Managing Employee Wellness: Calm’s Approach to Better Workplace Mental Health

06/04/2024
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Scott Domann
Chief People Officer
verified iconExpert in Talent Management
Calm
Scott Domann oversees learning and development, recruitment, operations, and the people function for Calm. He previously led HR teams at Netflix and Spotify.
Expertise
  • Organizational Development
  • Performance Management
  • Employee Relations
Managing Employee Wellness: Calm’s Approach to Better Workplace Mental Health

When I first entered the workforce, people rarely spoke about their mental health needs. Now, we can’t deny that the accelerating pace of life and work is causing more stress than ever. 

In a 2021 Mind Share Partners survey, 76% of workers reported having at least one symptom of a mental health condition, an increase of 17% over the course of two years. And a 2024 analysis from mental health services provider ComPsych found that employees’ leaves of absence for mental health issues were up 300% from 2017 to 2023.

Certainly, workplace stress and burnout have always existed. But while the pandemic intensified mental health challenges, it also brought about a much-needed revolution to address mental health in the workplace. That’s part of the reason Calm developed Calm Business—to help workplaces prioritize the mental health of their employees with comprehensive resources and support. This is imperative not only for the people of an organization, but for the success of the business itself. When mental health is prioritized, research shows that organizations see a decrease in absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, and increased productivity.

In 2022, an annual Gallup survey asked employees about the negative emotions they experienced throughout the previous day; 44% felt stress, 37% felt worry, and 21% felt anger or sadness.

I’d like to share some insights gathered from my years of experience as a chief people officer—especially at a company like Calm that’s dedicated to improving workplace mental wellness—and offer a blueprint for creating successful, sustainable mental health strategies.

Remove the Stigma Around Mental Health

We’ve evolved considerably from not talking about mental health at work; now, businesses are actively prioritizing their employees’ mental well-being. In fact, engaging in mental health conversations is something most employees today expect. In a 2023 Calm Business study of more than 4 million subscribers and 2,000 general audience members, 67% of respondents felt employers should help workers manage their stress and anxiety, and more than 60% felt preventive mental healthcare is as important as preventive physical healthcare.

The same study found that early-career employees are especially comfortable discussing mental health, with 72% of Gen Z workers saying they want to talk about it openly at work. Gen Z is poised to make up 30% of the workforce by 2030, according to Johns Hopkins University, so their needs will likely shape many future workplace policies. 

A Calm Business survey of the US population found that members of younger generations are more likely to report stress and anxiety.

Still, starting the conversation is challenging for many organizations and people teams. Fortunately, there are many entry points.

Start With Sleep

Ask a room full of employees, “Who could have slept better last night?” and you’ll probably see many raised hands. Poor sleep is a prevailing issue for many individuals, with a 2023 Calm report finding that nearly 50% of people get less than six hours of sleep per night. Sleep is also one of the top searched terms on Calm, according to internal data. 

Sleep is a great entry point for discussing mental health in the workplace since the two are closely intertwined: Not getting enough or getting poor sleep can make it harder to regulate our response to even mild stressors. According to one analysis, a drop in workers’ productivity due to fatigue can cost companies $136 billion a year in health-related productivity losses, and a 2022 Gallup study found that poor sleepers have higher rates of absenteeism

Offering sleep support in the form of tools like Calm is an excellent way for companies to start supporting their employees’ mental health. Additionally, leaders should encourage work/life balance practices—like silencing Slack and email notifications an hour before bedtime—that allow employees to get the rest they need to perform at their best.

Recruit Your C-suite

Setting an example at the top can go a long way toward getting employees to open up about their own mental health needs. Many at the C-suite level also struggle with mental health challenges: Executives who participated in Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work study were more likely than non-executives to report at least one mental health symptom. When executives talk about the mental health challenges they have faced, it allows employees to say, “It’s great to hear that it’s not just me feeling stress, anxiety, and burnout. It’s our C-suite, too.” 

When initiating these conversations as a C-suite or executive-level leader, try starting with a less vulnerable and more universal topic. Here, too, sleep can be a good entry point. If a leader shares their own sleep issues, employees might feel more comfortable sharing their experiences, which can open the door for further mental health discussions. 

Offer Manager Training

We all know the saying: employees don’t quit bad jobs—they quit bad managers. Managers are responsible for 70% of worker engagement, according to a 2023 Gallup workplace study. Poor management can account for some of the mounting pressure workers are experiencing. According to Calm’s 2024 Voice of the Workplace Report, 65% of employees said that managers significantly influence their mental health

When implementing a mental health and well-being strategy, the goal should be to create an environment where employees feel comfortable telling their managers they’re burned out—and for managers to have the tools to respond. 

None of us were born people managers. Management is in large part a science, and managers can learn to communicate better and be more empathetic. Offering training courses to your people team to improve employee engagement can help mitigate workplace stress. Gallup, for instance, reports that managers who participated in its Strengths Development & Coaching course saw employee engagement on their teams increase by as much as 23%.   

Calm has seen similarly positive results with its four-week Mindful Manager program, which can help managers develop self-awareness, build strong relationships, regulate emotions, and integrate mindfulness practices such as meditation into their work routines. Ogilvy, a global advertising, marketing, and PR firm with more than 2,500 employees, offered the Mindful Manager program to 800 of its managers in North America. Afterward, 54% of managers said they were better able to regulate and reframe their emotions, and 60% reported reduced stress-related impairment in their daily activities and felt they had a better recognition of their strengths and weaknesses.

Include Benefits for Families

In creating a comprehensive workplace mental health strategy, HR should keep employees’ families in mind. When a family member is struggling, the employee suffers too. Nearly a third of the parents Calm surveyed said their kids feel stress and anxiety all the time, while a quarter said their children feel down, depressed, or hopeless all the time. Half of female employees said they think about their children’s mental health while working, and 25% of parents have missed work to take care of their kids’ mental health needs. 

Companies should acknowledge families in their benefits packages by offering more dependent support, mental health days, and other solutions to address the stress, anxiousness, and sleep issues of their employees’ children.

Offer Tailored Support to Diverse Populations

Mental health and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) go hand-in-hand. Calm’s 2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends report suggests that many employees from underrepresented populations need more support than they’re getting. For instance, 43% of Hispanic workers and 42% of Black workers reported feeling down, depressed, or hopeless for at least half the days out of the month, while 60% of LGBTQ+ employees and 58% of neurodivergent employees reported feeling nervous, anxious, and stressed. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to provide preventive support to neurodivergent employees and workers from historically marginalized populations. Companies can offer mental health days and breaks, something many underrepresented groups had on their benefits wish list in Calm’s mental health trends report. Employee resource groups are another proven way to improve your teams’ wellness and increase employee satisfaction. 

Wellness stipends, dependent support, and mental health breaks ranked among the most requested mental well-being benefits for female and LGBTQ+ parents.

However, it can’t stop here—promoting DEI initiatives in the workplace needs to be a core foundation of the company. Creating a conscious community that prioritizes acceptance and encourages differences is the first step toward building a resilient and mentally healthy workforce. 

Workplaces Are the Problem—and the Solution

As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of work, it’s evident that prioritizing employee well-being is not just a choice, but a necessity. Calm aims to illuminate the path toward a workplace culture where mental health is not just discussed but deeply ingrained in the organizational fabric. Calm does this by setting and measuring KPIs tied to wellness (e.g., employee satisfaction and retention) and rewarding managers whose teams meet specific goals. 

If you’re looking to do the same, Calm Business can be a part of your measurement toolbox. While employers do not have visibility into individual employee usage, Calm’s workplace reporting tools can help leaders take the pulse of how their company as a whole or respective teams are doing with aggregate and anonymous data. Are there times in the year with a spike in employees reporting anxious moods? Is the company as a whole using sleep content? You can measure and use this data to continue planning and updating your workplace well-being strategy.

By listening to your employees and incorporating their feedback into well-being strategies, business leaders can create a space where employees not only survive, but truly thrive.

Scott Domann
Chief People Officer
verified iconExpert in Talent Management
Calm
Scott Domann oversees learning and development, recruitment, operations, and the people function for Calm. He previously led HR teams at Netflix and Spotify.

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