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Two women employees of a flower shop collaborating over a tablet, as the sun streams in.
July 15, 2022

Small Business Guide to Workplace Mental Health

Stephen Massey

Small business owners can have a lot of influence on their teams’ mental health. They can shape the workplace culture directly. And the close relationships they have with their employees can help them lead with empathy, offer support, reinforce positive mental health habits or steer an employee to the care they need.

Still, it can be tough with limited resources and limited time to know where to begin. At our webinar this week, we heard from three small business owners—and a leader from Harry’s, Inc., which has grown from a start-up to a 600-person team—with advice that applies to companies of any size.

Maggie Hureau, Head of Social Impact at Harry’s, Inc. recommends:

  • Creating a “how to” guide on mental health, with information on how to navigate your company’s insurance and employee assistance program (EAP) offerings, along with a list of trusted services and crisis lines that your employees can access anytime. Start by pointing your teams to free screening tools they can use to assess their own mental health.

  • Talk empathetically about mental health with your teams. Acknowledge that there’s a lot going on in the world that may be affecting how your employees show up. Strike a tone of empathy in your benefits one-pagers and other company policies, too.

  • Remember, you’re not alone. Work with local outside experts.

Jason Poon, CEO of Marine Foods Express, recommends:

  • Using language to improve inclusion. He uses the automatic interpretation setting on Zoom (available in nine languages) for team calls with non-English speakers. (The words you use matter in any language. See our Conversation Guide for language do’s and don’ts. For a deeper dive on inclusive language, check out this guide from the American Psychological Association.)

  • Appreciation and recognition are universal. Praise people for a job well done. And acknowledge them frequently for their contributions.

Jessi Burg, CEO of Outgrow Your Garage, recommends:

  • Being flexible in your scheduling to adapt to the diverse work habits and styles of your team.

  • Have an open door, but, she adds, “No one is going to come through that door if you don’t reach out.” Start by creating lots of unstructured face-time with your employees, so they get in the habit of talking to you when there are no expectations.

  • Be transparent about your mental health. Jessi puts her bi-weekly therapy appointments on her calendar, where anyone can see them, which removes any stigma around getting professional help.

And as the co-owner and founder of Meteorite, the agency behind the Health Action Alliance, I shared some of my company’s policies to support mental health, including:

  • Offering unlimited paid mental health days.

  • Surveying employees anonymously about their mental health needs and the company’s culture, and creating space for open conversations about mental health in team meetings.

  • An open-door policy and open office hours every week for anyone in the organization to connect with me 1:1 about their mental health needs or workplace stressors.

  • Encouraging managers to lead conversations about mental health and be able to spot signs of distress.

  • Creating a workplace mental health employee resource group, and, importantly, providing that ERG with financial resources to make sure it can take actions to support our employees.

  • Reviewing benefits policies to make sure that the mental health coverage Meteorite offers is the same or better than the physical health benefits, and expanding the free benefits offered through the company’s Employee Assistance Program.

  • Bringing in experts to discuss the unique mental health needs of diverse communities in our workforce.

  • And I’ve worked to remove the stigma around mental health by sharing my own mental health journey, including my experience losing his partner to suicide, supporting my mother who twice attempted suicide, and dealing with my own feelings of depression and anxiety.

Now, let me be clear, this list of actions we’ve taken at Meteorite didn’t come to be overnight, and it wasn’t always the case that I had the courage to share my own story. 

My ability to speak about mental health, and the infrastructure we’ve put in place at Meteorite to prioritize mental health, has been developed through a collaborative process with my team over many months. And, of course, we still have a lot to learn.