mental issues are still enormous reasons for employees not reaching out.  

Create a culture of vulnerability. Give a listening ear. Hear them out. Show them you are there for them. Show them you want to support them.

Furthermore, many companies prioritize mental healthcare by investing in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or providing flexible working hours, benefits, and other resources free of charge. Start by encouraging taking time off for mental health needs or normalizing therapy sessions, and even raising awareness with mental health discussions or online programs you can take as a team.

It always starts with good leadership.

2. Set deadlines but temper them with flexibility.

“Running a marathon is always hard, but it’s even harder when you can’t even visualize the finish line,” says Anne Giedinghagen, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis.

Having too many deadlines or assigning huge project undertakings can get way too overwhelming. And being overwhelmed does not necessarily equate to incompetence.

In a study, employees suffering from depression may struggle to deal with uncertainties of the future and generally have a low sense of perceived control when confronted with stressful or emotionally arousing situations. In the worst-case scenario, burnouts, mental breakdowns, or life-endangering scenarios may arise under such circumstances.  

As a leader, breaking down the workload into manageable, smaller tasks with deadlines helps employees take tasks “one day at a time.”

Give them ample space and time to deliver the outcome. Trust that they’ll deliver with the flexibility you give. Offer support when they do not reach out. And have frequent check-ins to ensure THEIR success.

But, how do you do so much with so little time? That’s where technology comes in!

3. Reach out. Coach with positive reinforcements.

When juggling with mental issues, employees may drop the ball, act dismissive, appear disengaged, or procrastinate on a task. Do they mean what they do? No, and it’s our job as leaders to understand circumstances, look past them, and find the right management techniques to support them.

Don’t miss out on the most treasured diamonds just because you failed to dig deeper in the darkest of mine

The best way to be 100% for them isn’t to reprimand them. The worst is demoting them to doing something trivial while giving the job to another. In the face of threats and punishment, motivation will plummet.  

However, assurance and celebrating mini milestones help boost confidence and morale in many ways than one. Offer positive reinforcements through 1:1 coaching. Give honest feedback with solutions and help them recover from mistakes. Minimize penalizing but play along with their strengths. Help them see it. You can even tag an accountability or mentor to check up on your employee.  

At Gnowbe, we found an easy hack to bridge the gap between ‘immense pressure’ and giving the right emotional support using tech. This is a true challenge for all managers across industries. With pressure to deliver, it’s easy for any team to wander and suffocate alone. Even with Zoom calls, it can be hard to be vulnerable. It’s difficult to gauge the true selling ability or even dig out the actual probability of pipeline closing or campaign success rate.

Implementing the ‘Daily Sales Journal’ humanized the 1:1 coaching process on many levels. It’s like a written diary except with little advice to help you along the way. In the journal, our lead was able to coach, train, and understand how the team was performing while refining our skills using role-plays, real-life exercises, and scenario-based case studies. (e.g., Recording your finest sales pitch, sharing your best cold email messaging etc.)

Imagine 365 days of unintentional coaching, positivity and mindfulness!

This gave room for other team members to also contribute to the feedback sessions and help one another coach to excellence. Here’s more remote coaching ideas!

4. Mandate a safe space for social interaction.

If you have a mental illness, it’s common to isolate and recluse yourself from social settings intentionally or unintentionally. Furthermore, virtual working isn’t doing any good. If you’re out of sight, you’re also out of mind, and this is especially damaging to the sufferer.

New research has shown that 20% of remote employees lack a sense of belonging and sometimes feel lonely. As a leader, it is your job to take preventive measures and listen to unheard needs. Silence is never a good sign. More than 90% of employees are demanding for weekly communication from their company, and 29% prefer daily communication – and they need not always be about work!

Even though the occasional watercooler banter and frivolous conversations have long gone, you can still bring them back.

There are many simple and creative ways to engage remotely. You can start with Gnowbe’s Weekly Mood Meter (WMM) which was designed to help organizations foster a culture of connectedness in fun and creative ways!

The template comes with exciting and interactive activities like trivia quizzes, brainteasers, quirky opinion polls, and more! Liven up your employees’ work-life and have everyone bond over some light-hearted fun! Click here for more ideas.

It’s 2021, and there’s still no easy answer to the struggles we face – The impact of COVID-19, violence, systemic racism, social injustice, unemployment. It’s also impossible to name these crises without touching on the topic of mental health. So let’s do what we can to help humanize the way we empower one another in the workplace.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on mental health at the workplace, we invite you to share them with us. You may reach out here.

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