How leaders can boost employee mental health in the new year

With today marking Blue Monday in the UK, Oliver Henry offers advice on how to support staff now and in the future

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As this lengthy period of political, economic, social and environmental challenge continues, it is no wonder that employee mental health is taking a hit. The recession, cost of living crisis, even the annually recurring hyperfocus around Blue Monday – supposedly the most depressing day of the year – are all contributing to worsening workplace mental wellbeing in the new year. 

So what can leaders do to best support their staff and boost mental health, not just this Blue Monday but for the whole year ahead? Make health and wellbeing your top business priority in 2023 with these simple steps:

  1. Run a wellbeing strategy day

The best way to turn Blue Monday on its head, and set the working year up on a positive note, is to organise a wellbeing strategy day for the whole organisation. You can devote the time to learning about the various factors that are affecting your employees’ mental health, where staff may need more support, and how you can implement that support. It’s a good idea to have a rough action plan to hand about the business’s wellbeing goals for the year that you can present to your teams. This could include introducing policies like ‘permission to pause’, where employees can take some personal time during the working day without feeling guilty. Or you could implement weekly ‘time to talk’ slots, where a physical or virtual space is dedicated to open and supportive conversation between colleagues and managers about what they may be struggling with. Outlining such policies demonstrates your care and that you are working towards the best work-life balance for all staff, which is the first step towards better workplace mental health.

  1. Introduce more opportunities for exercise

Exercise is a known medicinal intervention to support our mental health and can often provide a helping hand with periods of mental health challenges. It can be difficult to encourage staff to incorporate exercise into their working day, particularly with busy personal and professional lives, but there are some simple changes leaders can make to schedule exercise time for their teams. You could introduce ‘walking meetings’, leaving the boardroom behind and organising different walks nearby for each weekly meeting. Or you could schedule different ‘taster’ classes during each week that anyone can pitch up to – think anything from yoga to boxing. This gives employees a chance to try out different exercises, switch their brains off and silence any stress that is starting to overwhelm. 

  1. Dedicate a space for practising mindfulness

Mindfulness practices help to calm our mind, ease stress and anxiety and over time and literally change the size and shape of certain areas of our brain responsible for fear and worry. The challenge here is that you need to practise a little mindfulness regularly before the overwhelm and overload kicks in. Then when there is stress or worry that we need to manage, you can draw upon your mindfulness tool to help you through the stress. Why not transform an old office or meeting room into a space for mindfulness meditation? This gives employees a dedicated quiet zone in the office where they can go and have a break from fast-paced work that may be threatening burnout. You could even put up a board outlining breathing exercises to try or provide mats for people to use. 

4. Have regular post-work team get-togethers

It is important for any employee struggling with their mental health to know they can turn to their colleagues or manager for support. The best way to do this is to move this line of supportive communication to a more informal setting. Whether it’s in the local pub, a walk in the park or at a coffee stop, arrange an out-of-office meet up with your team – this can be weekly or monthly. Paired with actionable in-office support, this more personal environment solidifies a sense of trust in staff, who will feel comfortable to talk openly about any difficulties they are facing, should they want to.

In order to boost employee mental health and workplace wellbeing in 2023, leaders must dedicate the time to both conversation and action. Break down any stigma about mental health by educating staff on warning signs and encouraging teams to discuss their challenges. Then you can demonstrate the business’s devotion to walk the walk and put in place actionable policies that support everyone’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Oliver Henry is a workplace wellbeing expert and co-founder of WorkLifeWell