Mental health days. Meeting-free times. Companies are adding new benefits to help workers cope

A few months into working remotely, Jamie Coakley noticed a worrisome trend at her company: 70% of employees had not taken more than two days off since the beginning of the year.



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“We were going to run into a brick wall pretty soon,” said Coakley, vice president of people at IT solutions company Electric.

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The company changed to a flexible vacation policy, but that still wasn’t enough. Employees were working longer hours, having a hard time disconnecting from work and felt perpetually behind.

So Electric announced over the summer that the entire company would close on the first Friday of every month for a mental health and wellness day.

Giving everybody the day off means the work doesn’t pile up while you’re off and it eliminates the fear of missing out on something.

With everything going on this year, mental health has become a major focus for employers, and some companies are increasing their offerings to help their workers stay healthy amid so much uncertainty.

Here are some of the ways companies are trying to help their workers:

Scheduling meeting-free times

In the office, mini-breaks occur naturally to break up the workdays and allow us to recharge a little: a colleague stopping by to chat, going to get a cup of coffee, running an errand or walking to the conference room for a meeting. But at home, we tend to stay glued to our keyboards and stuck on back-to-back Zoom calls.

To force workers to take a break, some companies have changed their meeting policies. At data platform company Talend, Friday afternoons are meeting-free to give workers more uninterrupted time to get work done ahead of the weekend.

At Electric, Thursdays before noon are designated meeting-free. “It’s everyone’s heaven time,” said Coakley. “You have no internal meetings, you wake up and actually do work.”

Increasing access to professional help

With so much going on right now, insurance company Unum increased the number of counseling sessions its workers get through its employee assistance program (EAP) to six sessions per issue, up from three.

“An employee could be dealing with a relationship issue and need support to handle that, and then later in the year could be dealing with issues with anxiety. So the six visits would reset. That is really important, people have multiple things going on,” said Laurie Mitchell, assistant vice president of global wellbeing at Unum.

Offering apps and subscriptions

Giving employees quick and convenient ways to practice self care can go a long way.

Shortly after going fully remote, people management platform Lattice started offering access to Modern Health, a platform that connects employees to professional help, including therapists, and digital programs and meditations. Lattice made the move after internal surveys reveled workers needed more support, and the company covers the fees.

Talend held a seminar with experts from Healthy Minds Innovations about how to maintain resilience during these tough times. Different teams within the company have also been incorporating their own mental health initiatives, like having a guided meditation at the end of their all-hands meeting.

Being candid and empathetic

Everyone is struggling on some level this year. But there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues, which prevents employees from being honest with their managers about their struggles.

But the more we talk about it, the more these issues can be normalized. And bosses can start the conversation by being open.

“It starts with being vulnerable myself,” said Jack Altman, CEO of Lattice. He said he tries to be candid about how he is feeling.

When one of his employees lost a parent earlier this year, Altman got on a Zoom call with her to connect and share his experience.

“Making employees feel comfortable starts with the leadership team.”

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