7 ways small business leaders can improve employee mental health

Our latest research All Worked Up (a series we have run in the US, UK and Australia) found that one in four employees are experiencing clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it’s a trend seen across organisations of all sizes, from small business to large enterprise. Whilst large organisations typically have more extensive employee assistance programs that can support employees with mental health, smaller and medium-sized businesses may find that they have fewer resources available to provide mental health support and offer mental health benefits.

But employee mental health is important across the board, and poor mental health affects individuals in organisations of all sizes. Deloitte found that for every £1 spent on supporting mental health, a business recouped £5 in reduced absence and increased productivity, as well as minimising longer-term health implications that can come from a deterioration in mental health issues and onset of a mental health condition.

So what can small businesses do when it comes to employees’ mental health?

7 ways small business owners can improve employee mental health

1. Recognise the signs

It’s essential that leaders and managers are able to recognise the signs of mental health challenges. Provide training and education around what good mental health looks like, signs of mental illnesses, and encourage everyone in the business to fill out a form that indicates their preferences around the kind of support that works for them, indicators of wellbeing, and any signs that they may be struggling with their mental health. A number of health conditions and stressors can affect both physical health and mental health such as sleep problems, substance abuse, trauma, stress, anxiety disorders and more. 

2. Lead by example

One of the best things a small business can do is encourage senior leaders to lead by example. This includes being open and honest about their own mental health, and having an open door policy so that direct reports know that they can come to a manager with an issue. Preseenteeism, characterized by being in the office or at a desk when there is a valid reason why time off would be much better for health and wellbeing, is a growing issue, and costs the economy billions, with numerous research papers indicating that it is more costly than absenteeism  Deloitte estimate that poor mental health among employees costs UK employers £42bn – £45bn each year. This is made up of absence costs of around £7bn, presenteeism costs ranging from about £27bn to £29bn and turnover costs of around £9bn. Simple tactics might be leaving on time at the end of the day, normalizing taking a lunch break, and not expecting email replies out of hours.

3. Understand your employees

To be able to fully support mental health of employees and where you need to improve resources and help it’s necessary to know the current landscape. Despite corporate wellness programs and employee initiatives, people arenʼt prepared to speak to their employers about their mental health. Our employee mental health research showed that when asked about mental health conditions they face there is a startling prevalence of symptoms that employers are unaware of.

Everyone from large organizations to small business owners can use the Wysa Employee Mental Health Barometer which uses standard screening questionnaires for anxiety and depression to identify what employees are struggling with most. Wysa for Employers offers anonymous surveys to get feedback and determine how your organization is faring. Once you know what people are challenged with it becomes more possible to provide the tools and services to access that will help them build coping skills and resilience.

4. Be open minded

Often people know what works best for them and what they need to feel better. For some it might be taking mental health days (although All Worked Up showed that only 1 in 5 would feel comfortable doing so), whereas others might need to speak to someone. Be open minded and trust that individuals know what works well for them, and be flexible in accommodating their needs and preferred form of mental health care.

This also extends into the types of resources you offer. Technology has advanced tremendously and is now available around the clock to support employees out of hours and when other forms of in person help aren’t easy to access. One in four (39%) of employees get stressed or anxious about work before they have even started, so there needs to be self care options.

5. Consider flexible working

Flexible and hybrid working is becoming the norm, but can seem more challenging in a small business where there are smaller teams. However, it can be a valuable way to improve work life balance and enhance mental health and wellbeing. Reconsider what tasks and meetings need in person presence and what can be done remotely via the internet. Adopting a more flexible approach can also mean that you can hire from outside your geographic area.

6. Offer mental health resources

Just because you are a small business doesn’t mean that there aren’t mental health resources and employee assistance programs that won’t meet your needs. Many are scalable and can be effectively personalized to support the mental health of many businesses, of whatever size. And although there is an investment, it reaps rewards – our Employee Mental Health Report found that for every employee our stepped care model and treatments are associated with an increase of 30% in cost savings for employers due to reduced productivity losses; with 685 USD saved per-employee per year.

7. Consider company culture

It’s important to look at company culture. Do you demand an instant response to emails, even when people are on vacation? Do you let people determine their own working patterns, or have a set structure? Do you have a culture where the importance of wellbeing is prioritized, or is it secondary to profit? It’s key to address any practices or ways of working that may be negatively affecting your employees. These may show up in small ways or larger policies, so get feedback from across your business so that you understand what works and what doesn’t, and how your organization can best support its people.

People are the most important asset that a small business has, so it is essential to look after them. Look at your working practices, assess the benefits and support you offer, and empower your employees to be at their best so that they can tackle the challenges that life and work throws at them.

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