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How to Support Employee Mental Health in a Remote Work World


Burnout and mental health issues in the workplace have been pervasive since long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and these issues are finally getting some federal-level recognition and action.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being communicates that mental health is a top priority in workplace well-being and provides some guidance on how to actualize that by providing safety, security, social support, belonging, autonomy, flexibility, meaning, dignity, learning, and accomplishment.

As many workplaces have found remote work environments to be helpful in promoting mental health, they’re also beginning to realize the unique challenges they can pose to mental health as well.

While remote work offers flexibility, freedom, safety, and comfort, it can also increase social isolation, feelings of loneliness, poor communication, work guilt, and poor work-life balance if a system for mental health promotion is missing.

Here are some important considerations for supporting mental health in a remote work environment.

Consider Your Culture

  • Culture – Are your workplace cultures, policies, practices, management, EAP, benefits, etc. designed with employee wellness at the forefront? Consider things like PTO policies, working hours, manager training, wellness programs, a comprehensive EAP, etc. Designing work for well-being is a sustainable approach to ensure that your employees are being supported and cared for in the workplace.
  • Stigma – Are mental health conversations stigmatized in your workplace? What’s the general tone and conversation around mental health? Do leaders openly talk about the importance of mental well-being, self-care, psychological safety, etc.? Crushing the stigma that perpetuates the belief that mental health struggles and conversations should be hidden or suppressed during working hours is essential to ensuring a culture that is safe for employees.
  • Access – Do your employees know what resources and tools are available to them? Do you clearly and frequently communicate how they can access those resources? When an employee is in crisis, it’s important that they know exactly how and where to get help and that they won’t be judged for doing so.
  • Norms – What are the cultural norms and expectations for remote work? Do employees have the safety to start and stop their day at specific times? Do employees have the freedom to step away from their workstations throughout the day to take breaks? Do you have an end time for sending emails and messages?

Know the Warning Signs

Not everyone feels safe or comfortable reaching out for help when they need mental health support, especially if mental health conversations are stigmatized or absent from the workplace culture. Ensure that all employees, especially supervisors know the warning signs so that they can feel empowered to reach out and offer support.

Some warning signs for employees working in a remote environment include [1]:
  • Anxious behavior
  • Declining work performance
  • Inability or difficulty focusing
  • Forgetfulness
  • Acting withdrawn
  • Changes in communication or unusual communication patterns
  • Changes in physical appearance or presentation
  • Working long or unusual hours
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask employees how they’re doing or express concern and care for their mental well-being. Opening up that door of trust and compassion can go a long way.

Have a Plan of Action

If you recognize a culture that doesn’t support mental health, notice warning signs from an employee, or want to get ahead of the issue and practice preventative measures, you’ll need to create a plan of action for resolution and support. Chances are if you are noticing signs of unhealthy culture or a lack of mental health support, there is an opportunity to take a look at the bigger picture and assess other gaps and areas that may be contributing to issues and areas of concern. Following the WELCOA 7 Benchmarks framework is a great way to create a plan of action that addresses not only mental health but all aspects of workplace wellness.

When drawing up a plan of action, you’ll want to consider these things:
  • Leadership – Ensure the leaders in your company or organization are aligned in their value of employee mental health and committed to supporting efforts toward creating a healthy workplace.
  • Training and Collaboration for Leaders – Create a formal or informal team, dedicated to building and sustaining mental health initiatives and provide training for leaders at all levels to empower them to take action.
  • Collect Meaningful Data and Feedback – Your company or organization is unique and so are your employees. Ask for feedback and collect data to get an accurate picture of the workplace culture and support for mental health.
  • Craft an Overall Operating Plan for Wellness – Create an operating plan for how you will support overall employee wellness in the workplace. This should include how you’ll address mental health.
  • Choose Whole-Person Initiatives – Your employees are more than just workers, when you consider mental health or overall health initiatives, consider all aspects of their lives that may come into play in improving or minimizing their well-being.
  • Cultivate Supportive Health Promoting Environments, Policies, and Practices – Align your vision with action by determining the environments, resources, interventions, experiences, policies, and practices that are needed. Be sure to consider the specific needs of remote-work employees as these may be highly unique to their environment and their experience.
  • Continue to Evaluate, Communicate, Celebrate and Iterate – As the world of work evolves, your approach to addressing mental health and overall employee well-being will change too. Continue to ask questions, collect data, communicate your work, and iterate and evolve your approach as needed.

Want Help Getting Started?

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Access to the WELCOA Platform will provide everything you need to evaluate your culture, get education and resources on mental health and other workplace wellness topics, and guidance through a proven pathway to help you turn your vision into action.

[1] EBN. How to Spot Depression and Anxiety in the Remote Workplace. January 2021.