The digital agency that I work at is in the advertising industry. In New York City, that combined causes more stress than other sectors and cities and presents itself as a critical enemy to the work-life balance goal.

On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic, the isolation, the being at home and not with your colleagues, has taken a significant toll on everybody and can be insidious and quietly creep up on the team. Before you know it, there’s burnout; there is depression, there are latent issues that come to the forefront, especially if this pandemic keeps going longer.

HR managers have to be on top of everything for the team’s good and welfare. And to that end, HR managers must have their policies in place around mental health. 

Implementing Policies around Mental Health

Now is absolutely the time to take stock of your company and either put new policies in place or revise current policies based on understanding the new normal. You’ll want to present the guidelines so that the team knows that there’s buy-in across the board, from the senior leadership down to the junior team members. For example, policies should include “what to do when somebody is experiencing a mental health issue.”

The company should also have policies around paid time off (PTO) related explicitly to mental health, and even a mission statement or guiding principles on how to treat each other in the workplace. The mission statement should touch upon language usage that may stigmatize mental health or mental illness and the activities and investments that the company is dedicated to.

Having policies in place protect the agency legally. Still, it is a sure sign to your team that you were thinking about these things and want to make sure that they have the channels they need to be healthy and create new accommodations and avenues for the team to address whatever issues that may come up.

Training Managers on Mental Health Policies

The second area should focus on training managers on those policies and what they are doing to encourage more open communication with their subordinates. It’s one thing when a company can have policies around mental health in place. Still, but it’s another thing when the policies are not based in reality and don’t have the sergeants overseeing the foot soldiers and making sure that those policies are the reality on the ground, then it’s just in theory.

It would be best to have managers feel confident about what to do when situations arise and to know the procedures. From my standpoint, I want managers to say that it’s common practice to ask how their team is doing, giving their reports an opportunity and an invitation to let them know when stress is getting to them.

I get that nobody wants to admit that there’s a stigma against accepting someone having an issue and that there’s a fear that they will be seen as weak, or it may hurt their potential for possible promotion. Making sure that those kinds of conversations are de-stigmatized will encourage an invite to have conversations bound by empathy and not in fear. Creating this kind of atmosphere, I believe, is the right thing for companies to do to invest in their employees’ mental health. 

The one caveat to training managers is that companies are not mental health professionals, and I’m not suggesting we train managers to become qualified mental health counselors or therapists. I am proposing that managers have a better sense of how to have these discussions and take a more empathetic approach for the feelings of their direct reports.

Commitment to Work-Life Balance

The last thing I want to point out is that demonstrating best practices for work-life balance has to come from the top. The senior leadership needs to show the rest of the staff what it means to have a work-life balance and create a firm divide between the work and the rest of your life.

Especially right now in the COVID-19 pandemic where we’re at home all the time, and there’s no distinction, no commute, no trigger that you’re in a different frame of mind. And so it becomes much easier to just run on and on with work and without boundaries. So it needs to come from the top to demonstrate how to how to establish those boundaries.

It’s relatively easy to take small actions to show you’re not working 24/7, like don’t email the team on the weekends. Email clients have features where you can schedule an email to go out on Monday at 8.00 AM. 

I would also suggest that managers protect people’s PTO and offer to help plan how to keep things running smoothly while the employee is out. Many people are hesitant to take any time off because of how many balls they’re juggling. And they’re worried that they’ll all fall as soon as they leave. Leadership can play a tremendous role here, managers letting their direct reports know things will be fine, enjoy your time off.

Another area here is to do a better job setting client expectations, like standing up for your team if boundaries are being crossed or the client’s expectations that your teams on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This right here is an absolute leadership opportunity for managers to step up and let the clients know.

In closing, it’s incumbent for companies to do more concerning mental health in the workplace. By focusing on the three areas I mentioned, employers can truly support their employees’ mental health in 2021 and beyond.