Put words into action. An employee’s take on meaningful mental health support at work

  • Date posted

    May 17, 2022

  • Guest post by

    Annie French, Customer Service Representative at Navigate

I am a single mom working full time. Which means I am solely responsible for driving my daughter to every appointment and dropping her off at school. Not to mention I need to take time off for my own medical appointments that occur during the work week.

My situation isn't uncommon. There are thousands of working single parents out there (just like me) navigating similar schedules and personal challenges. In the past, previous employers required that I use PTO or vacation time for essential medical appointments like my psychiatrist and mental health therapist. But who wants to use valuable vacation time to see their doctor? And what about those who don’t have access to paid time off?

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a major change when it comes to how companies approach their employees’ mental health. Many organizations have taken a stand against the stigma surrounding mental health and have shown verbal support for those living with mental illness—which is great! But too often, that’s where the support ends.

There are tangible business benefits for supporting our employees’ mental wellness like productivity, the ability to recruit and retain top talent, and the cost to replace talent. However, the most important reason to support employee mental wellness is because you care about them as people and want them to thrive.

To truly make a difference in the lives of your employees, leaders and employers must provide meaningful, company-wide support based on individual need, flexibility, and understanding.

The mental health benefits employees actually need

Actions speak louder than words. It’s one thing to show support during Mental Health Month but employees also need benefits that will support them year-round. One way employers can do this is by ingraining flexibility and understanding into their company’s culture.

Navigate does this by offering every employee three weekly Wellbeing Hours. This allows employees to take three hours off each week—no questions asked and no approval required. We simply mark time on our calendar as “Wellbeing Hours” and enjoy the time off for anything that helps us care for ourselves. Whether that’s making sure we don’t miss our kid’s soccer game or something as simple as taking a nap. We have the freedom to figure out the best time for us to sign off (based on our individual and team workloads) and then we’re encouraged to take those hours each week.

Once, during an annual performance review, a former manager (outside of Navigate) told me I was taking too much time for doctor appointments. I have bipolar, so I see a therapist as well as a psychiatrist regularly to maintain my health. Hearing that this was unacceptable from my boss made me feel frustrated.

I was then in a position where I had to choose between keeping myself healthy and keeping my job. The ironic thing was that I had to maintain those appointments to function and do my job effectively. This is a prime example of an organization that talks the talk but doesn’t actually support the needs of an employee with a mental health diagnosis.

It’s one thing to talk about how important employee wellbeing is to your workforce. It’s another thing to do something about it. Wellbeing is so personal to the individual that it is challenging to support employees with a one-size fits all solution. That’s why Wellbeing Hours are a part of our benefit program—it’s a personalized solution that can be applied globally. It’s personal because the employee chooses how to use the hours. No questions asked. No approvals needed. You use the hours how you need them.

Navigate understands that life happens and that family is important. It’s imperative for employers to support their workforce’s mental health now more than ever. It prevents employee burnout, helps strengthen employee loyalty and longevity, and gives a sense of authenticity from its leaders.

As an employee, this policy makes me feel like leadership truly cares about our wellbeing and our happiness—not just our job performance. They want us mentally refreshed, so we can Do Good Things for our clients and participants. They take care of us so we can take care of others. And I’m not alone in this feeling.

Here is some personal feedback from a couple of my fellow Navigators on the importance of Wellbeing Hours and what they mean to them.

Jad Khalil, Team Lead—Client Services

I take advantage of our mental health policy by disconnecting earlier on Fridays and going on a run or bike ride with my dog. It allows me to unwind after a week of work and shift my focus on my personal wellbeing and family time. It helps me by using the time to disconnect and enjoy my favorite activities away from work, and the stress of the week.  This policy makes me feel valued by Navigate. It makes me feel appreciated and allows me to use the time on my own accord, doing the things that make me personally happy and less stressed.

Kinzy Gillespie, Production Design Specialist

Navigate’s Wellbeing Hours allow me to take some time for myself each week that I would not have taken previously. It has helped alleviate some stress and allowed me to take time for myself. I used to try to cram everything in during my lunch hour, but something always had to give. With these three additional hours a week, I am better able to balance my work and parenting duties while still taking time for myself.

The policy makes me feel valued as a whole person, not just an employee. I am grateful to work for a company where we are people first, employees second, and where we are equipped with the tools to balance both our personal and professional lives. I love the flexibility these hours have given to my week and the stress it has helped alleviate.

How leaders can help employees turn off and recharge

The pandemic caused a rise in employee burnout. According to the American Psychological Association1

3 in 5

employees report negative impacts of work-related stress


reported cognitive weariness


reported emotional exhaustion


reported physical fatigue—a 38% increase since 2019

Studies have shown2 that happier employees take fewer sick days and are more likely to bring their best to work. So why aren’t more companies doing more to support their employees’ mental wellbeing at work? In some cases, they might not know how. My best advice as an employee? Seek feedback often and then make the necessary changes based on your findings.

Something I’ve found helpful is how we use the Navigate wellbeing platform to stay on top of our collective company health. As employees, we use the same program that we work on for our clients and participants every day. Our Navigate pulse surveys are a part of this program, and they allow our leadership team to quickly check the “pulse” of overall employee wellbeing. We also take a larger, annual culture survey (like the anonymous Great Place to Work survey) to help make decisions on overall strategy and big picture initiatives.

These efforts are important first steps in determining what you’re doing right, where you can improve, and what benefits or changes are necessary to help your people live their happiest and healthiest lives. As an employee, being asked these questions (and seeing the action that comes from them) shows me that my company cares and they want me to feel like I belong.

They also show they care by encouraging weekly or bi-weekly management check-ins. These one-on-one meetings are the perfect time for our team leaders to check in and see how we are doing. It’s a safe space to bring up any concerns or feedback, and it allows team members to feel heard and valued. This is very different from my former manager who only checked in once a year during my annual review.

The bottom line? Take a people-first approach to employee wellbeing

I was hired at Navigate only a couple of months after the start of COVID-19. This left me feeling extremely overwhelmed. It was during the busy season, and while we were training more new hires to help, I felt like the weight of this new job was temporarily on my shoulders alone.

Fortunately, I felt safe enough to take my leader aside, explain my mental disorder, and share how I was feeling. Thanks to his understanding, compassionate nature (and the Navigate Wellbeing Hours policy) I was able to take the time I needed to recharge and come back refreshed and ready to do my work effectively.

I cannot stress how important it is to have a leader who listens, empathizes, and shows they care by taking action. Navigate’s mission is to Do Good Things. This is reflected not only in the work we do for our clients, but for me and my fellow Navigators as well. By offering policies like our flexible Wellbeing Hours, my boss was able to give me the support I needed and allowed me to do my best in and out of the office. Actions speak louder than words and my experience is that when it comes to supporting their employees’ mental health—Navigate acts.

Looking for more guidance on how to support employee mental health? Check out these three year-round strategies.

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