In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines when it officially listed "burnout" in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Though the syndrome is labeled an "occupational phenomenon" and not an official medical condition—yet—the decision made waves. Workers everywhere experiencing tell-tale signs of burnout, including intense feelings of depletion and exhaustion, applauded the recognition as a step in the right direction. But today, burnout is just one of the many mental health concerns workers are facing. Over the past two years, the COVID-19 crisis has prompted a dramatic uptick in conditions like depression and anxiety. The WHO suggests the prevalence of these conditions is as much as 25% higher than it was pre-pandemic. Employers—especially small businesses, where fast-paced work environments often mean coworkers form a tight-knit community—have a responsibility to support their workers' mental health. Since May is mental health awareness month, here are a few things small business owners can do to create a culture of support.
1. Offer mental health resources
For small businesses, it's important to bake mental health considerations into policies—including company health insurance decisions—from the get-go. Ensure the health care options you offer cover mental health basics, and bonus points if they cover a range of therapies or different types of counseling. You can also implement self-care practices that go beyond health insurance, like minimizing excessive meetings or creating a strict "no emails after 6 p.m. and on weekends" policy if such measures are realistic. A flexible policy for paid time off (PTO) can also go a long way toward empowering employees to take mental health days when necessary. Finally, you can offer non-traditional resources, like access to stress management tools in the office, gym or fitness class memberships, or meditation or teletherapy app subscriptions.
2. Prioritize flexibility
Today's workers want flexibility more than they care about the ability to work 100% remotely—and some studies suggest they want it even more than a boost in their paycheck. "Flexibility" is an ambiguous perk, but it can encompass many different things: letting workers set their own hours several days a week, being understanding about childcare needs, or offering "hybrid" work environments that let employees come to the office on days that work best for their schedule. Being flexible as a small business owner also means being willing to test the policies or tools you're using to help workers thrive—and changing course when a certain tactic just isn't working.
3. Use technology as a tool
We live in a data-driven world. Today, employers have access to insights about their employees that range from how many hours they're working to how productive—or even burnt out—they're feeling on a day-by-day basis. Anonymous surveys are one way to collect this data, or you can also use digital tools to get an accurate gauge of employees' workloads. The tools and services you get as part of a smart network solution like Plume WorkPass, for instance, can help you better determine what your employees need in order to feel their best during working hours. Gaining an understanding of their schedule and bandwidth, for example, can help you establish policies for improving work-life balance. What's more, providing a variety of WiFi-connected spaces where employees can choose to work sets them up for the best workday possible. WorkPass ensures you'll have seamless connectivity wherever your employees feel most at ease—including out in the fresh air on a balcony or patio, if your office offers it.
4. Be thoughtful about company culture
Company culture is a big factor when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. In a small business, a lot of this is shaped by managers and owners—and it's an important consideration from day one. Some examples of company culture that would be conducive to a positive work environment might be to strive for a management style that champions collaboration, healthy communication, and employee input while at the same time rejecting traits like intimidation, shifting accountability to others, and favoritism. You can start by crafting a public-facing manifesto that details your company's mission, vision, and values—and exactly how you envision these things in the context of employee wellness.
5. Strive to manage stress, not eliminate it
Creating a healthy company culture isn't about eliminating stressors from the workplace entirely—everyone has different things that stress them out, and it's unrealistic to think you'll be able to build a business from the ground up without a few sleepless nights. But good culture does involve building in tools to keep stress at a minimum, as well as offering ways for workers to manage it. What this looks like will depend on your specific company. It might entail team building activities that encourage free-flowing feedback, giving employees direct input into their schedule, or offering access to WiFi-connected outdoor spaces where people can work when the weather permits. A thriving small business is about more than ensuring a healthy bottom line—it's also about the health of everyone on your team. A few purposeful steps paired with robust digital tools can help you stay ahead of employee burnout and other mental health concerns—and help you offer support to the people on your team when they need it.