5 Ways to Support Your Hybrid Team's Mental Health

September 23, 2022

by HEAL Wellness

For a large portion of tech workers, it looks like hybrid work is here to stay, at least for the time being. While this is viewed as positive for the majority of Canadian workers, hybrid work poses its own set of challenges. It can be more difficult to check in on employees and to ensure employees who struggle to make connections at work don’t experience greater loneliness and isolation. With mental health still very much an issue for Canadians, it’s important to factor the unique challenges of hybrid work into your mental health strategy. Here are 5 ways employers can support a hybrid team’s mental health.

Use Workplace Wellness Initiatives to Foster Connection

Loneliness isn’t a new issue affecting workplaces but with fewer opportunities for meaningful interactions when teams are hybrid, it’s important for companies to intentionally foster connection among employees. Loneliness is a risk factor for increased stress as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression. By contrast, research by BetterUp found that employees who experience high levels of belonging are more engaged, have better job performance, have less turnover, and take fewer sick days.

Workplace wellness initiatives can be a great tool for belonging and inclusion. While many companies are initially motivated to run our Wellness Challenge for benefits like reducing stress, improving nutrition, and motivating employees to exercise more, one of the greatest benefits we’ve witnessed is the sense of belonging created when working towards a common goal. Though our challenges have been run entirely virtually since the start of the pandemic, 88% of participants felt more connected to their colleagues. We’ve also witnessed how they can help build relationships between colleagues over mutual interests like wellness.

Support Asynchronous or Flexible Work

Not all hybrid work arrangements are flexible. Asynchronous work gives employees some degree of flexibility over their schedules. It’s based on the recognition that not everyone is productive at the same every day and that different employees may have different needs. For some people, like parents or caretakers, flexibility can alleviate a lot of stress. It also frees up time in an employee’s schedule to get outside for a break during the day, attend a workout class, or simply make a homemade lunch, which can all benefit mental health and work-life balance in subtle but meaningful ways.

A 2020 survey by Flexjobs of 3,900 global employees found that 84 percent of respondents said having a flexible job would help them better manage mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. The survey also found that among the employees who had to take a break from work due to a personal matter like the death or illness of a loved one, 88 percent said they wouldn’t have taken time off if their employers offered flexibility.

Obviously, asynchronous work is not possible all the time for every type of role. However, provided communication is open and expectations are met, it’s often possible to offer more flexibility on certain days of the week or even periods of the day.

Recognize Employee Contributions and Provide Feedback

A survey by Gallup found that fully or partially remote workers receive less recognition and feedback than their never remote colleagues. According to the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, this lack of recognition is one of the factors that can affect psychological safety in the workplace. Appropriate, fair, and timely recognition fosters a sense of belonging, which directly influences one’s mental health. It also elevates performance and improves employee retention (source).

Recognition can come in many forms. For tips on how to recognize employees, we recommend reviewing the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s toolkit here and formalizing your procedures around employee recognition and feedback to ensure it’s equitable for remote, hybrid, and in-office employees.

Educate Leaders on Wellbeing

A culture of well-being needs to come from the top and be actively pursued at every level of an organization. In our experience, companies whose leadership is either participating in their workplace wellness initiatives or vocally promoting them, have higher participation and engagement in those programs, thereby making a bigger impact on wellbeing. Employees typically take their cues from their managers, and one of the main reasons we hear for a drop in participation is when employees don’t feel comfortable carving out time for themselves during the day. For this reason, we have started to provide training to leadership teams at organizations that we work with about the impact these types of programs can make and the importance of their buy-in.

We also recognize that People and Culture professionals know this, but it can be tiresome to constantly push this messaging on leadership. Instead, you can equip your managers with the tools to more effectively check in with employees, direct them toward mental health resources, and create psychologically safe work environments. Many of our clients have run our webinar Mental Health Training for Managers, while another one of our clients, DP World, is currently piloting mindfulness training for some of their managers so they can better support their teams.

Consider a Holistic Approach to Mental Health

The pandemic has really shifted the conversation around mental health. Most companies now recognize that mental health support for employees isn’t just a “nice to have” and they’ve increased mental health coverage and made it more accessible. However, as we’ve outlined so far, mental health is a complex topic that affects everyone differently, and we’ve found that it’s still not being looked at as holistically as it should be.

Most people are unaware of the impact that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise have on mental health. When we present on Eating for Energy, people are often shocked to learn that something as simple as balancing your blood sugar throughout the day with protein & fiber on your plate can significantly influence your mental clarity, focus, and mood; or that for some people, exercise is as effective as antidepressants. There is also a major connection between gut health and mental health. One of the best ways to support your gut health is by eating more fiber, especially through colourful fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Yet the average Canadian is only consuming half their daily recommended fiber intake. All of these lifestyle factors can be promoted through education such as webinars and workshops, through wellness challenges that incentivize healthy habit formation and made more accessible through coverage like health and lifestyle spending accounts.

The current climate of hybrid work is a time of change and everyone is learning to navigate what it means for the future of work. Tackling the mental health crisis requires a creative and holistic approach that looks at the many factors that influence an employee's wellbeing.