How to improve frontline employee mental health & wellbeing: 7 actionable tactics

As year two of the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, many consumers and businesses wonder what the new normal will bring. 

Are social distancing policies and mask mandates here to stay? Nobody can say for sure, but there’s no going back completely to a pre-pandemic world. 

Frontline workers will bear the brunt of constant policy changes as we work towards a new way of working and living. Health care workers who faced unprecedented workplace risks are now battling symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome such as chronic anxiety, reduced social lives, flashbacks, and nightmares.

That’s why businesses must prioritize employee mental health and wellness, particularly on the frontlines, to protect their employees and make it possible for them to keep doing the work they love

The costs of ignoring frontline worker wellness

You can’t afford to ignore employee mental health, especially on the frontline. 

During the pandemic, frontline health care workers reported stress, anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion as the most common symptoms of poor workplace mental health. 

Matt Peterson, a nurse in the Sanford Health pulmonary unit recalls, “​​[I]t would be a struggle to fall asleep at times. I would be very wired… and that doesn’t really go down when you get home; it takes several hours.”

Graph of employee mental health stressors for health care workers during COVID-19.

As employees struggle with burnout symptoms, job performance, engagement, and morale begin to plummet and many employees choose to leave.

Losing employees takes a toll on your business. Every time you need to replace a frontline employee, you spend money on recruiting, onboarding, and training. And your workplace environment can suffer from lost productivity, engagement, and more customer service errors that happen when you hire someone new. 

Instead, you can avoid this cycle by taking care of your existing employees and prioritizing their mental health at work.

Benefits of investing in employee mental health

Investing in employee mental health on the frontline creates a positive impact for your team, your customers, and your business as a whole. 

Rikke Bräuner is the Nordic diversity and inclusion lead for EY, and believes:

“Mental well-being transmits positively across an organization  —  just as it can have a negative impact if an individual on a team does not thrive. That is why it is so important for us to focus on mental health and how we find purpose and balance in our working life  —  both in our organizational culture and leadership philosophy.”

Specifically, the benefits of prioritizing mental health include:

  • Higher attendance rates
  • Better work quality
  • Improved productivity
  • Increased employee retention
  • Better customer experience

When you take care of your frontline workers, you empower them to take better care of your customers. 

7 ways to improve frontline employee mental health 

Now that you know the benefits of investing in mental health on the frontline, here are seven steps you can take to create a work environment that empowers your team to perform their best and find a purpose they can connect to at work. 

1. Invest in employee well-being

One of the best ways to improve employee mental health at work is by providing tools that promote well-being, self-care, and stress management.

Wellbeing is a state of positive physical and emotional health where your employees feel a sense of purpose and can manage their stress in productive ways. 

You can support your frontline employees by offering benefits such as access to mental health services, gym subscriptions, and meditation apps. Investing in mental health resources promotes better work-life balance and improves employee engagement while at work.

2. Consistently collect feedback 

Having a sense of connection and purpose is vital to employee mental health and engagement at work. But frontline workers often feel disconnected and excluded from the company.

Internal communications app to improve communication and employee mental health.

Ditanya Rosebud, a nursing home cook and hostess, describes the feeling like this:

“The company shows no compassion. We are just another body. That’s it.”

She loves her work and caring for patients, but her disconnection from the organization is demoralizing. 

Make sure your frontline workers feel a sense of teamwork from headquarters by leveraging mobile solutions for internal communications and recognizing the work they do. 

3. Provide mental health training to managers

When managers receive training on mental health in the workplace, their employees are more likely to use the mental health resources that the company provides. Without managerial involvement, employees may worry that using mental health resources will hurt their growth potential at work.

Training Courses: Mental Health in the Workplace class poster by Rethink Mental Illness.

It’s not enough for human resources to stay up to date on the latest mental health research. You need to educate and empower frontline managers. 

Think of them as your internal frontline workforce.

Try creating a mental health training course that teaches managers to identify red flags and discuss mental health support options with their team.

4. Identify your business’s mental health risks

Don’t just implement a blanket mental health initiative and call it a day. Get practical and focus on the most significant wellness risks in your business.

For example, does your business require long hours or night shifts? Is the work physically taxing? Are employees putting their health at risk by going to work? 

Find out the primary mental well-being issues facing your frontline workers and address them head-on. You can use these red flags to help you identify which mental health programs have the most benefits for your employees. If your business requires night shifts, you can provide resources about adjusting to them by managing sleep patterns, diet, and social life.

5. Normalize conversations about mental health

Frontline businesses have a long-standing tradition of sweeping mental health issues under the rug. Jennifer Feist, a health care worker advocate, told the California Health Care Foundation,

“It is a well-established premise in health care that you do not seek mental health care, you just don’t.”

You can’t address an employee’s mental health concerns if you don’t know about them. And changing the stigma around mental health conversations must come from the top. 

See if you have leaders who are willing to discuss their personal experiences or bring in guest speakers. 

Most importantly, continue to prove to your frontline workers that you’re eager to listen, and talking about their mental health challenges won’t put their careers at risk.

6. Scan for signs of low morale

Don’t wait for employee mental health to reach a critical state before you tackle it. Be proactive and look for signs of low morale and poor mental health conditions on the frontline.

Patterns such as an increase in absenteeism, higher turnover, and staff complaints all mean there could be low morale at work. And when productive employees start to slip in their performance or withdraw from team members, that means they could be struggling with mental health problems. 

Wherever you see signs of mental health-related issues, check in with your employees to find out what’s going on in their lives and see how you can improve their work experience. It’s better to find out early and take action than to discover problems after someone has quit. 

7. Ensure safety in the workplace

Unsafe work environments are another risk factor when it comes to employee mental health. Employees are constantly worried about workplace accidents or exposure to illness or harmful chemicals. They’re also more likely to experience low morale and even symptoms of anxiety.

Rebecca, a nurse from Albuquerque, recalls watching hospital management lock up N95 masks. She told NBC, “It’s really demoralizing to see someone lock them up in front of you knowing that you might need one of those,” she said. “The whole scene was very symbolic of how all this was going to go down.”

Workplace safety poster to help ensure employee mental health.

Instead of expecting frontline workers to risk illness or injury at work, show them you value their well-being by establishing safety procedures for employee mental and physical health. 

Final thoughts: 7 ways to improve employee mental health on the frontline

Changes like these take time. You can’t revamp company culture overnight, but you can start right now. 

There are many elements of the new normal you can’t control. But you can choose to make prioritizing employee mental health part of your company’s future. As an employer, you have the opportunity to create a working environment where your employees can thrive because they have a sense of purpose and belonging.

It’s up to you to decide what kind of leader you want to be. If you make it your responsibility to support your frontline workers, you’ll see that investment rewarded in several ways, from the customer experience to your bottom line. 

Learn more about employee engagement solutions from Blink and start making frontline employee health part of your new normal today.