When Sahar Naim, director of operations and people experience at BetterHelp, was diagnosed with postpartum depression eight months after the birth of her first son, she was hesitant to share with her coworkers. There was still stigma attached to mental health—much like there is now, though some progress has been made of late—and sharing one’s mental health struggles could have been considered a sign of weakness.
Today, after nine years of on and off therapy, Naim is healthy and happy with two sons, and ready to change the conversation that’s happening around mental health in the workplace. Luckily for her, she couldn’t have found a better place to do that than at BetterHelp.
As the world’s largest online therapy platform, BetterHelp is a company that not only focuses on mental health as its core product offering, but also as its core company value. “We all care deeply about our members and how our BetterHelpers are feeling,” says Naim. “Our president and founder, Alon, is always optimizing for how to make our lives more efficient resulting in increased productivity and happiness.”
With more than 12 billion working days lost due to mental illness every year and 76% of U.S. employees admitting to having had struggles with a mental health issue, there is no question that employers would benefit from investing in their employees’ mental health. We take a closer look at BetterHelp’s company culture and the components that make it a mentally healthy workplace.
Components of a Mentally Healthy Workplace
Regular Mental Health Conversations
Many companies may not know how to broach the topic of mental health. It’s sensitive and personal information, and everyone’s comfort level may vary. However, creating a safe and inclusive space where employees can choose to share how they’re doing without fear of discrimination or judgement is key to a mentally healthy workplace.
At BetterHelp, talking about mental health is such an integral part of its company culture that they’ve woven it to become a part of their regular company meetings. For instance, what other companies may refer to as an all-hands meeting, the employees at BetterHelp call “Group Therapy,” and every month or so the head of clinical operations will present on various mental health topics for the entire company. “During my first Group Therapy, she did a presentation on codependency,” Naim shares, “and it was incredible to hear such a big topic within mental health be discussed at a company-wide meeting.”
A Flexible Work Environment
Since the Covid-19 pandemic introduced the world to remote work, many companies have reassessed and adjusted their workplace model for good. There are many factors that play into their decision making such as safety, employee morale, and productivity, to name a few. One that should be a top priority for employers is mental health.
“We are currently in the pilot phase of testing out a remote-first environment where the greater majority of the teams here can work remotely,” says Naim. “At the same time, we’ve also developed something called ‘WOWs,’ which is our Work On-Site Weeks where we invite BetterHelpers to come on-site with different teams for different weeks.”
This blend of remote and in-person work offers employees a balance of flexibility and social interactions—both of which are important to an employee’s mental health. “We found that people like the flexibility of working from home. For example, they can go walk their dog or work with their cat in their lap. I myself like having the flexibility of picking my kids up from school on my WFH days,” says Naim. “But we also know that working fully remotely can feel isolating, so providing opportunities for people to have social interactions with each other is critical for employee mental health.”
In-person Corporate Retreats
Even more so than “WOWs,” there is something to be said about bringing the entire company together for an offsite experience. There, employees from different departments can interact with each other and participate in team-building activities that foster cross-departmental collaboration back at home. Corporate retreats also help boost morale by giving employees a chance to disconnect from work and have some fun together. At the time of our speaking, BetterHelp employees had just come back from a 4-day company offsite and wellness retreat in Lake Tahoe, California.
“Wellness is mental health and being able to gather people out in the mountains where it’s calming and soothing—to just be in that element—is part of helping people feel fulfilled,” says Naim. “We offered yoga every morning and people were able to do various activities like kayaking or nature journaling.”
The operations team also took advantage of the fact that people who normally wouldn’t interact with each other were there. “We did something called ‘Speed Intros’ where we paired people who we knew didn’t have a lot of interactions with each other and had them meet over question cards,” says Naim. “Then we also did a big hackathon where we combined different people from different groups who hadn’t really worked together before to build a wellness hack.”
Valuable Company Perks
Company benefits run the gamut from the bare minimum to the over-the-top excessive. Too often, companies aren’t paying attention to the main subject of employee benefits—the employee themselves—and are simply offering the most common benefits in the marketplace or whatever their competitors are doing. At BetterHelp, the benefits are carefully thought out and meant to serve the employee’s entire self, including mental health.
On top of the typical competitive salary, medical coverage, and 401k benefits, all employees enjoy free access to BetterHelp’s online therapy service (friends and family receive six months of complimentary access) and access to Teladoc (BetterHelp’s parent company) virtual care. BetterHelpers also enjoy perks that are geared specifically towards their work-from-home setup. “We announced a new perk at our wellness retreat, which is house cleaning services,” says Naim. “That has a direct correlation to mental health. I know that for me walking out and seeing dishes in my sink after a long work day gives me anxiety, so it’s nice to have BetterHelp take care of that for our entire team.”
Other meaningful BetterHelp perks are fruits and vegetables delivery from The FruitGuys, dry cleaning and laundry services from PurpleTie, lunch credits from UberEats, free monthly massages from Soothe, and more. “When we look at perks to roll out to our team, it has to check all the boxes,” says Naim, “and one of those boxes is whether it improves employee wellbeing and productivity. As someone who utilizes our perks, I can definitely attest to them improving my own mental health.”
While material benefits are an important component to employee wellbeing, there’s nothing that compares to being and feeling recognized at work. As best-selling author and speaker Stephen M.R. Covey states, “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” This remains the same in the workplace.
Employee recognition is a crucial part of a mentally healthy workplace and companies should foster a culture of recognition in order to motivate and create a sense of belonging among employees. “At BetterHelp, we have so many different ways for people to give recognition—from our #randomthings channel on Slack and the Fond platform to Group Therapy and our 15Five High Fives,” says Naim. “Our leadership and our peers are constantly shouting people out.”
Internal Career Growth Opportunities
Another thing that leadership invests in at BetterHelp is internal career growth opportunities. It’s not uncommon for employees to move up the career ladder if that aligns with their professional goals. “A few of our heads of department started as individual contributors,” says Naim, “and have worked their way up in the company rather quickly.”
Providing employees with ample career mobility opportunities is a crucial element to any mentally healthy workplace. When employees are promoted for their hard work, they feel appreciated and rewarded, which in turn makes them more engaged and likely to stay at the company. “People get promoted [at BetterHelp] all the time,” says Naim. “We did 20 promotions in our last cycle, which is incredible given our company size.”
How to Get Started
Not every company may be in the same place as BetterHelp when it comes to investing in their employees’ mental health. If you are an HR leader and are just starting out, here are some tips from Naim to getting your initiative off the ground.
Get Buy-In From Leadership
No mental health program can really take off without the blessing of company leadership. As Naim puts it, “leadership plays a direct role on how mental health is viewed at work.” When c-suite executives give their stamp of approval and even lead the charge by sharing their own vulnerabilities, the rest of the company is more empowered to follow suit.
Sometimes, this will require educating executives about the benefits of a mental health program, not only for employees’ wellbeing but the business’ as well. You can state that research supports the connection between mental health disorders and decreased work productivity. You can cite the World Health Organization report that every dollar put into treating common mental health concerns brings forth a four-dollar return in improved health and productivity. You can also point to Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report which reveals 68% of millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left jobs for mental health reasons. If attracting and retaining top talent is a priority for executives, these findings should at least grab their attention and start the conversation.
Focus On Relevant Topics
Once you’ve gotten the green light from leadership, there are a multitude of directions you can go. For a professional who specializes in HR and not mental health, it may be overwhelming at first when considering your options. Naim’s advice to this is to start small.
“You don’t need to overthink the framework for how you’re going to roll something like this out,” says Naim. “It could be as simple as just talking about some topics.” At Naim’s previous company where she built a mental health program from scratch, she started by putting together a list of relevant topics to talk about such as burnout, stress relief, and nutrition—all of which were applicable to employees during the pandemic.
“Supporting people’s depression is another big one as well,” says Naim. “In the past, I’ve run a session about how the holidays make people depressed and how companies can support those who feel isolated or may not have family around during that time of year.” Resources like the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) are all great places to gather credible information on mental health topics.
Conduct Pulse Surveys
If you’re not sure what your employees may be struggling with, conducting a pulse survey is an easy way to get an assessment. Unlike employee engagement surveys, pulse surveys consist of a short set of questions (usually just 5 to 20 questions), and focus on short-term objectives or specific areas of the employee experience. Employers can get direct feedback from employees by conducting a pulse survey about mental health.
“Pulse surveys are very important to stay in tune with how your team is feeling and what’s valuable and important to them,” says Naim. When you have actual data on your employees and workplace culture, you can then better create content specific to their needs.
Find a Partner
Finally, there is no shortage of mental health companies, resources, and tools for HR professionals to take advantage of today if they don’t want to go the mental health journey alone. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide a range of mental health services for employees and can be easily outsourced. Mental health tech startups are popping up every day that offer an array of behavioral health benefits for employees. Even creating an employee resource group (ERG) for mental health can multiply your efforts by allowing members to share resources and support for anyone who needs it.
BetterHelp has a partnerships arm for organizations as well called BetterHelp for Work which offers virtual therapy and mental health support for employees. No matter who you decide to partner with, investing in mental health is worth your while. “The ROI on investing in mental health is very high and directly helps with employee retention,” says Naim, “Our average tenure at BetterHelp is five years, which you don’t see often in Silicon Valley—especially for engineers.”
Investing in employees’ mental health in the workplace should no longer be an afterthought for employers, but a key component of organizational culture. In order to retain top talent and combat the Great Resignation, companies must double down on mental health initiatives now or risk having their best employees walk out the door.
Joanne Chu is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Fond. She has 10+ years of content marketing experience, specializing in HR tech. She is passionate about topics such as the future of work, employee engagement, performance management, and employee well-being.