World Mental Health Day 2021 comes at a time when mental health seems more challenging than ever. “It’s been a weird year and a half, and things still don’t really feel back to normal,” says Kat Streeter, our VP of People. “The COVID-19 pandemic is kind of uncharted territory, and people are dealing with so much right now.”
Kat—who joined us at the height of that pandemic—works hard to create a workplace culture at Caliper that supports everyone’s mental health. After all, we spend over a third of our lives at work; “it should be a place where everyone feels welcome, and connected to the people around them,” she notes.
And because workplaces connect people, they can also be an important resource for employees to support their own mental health, and it begins with the Human Resources department. “HR is all about helping each person thrive and fulfill their own work path,” explains Kat, “and we have solutions and tools to make sure they’re supported in doing that.” Here are a few ways to help make a workplace support everyone’s mental health.
Enable easy, natural connections between people. Team-building activities that bring the whole company together are a powerful way to create a sense of culture and belonging. For example, at Caliper, Kat organized a “Kulture Klub,” run by employees from all over the company, that meets regularly to plan activities and policies “that create more opportunities for better communication and more inclusion.” There’s also a monthly all-company check in meeting online, where leaders share updates on company happenings and employee accomplishments, birthdays and anniversaries. There are also drop-in regular events, such as a monthly hiking group, lunch-and-learn and talent share presentations, she adds, which help employees “feel like they’re a part of something bigger, and that they belong.”
Normalize conversations around mental health. When people at a company—especially those in leadership—are willing to discuss their own experiences with mental health, they open the door to others feeling more empowered to speak up, too. When our CEO and Co-founder Justin Singer shared how he prioritizes his mental health in a recent blog post, he set an example—and a tone—that inspired the rest of us. “Open conversations help eliminate stigma, and make people feel better able to ask for help when they need it,” says Kat.
Be there for each other. If you think someone at work may be struggling, “don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing,” says Kat. “Depending on how well you know them, you might say ‘I noticed that you seem down lately. Would you like to talk about anything?’ That could open the door to them getting the help they need.” Likewise, if someone confides in you, it’s important to let them know you are there for them. “It could be something as simple as saying, ‘you came to the right place. I’m glad you feel you can trust me, and I want to help you,’” says Kat. Encourage them to reach out to their supervisor, or if that doesn’t feel comfortable, to the Human Resources department—and perhaps offer to accompany them for support. “HR is a safe place,” she explains. “We want you to feel safe, we want you to feel heard, and we keep things confidential to the best extent possible.”
Know that help is available. The work of HR includes setting policies around all kinds of health coverage, including mental health—and also benefits that can help support work-life balance (such as work-from-home or flexible scheduling). HR departments “are solutions-oriented,” Kat explains. “Sometimes a little modification can really alleviate stress or anxiety—and to any degree possible, we look for those opportunities.” There may be solutions out there that aren’t immediately obvious, such as flexibility in a company policy to accommodate personal challenges.
A workplace that supports mental health, like Caliper does, isn’t just a better place to work—it’s simply good business. Happier, healthier employees are more productive and more likely to stay with a company longer. Ultimately, it’s about helping every employee find a healthy work-life balance—or, as Caliper’s Values and Culture document notes, “We love when employees love their work, but we hope they love their families more… family comes first.” And ultimately, that balance makes the workplace better for everyone.