Editor’s note: This post was written by Jacquelyn Pica, a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
While workplaces are becoming more progressive, many companies still lack mental health initiatives. Offering discounted or free gym memberships and healthy snacks is great — but what about addressing mental wellness?
Depression is one of “the top three workplace problems” and could last a lifetime if left untreated, according to Mental Health America. Millennials in particular are reporting higher rates of depression than previous generations. Why? Because they’re overeducated and underemployed, among other factors.
I spoke to Erin O’Neill, People & Culture Manager at The Penny Hoarder, about a few ways companies can support mental health care in the workplace.
4 Ways to Support Mental Health in the Office
O’Neill shares a number of ways employers can foster a culture of mental well-being at work.
1. Include Therapy in Your Health Insurance Package
Based on staff feedback, O’Neill knew therapy, along with other mental health services, was an important aspect of health insurance coverage. Armed with this knowledge, she negotiated a $0 copay for such services.
“While ‘mental health’ might translate differently to each of us in terms of what we need, free visits to mental health providers is an amazing thing to be able to offer staff,” O’Neill says.
This coverage extends to both in-person and telehealth therapy and psychiatry visits. Whether an employee needs to speak with a professional about anxiety, depression, substance abuse or grief counseling, they’re covered.
2. Offer Meditation in the Office
The Penny Hoarder hosts two “mindful moments” (quick meditations) every day in the office: a eight-minute-long session at 11 a.m. followed by a 15-minute-long session at 3 p.m. Several employees volunteered to be mindful mentors and lead these sessions. O’Neill says the program was started “after picking up on a general sense of overwhelm felt by a number of people on the staff.”
For many of us, especially at a rapidly evolving startup company, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The general response is that these sessions lead employees to feel calmer, which brings clarity and focus. The fiercest supporters of mindfulness report increased productivity — even the CEO joins in on these sessions!
3. Encourage Vacation Time and Flexible Hours
Everyone needs time to recharge. Vacations help reduce workplace stress and increase productivity once employees have returned to the office.
“Offer paid time off and allow employees to take it without feeling like the world will end when they do. And encourage them to take it,” says O’Neill. Taking a vacation isn’t as relaxing if you have to constantly check in with work, or feel guilty for requesting time off. Make PTO requests an automated system, no-questions-asked type of deal.
Another important benefit to offer is flexible hours. In order for employees to seek help from a mental health professional, they need the time to do so. O’Neill recommends “providing flex time, so employees can schedule appointments during core hours when needed.” So, let them take that 9:30 appointment, miss an hour of work and make up the time at the end of the workday.
4. Provide Mental Health Days
It’s important to treat mental health like physical health. You wouldn’t want an employee to come to the office with the flu; likewise, consider offering mental health days to your staff.
“Offer mental health days, just as you would sick days,” O’Neill suggests. The Penny Hoarder currently offers unlimited sick days, which applies to all facets of not feeling 100%. To O’Neill, this is about cultivating compassion and understanding in your workplace. “We’re all carrying weight,” she says.
Tips for Employees Who Don’t Have Mental Health Support
If your workplace doesn’t provide mental health support services, here’s O’Neill’s advice:
- Review the Summary of Benefits of Coverage for your health insurance to see if there are any mental health service options you might have missed. Sometimes mental telehealth coverage (phone visits with a therapist) could be offered at a much lower copay than a typical therapist.
- Look for free or low-cost mental health care services. If your health insurance isn’t giving you the coverage you need, look for other support in your area.
- Connect with someone on a personal level. Having friends in the workspace can be an important step toward happiness and make stressful days a little easier to deal with.
- Take a walk and get some fresh air. Going on a short walk around the block gives you a (much needed) break from fluorescent lights and computer screens, plus you get to stretch your legs. You’ll be surprised at how refreshed you feel when you get back in the office.
- Research mindfulness and meditation, or use a free app (O’Neill recommends Insight Timer) to act as your guide.
- Seek information. There are tons of amazing and free resources out there, whether you read a blog, subscribe to a newsletter (O’Neill loves Virgin Pulse), watch a TED talk or check out a library book.
“Be your own mental health advocate,” O’Neill says. “Mental health should not be taboo, and employers who recognize its significance and share that with their people, to me, are courageous.”
Jacquelyn Pica is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that helps you make smart money decisions. She covers everything from job opportunities and deals to bank accounts and credit cards. You can follow her on Twitter @jacquelynTPH.