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Mental Health

What Can Employers Do During Mental Health Awareness Month?

April 29, 2022
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7 mins

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Check out actionable ways that employers can recognize and celebrate mental health during this important time.

Sarah Archer
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Check out actionable ways that employers can recognize and celebrate mental health during this important time.

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If you’re reading this, odds are you’re exploring ways to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month in your workplace. But, if you’re like many people, you may be at a loss as to what to do. 

Mental Health Awareness Month is a great opportunity to raise awareness about mental health at work while providing support and resources to your staff. We share exactly what you can do to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month in your organization, as well as how to keep the conversation going long-term.

What is Mental Health Awareness Month?

Mental Health Awareness Month has been celebrated during the month of May since 1949. It was started by Mental Health America as a time dedicated to advocacy and awareness for mental health, and today, you’ll see it celebrated around the world. 

More recently, organizations have taken note. According to the 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, mental health challenges have been felt in the workplace: 

  • 76% of survey respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year.
  • On average, workers report performing at 72% of their full capability when considering their mental health.
  • Survey respondents reported missing 8 days of work per year due to mental health concerns.

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Take the Pledge

Why should employers care about Mental Health Awareness Month? 

Your people are the backbone of your business. In order to keep them happy, engaged, and fulfilled in their role, how they feel can’t be ignored. 

And companies that care about their employee's mental health are no longer outliers. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, in recent years, mental health has gone from a nice add-on to a true business imperative. With The Great Resignation underway and 85% of tech companies hiring within the past 6 months, it’s more important than ever to invest in your employee's well-being before top talent says goodbye.

What can you do to support your staff during Mental Health Awareness Month?

Here are actionable ways you can show your staff you care during Mental Health Awareness Month. 

1. Voice that participation is optional

Whatever initiatives you put forward for Mental Health Awareness Month in your workplace, make it clear to your staff that they are optional.

This approach is a win-win for you as a leader. Your staff can see that you are being intentional about caring for their mental health, but they also know you’re being sincere because you’re not requiring attendance to make your investment “worth it.” 

Instead, measure how active participants were in your activities to gauge how to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month the following year. For example, Unilever recognized World Mental Health Day last year and say 48,000 of their 250,000 employees participate. That itself was celebrated as a win, and they drilled down into the data to understand what initiatives resonated most.

2. Don’t pretend to know it all 

Invite representatives from each department to provide feedback on what would be useful for their teams. Compile a list of initiatives you want to explore and ask for feedback on what would be most meaningful.

By involving your team in the planning stages, you communicate that their opinion is heard. You’ll position yourself as a partner and support them, highlighting your desire to make your workplace as mental and emotionally healthy as possible. 

3. Start a conversation 

Studies show that 75% of employees believe there is stigma around mental health in the workplace. That means it’s common for employees to suffer in silence for fear of their colleague's negative perception of them or backlash.

To correct this, it starts with acknowledgment and a conversation at the top. 

If you have a budget for Mental Health Awareness Month, you can welcome a paid speaker who can share their mental health story, as well as how others can thrive despite their mental illness. 

If you’re without a budget, open the floor to internal leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and share their stories. Their vulnerability will permeate your organization and help those who are struggling relate.

Finally, invite your entire team into the conversation. While external speakers and internal leaders help get things off the ground, your team’s voices are ultimately what matters. Host round tables with small groups to discuss the topic in an effort to eliminate the stigma and create a psychologically safe work environment.

4. Normalize mental health check-ins 

Manager coaching is a valuable part of developing strong leaders within your organization, so it shouldn’t be left for one month out of the year. However, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great opportunity for special workshops and training to take place around mental health.

Instill best practices for checking in with your teams on how they’re feeling both inside and outside of work. Then, act on that feedback through personalized guidance.

For example, if an employee is suffering from mental health challenges, equip managers with the tools they need to walk their direct report through an action plan to support them through that.

Our tool, Kona, is there to help managers understand how their employees approach work every day. And we don’t just preach it — we use the tool internally to help guide conversations around mental health and burnout.

By making check-ins a normal part of your daily rhythm, you obliterate stigma and reinforce transparency. Do that long enough—and follow up with your team when they voice challenges— and you’ll have a strong workplace culture. 

5. Offer mental health days

If your organization doesn’t already have a policy for paid mental health days, now’s the time. 

Kick off the month of May by offering a paid mental health day with no questions asked. Then, consider opening up the offer to the entire year.

This will help your employees take the time they need to rejuvenate at a moment’s notice and help break the stigma in your office. No one is alone in needing time off for their mental health. 

6. Provide resources

Help your employees understand, identify, and openly communicate about mental health by offering company-wide resources. 

For example, GitLab has a public company handbook with resources for mental health awareness that they use across their organization. Consider creating something similar that can be constantly edited and updated.

If you’re looking for where to start with resources, use our mental health awareness month resource hub to gain access to unique resources, watch leaders’ mental health stories, and get the inspiration you need to develop a successful program for mental health awareness month. 

7. Offer donation matching

Match a donation that an employee makes to an organization related to mental health for the month of May. This initiative will allow employees to choose an organization that they believe in and will show that you’re there to support that. 

Don’t miss your chance

While prioritizing mental health is a constant and ongoing need, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time for employers to demonstrate they care. There’s plenty you can do to break the stigma, even if it’s on short notice or with a small budget. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Archer

Sarah is Head of Content Strategy at Kona and MBA candidate at Boston University. She helps leaders prevent burnout and build culture in remote organizations.

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