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September 13, 2022 Nina Candido

Wellness and Mental Health Program Goals and Objectives for Remote Teams

What is the current state of remote-employee wellness at your company?

Even before the start of the pandemic, companies recognized the benefits of providing wellness programs for their employees. The expansion of EAPs to include health and fitness programs, sometimes with lower health insurance contributions as an incentive to participate, has been well received by employers and employees. But as we’ve seen, most EAP programs fall short in the mental health arena, and many companies have no actual mental health program goals and objectives to guide their team to success.

Low engagement and wellbeing trends are among the key findings from Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report. The report also shows that employee stress is at a new all-time high, with 44% of employees reporting they experienced a lot of daily stress.

Adding complexity to these trends is that companies are faced with large and relatively new populations of remote workers. Companies are learning that the mental health and wellness needs of on-site workers are different from the mental health and wellness needs of remote employees. Different approaches and programs are necessary to ensure remote employees’ needs are cared for.

Understanding key drivers to wellness results for remote workers

Among the unintended consequences of the shift to remote work are:

  1. An increase in trust issues between managers who are inexperienced in remote management and employees who feel micromanaged and untrusted.
  2. Actual and perceived proximity bias, or unintended favoritism for on-site vs. remote workers.

To enhance trust, prevent proximity bias, and ensure ongoing productive working relationships, managers should work collaboratively with their remote employees to build strong relationships. A company cannot fully support employee mental health without exploring these concepts. An environment lacking trust and with proximity bias is not conducive to positive mental health. Some foundational elements for this include:

  1. Communication. When, what, and how will communication occur?
  2. Work schedule. Are workday start and end times, flexibility, and a Right-to-Disconnect policy established?
  3. Performance expectations. Are expectations, metrics, review cadence, and underperformance process clear?
  4. Relationships and team connectedness. Are processes and activities in place to facilitate and support new relationships, team building, and changes to the team?
  5. Career growth. Do employees understand where they fit in the company and how to grow in their career?

Leaders should align goals with remote employee mental health and wellness needs

A strong relationship between managers and employees, based on mutual respect and trust, will facilitate establishing a deliberate focus on mental health and wellness for remote workers. From this foundation, managers and remote workers can develop meaningful mental health and wellness program goals and measures.

Two examples of mental health and wellness goals, including drivers, that will particularly benefit remote workers are:

1. Improved engagement of remote employees

It is well established that engaged employees produce better business outcomes—and according to Gallup’s research, 70% of engagement differences across team members are driven by the manager. Key drivers of employee engagement include:

  • Knowing expectations: alignment between job descriptions and work performed.
    • Globally, only 50% of employees strongly agree that they know their job expectations.
    • Managers can have conversations to gauge each employee’s understanding of expectations and work to provide clarity at both individual and organizational levels to address gaps.
  • Receiving praise for a job well done: recognition not only makes employees feel valued for their work, but it also serves to illustrate what success looks like for other employees. For remote workers who may feel disconnected, this becomes more critical.
    • Roughly 25% of employees strongly agree they have received recognition in the last week—meaning 75% have not.
    • Noting an employee’s perception of when they last felt recognized or praised gives managers insight into the need to address this.
    • In addition to offering direct praise and recognition, managers can encourage team members to highlight what colleagues have done well based on their interactions or observations.
  • A caring manager: employees need to be confident they are viewed as more than their job title. For remote workers, the lack of ongoing and informal team and manager interactions requires managers to take deliberate steps to achieve this.
    • Taking time to get to know employees as individuals, including their short- and long-term career goals and their non-work interests, demonstrates and reinforces a manager’s concern and caring.
    • These are not one-and-done conversations—regular conversations about these topics and priorities reinforce this.
  • Wellness and Mental Health Program Goals and Objectives for Remote Teams - person looking at whiteboard in office with red handwritingCareer and professional development: having opportunities to grow, feeling encouraged to pursue development, and being asked about development progress are all important to making employees feel valued and engaged.
    • Gallup data show the lack of professional development and career growth is the top reason employees leave their job.
    • Managers should check in regularly with employees about their development, working with them to create meaningful development plans where applicable.
    • Additionally, managers can facilitate mentorship relationships to support the growth and development of employees who show an interest in this.
  • Having a “best friend” at work: strong affiliation with team members leads to improved performance and company loyalty. Building, strengthening, and maintaining relationships presents a unique challenge for remote workers.
    • Managers should find opportunities to bring employees together to get to know each other on a personal level.
    • Virtual events for socializing, participation in ERGs or Affinity Groups, and virtual volunteer opportunities are a few examples managers can offer.
    • Obtaining feedback about the employees’ experiences lets the manager know what is or is not effective.

2. Reduced stress and burnout among remote employees

Mental health is driving attrition, and the mental health needs of remote employees will likely differ in some respects.

  • Having supplies and tools to do the job well: not having the right supplies, tools, and equipment to do their work well is the strongest indicator of job stress.
    • Approximately two-thirds of employees do not believe they have the required equipment and supplies, and remote workers are disadvantaged because they can’t go to the “supply cabinet” to immediately get what they need.
    • Does your company have remote office set-up guidelines and an allowance to cover costs of supplies not provided directly by the company?
    • Managers should regularly ask employees what they need to be successful, and be their advocates to ensure fulfillment when applicable.
  • Recognize and address employee burnout: the risk of burnout is on the rise among remote workers.
    • Burnout surveys for 2022 include a monster.com survey, which found that 69% of workers experience burnout symptoms while working from home, and a Flexjobs survey that showed that 48% of workers lack emotional support at work.
    • Have managers been trained to recognize the symptoms of burnout?
    • Are managers checking in with employees frequently about their workloads, hours, disconnecting, and personal work/life balance concerns?
    • Are the company’s wellness programs equally available to and accessible to remote workers?
    • Do employees know where and how to access mental health services?
    • Are employees maintaining healthy habits and practicing self-care?
    • Are managers ensuring employees take their allotted vacation and PTO time?
    • Does the company support taking “mental health” days to prevent burnout?

Understanding and having a positive impact on overall mental health and wellness of remote workers presents challenges not encountered by on-site workers. Through mental health program goals and objectives, companies and managers can be deliberate in implementing programs and processes that are designed for and recognize the unique needs of remote workers.

For more information on workplace goal setting, check out these articles:

 

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Nina Candido

Nina Candido is a Sr. HR Leader with success working to achieve transformative outcomes in organizations experiencing rapid growth or M&A activity. She is a builder focused on unlocking individual and organizational potential and is passionate about creating environments where employees can thrive and grow beyond their own highest expectations.

Throughout the pandemic Nina turned some of her attention to identifying and implementing solutions for making remote environments conducive to employee engagement, growth, and learning.

Education Cornell University, ILR School—Master’s, Industrial & Labor Relations
Le Moyne College—Bachelor’s, Business Administration

MENTAL HEALTH FOR THE WHOLE EMPLOYEE