August 9-11, 2022 | Wisconsin Center | Milwaukee, WI

7 Tips for Supporting Employees’ Mental Health

The pandemic has led many working-class Americans to reconsider what they value in life, and now more than ever they are turning their backs on jobs that drain their mental health and give little in return. A myopic focus on short-term results and productivity could lead managers to ignore employees’ mental health, which will end up reducing productivity in the long run. To avoid becoming another casualty of the Great Resignation, and to attract applicants to long-vacant positions, its imperative that small business owners and managers make it clear that they are interested in protecting their employees’ mental health.

Far from being simply “unskilled labor,” retail workers utilize a high degree of emotional intelligence and mental stamina to successfully navigate the demands of customers. With pandemic restrictions having been lifted around the country, customers have returned to stores, and it seems as though many of them have brought their pent-up frustrations with them. The extra stress on workers is one factor contributing to the “Great Resignation.”

It’s more important than ever for retail employees to keep their cool and maintain a sense of professionalism in the face of adversity. But the emotional nature of the work can be as tiring and demanding as strenuous physical labor, and it can take as much of a toll on employees’ health, especially when compounded by the hardships they’ve experienced outside of work. Here are a few tips that small business owners and managers can use to keep prevent burnout, cope with mental health issues, and keep employees satisfied in their jobs.

#1 Share Your Own Experiences
You’ve probably had your share of struggles this past year, too. By sharing your experiences with your employees, you can normalize mental health struggles and make employees more comfortable talking about their own issues. Such a dialogue will lead to a greater sense of solidarity in the workplace, a feeling that we’re all in this together. It might be tempting to keep it all to yourself in the name of appearing “strong,” and to implicitly ask your employees to do the same, but you’ll create a much healthier environment if employees feel they are supported and can voice their struggles without fear.

#2 Model Healthy Behaviors
Managers and owners are typically the hardest workers at any workplace. After all, they want to set the standard for other employees to follow. But setting the standard also involves setting a healthy example. Employees should see managers giving their all, but also taking their breaks, eating a healthy meal, exercising, and even meditating and practicing mindfulness.

#3 Check In With Employees
Ask your employees how they are feeling. “Are you feeling OK today?” Will likely be met with a nod and no further explanation, so make sure to ask specific questions. Have you had any problem customers today? Has anything been particularly stressful? Are you eating well? Getting enough sleep? Remember that sometimes, when people voice their concerns, they aren’t looking for an answer to their problems or even reassurance that everything will be fine. Some people just need to talk to someone who willing to listen and validate their feelings.

#4 Offer Mental Health Coverage
If you offer health insurance, ask your provider about including mental health coverage. And when you make mental health coverage available, make sure your employees are aware of it and encourage them to sign up. This is another way to normalize mental health.

#5 Offer Subscriptions to Mental Health Apps
There are a number of apps on the market designed to help people reflect and relax. Some are geared toward taking stock of one’s own emotions and their triggers, while others are about mindfulness and meditation. Moodfit allows users to track their moods and cope with negative emotions, Sanvello offers effective stress relief resources and access to therapists, and Calm features a number of exercises for managing anxiety.

While many of these apps offer lots of helpful free resources, additional resources, such as 1-on-1 counseling and access to a therapist, are available for a fee. Offering employees a subscription to one of these apps—typically in the $50/year range—might be the difference between retaining an effective employee and the costs of hiring and training someone new, or it might be the incentive that helps you fill a vacant position.

#6 Be Flexible With Scheduling and Days Off
Giving a stressed-out employee the day off might be better for everyone involved than having that employee come in and simply be “present”—that is, physically, but not mentally, clocked-in. Offering multiple short breaks of five minutes or so rather than one or two long breaks throughout the day will also help employees relax and refocus between emotionally demanding tasks.

#7 Develop and Implement an Extended Leave Policy
With so many workers quitting outright rather than suffering through an emotionally draining job, it might be a challenge to hire and train replacements for burnt-out workers. For employees on the verge of quitting, offer an extended leave of absence rather than simply letting them walk away from the job. A week or two of rest might be just what an employee needs to get back to their most productive self. And by showing support to a struggling employee, you’ll help build a happier workplace for everyone.

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