Mental health has long been a growing challenge here in the U.S., particularly in the workplace. And with the events over the past year, there has been a marked increase in the emotional and mental demands many of us face at home and work. While not everyone is deep in a state of depression, there are a significant number of people who are feeling listless and exhausted.

In a recent article in The New York Times, organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant defines this widespread state as languishing. As he describes it, most of us are experiencing that mental state, somewhere between depression and thriving, where we lack focus and motivation. And his description seems to have struck a chord with just about everyone.

Thankfully, we’re also at an inflection point in modern society where the negative stigma associated with mental health is starting to lift. Along with that, the availability of support and guidance is increasing at a steady pace thanks to technology and ease of access. Individuals can quickly find apps, articles, websites, and even turn to places like Tik Tok for therapy and tips. The reach is far and wide, and the ability to remain anonymous and treat symptoms from the privacy of our homes makes it ideal.

With the return of many day-to-day activities and some of the workforce heading back to an office environment, anxiety and fear are beginning to surface. Add to that, 4 out of 5 employees are already feeling emotional drain and burnout, according to a recent study by Mental Health America. This report also suggests that only 5% of employees felt their employer provides a safe environment for mental health. Given a large portion of the workforce spends a third or more of their lifetime in the workplace, the environment in which we spend that time has a significant impact on our psychological well-being.

As leaders, we have a role and responsibility in advocating for good health and wellness in the workplace. And that extends to mental health and mindful practices, which reinforce a culture that supports the individual’s needs. But this responsibility has a greater impact on a business and must be viewed as a strategic imperative.

Unfortunately, the direct cost to businesses continues to escalate unless there is a shift in the workplace culture. Poor mental health in employees leads to higher medical costs, increased absenteeism, increased turnover costs, and a dramatic reduction in productivity levels. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all of this equates to an enormous financial burden on the organization—an estimated cost to the global economy of USD 1 trillion per year in lost productivity alone.

So, what can we do? How can we create an environment conducive to being open about our mental well-being, and not just lip-service we can check off a to-do list?

There are various resources and tools widely available by mental health experts and organizations for returning to the workplace post-COVID, including this Toolkit published by the Center for Workplace Mental Health. Many of these resources outline steps businesses should take to build the right culture and environment, upgrade or overhaul Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and even provide solid direction on policy and procedure amendments critical to the return to work.

We’ve scoured many of these resources ourselves and compiled a list of some critical actions businesses can take to support the return of the workforce to the physical office in this post-COVID moment.

Mental Health Plan of Action


As we return to the workplace, it will be critical for leadership to take a clear stance on mental health and own the responsibility to build a culture and environment that places importance on the issue. This stance may include creating and sharing a comprehensive plan with employees, which outlines a new approach to openly address, support, and improve mental health in the workplace. When employees see that leadership is taking substantial measures to support the health and well-being of the individual through actionable efforts that are more than a one-off tick in the box, this already sets the stage for improved wellness.


Old policies and programs can no longer support present-day needs. In the post-COVID world, it’s essential to have internal or external experts do a full review and analysis of policies, procedures, and programs so that the necessary protocols and support mechanisms are in place and no employee is left behind. You may be surprised how one slight kink in a policy can impact the help an individual receives at a critical moment.

As we look at general policies, it’s also a great time to examine what the Employee Assistance Program offers and whether any of the procedures or benefits included are outdated or need expanding. If leveraging an external third party for EAP benefits, many of the updates may already be available and ready for rollout. Reach out to the vendor and see what’s available or where new opportunities lie.


We talk about the importance of communication a lot here at Courtside, so it goes without saying. But now is not the time to slow down or lose touch with your employee base. Every single person needs to hear from leadership, and they need to hear from them often. If you’re not sure what to communicate, start by welcoming them back, underscoring the importance of their mental well-being, and sharing the plans for improvements or where you have already upgraded employee benefits and support.

From there, it’s a good idea to have senior leadership continue to provide a regular cadence of touchpoints. Provide stories of well-being or share your own. Speak to a specific policy and elaborate on how it can help. Ensure everyone knows what’s available to them, how important this issue is, and where someone might go if they need an anonymous channel for support. It may feel like you have nothing to share or that you just sent a communication out, but employees do need to hear from you more.

Beyond the formal channels of communication, commit to in-person touchpoints as well. Be visible and walk the floors. Show your concern and do a pulse check face-to-face rather than through email or Zoom calls. There are many physical indicators you can pick up on that are undetectable via a video meeting.


When we are spending so much time worrying about others, we can forget to focus on ourselves. But if we’re falling apart, others pick up on that, and the ripple effect begins.

Commit to taking care of yourself first so that you can take care of others later. Just because you are the boss doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling too. Use the resources you’re offering to the workforce. Look externally, too, if you need to. Recognize the signs that you are languishing or approaching capacity and proactively get ahead of it by taking care of yourself.

Look at the following actions below and make these a part of your routine. Show employees, you take it seriously by walking the talk first.


This action may be hard to incorporate but could be the one thing that can make a return to work as successful as possible. Understand that not everyone is in the same place. Some are eager to return to full workplace mode, while others are anxious or already burnt out. A quick return could trigger a psychological shock, so a self-paced, slow return may be a better solution.

It will be essential to speak with all employees or have managers connect with every team member to do a pulse check. Ask how they are feeling and what they honestly think about returning to the office. Empower them to create a “return to work plan” that they can be comfortable with and assume it may need adjusting along the way.

We can’t take this step lightly. It’s a powerful way to show employees we care, but it offers the freedom for the individual to go at their own pace and comfort level.


While many have been living and working with families and loved ones this past year, there are just as many who lived alone that entire time and had very little in-person interaction with others. The return to a more socially active environment could be more challenging. Not only is it overwhelming at first, but it can also be unwanted given someone’s comfort level. It’s crucial to decrease that social isolation and do so carefully.

Everyone will need to play a role in this stage of recovery. We need to be mindful of where each of us is at in terms of healing, and we need to be sensitive to that as well. Seeking opportunities to pull someone from that isolated state slowly will be invaluable. Reacclimating team members and others to a more engaged state requires a bit of a push from others at times. Recognizing the moment that’s right for someone will be key.


It’s incredible what movement can do for the psyche. Regular exercise increases the chemical in our brains called endorphins. Endorphins then release a feel-good trigger throughout the rest of our body. Even a small bit of exertion has a positive impact on our overall health and mental well-being.

Some workplaces offer gym memberships or have on-site facilities to support physical health. But leadership can go a step further by suggesting a blocked time for exercise. Declaring a set time for no meetings and encouraging an afternoon walk or a bike ride instead is a smart way to get employees moving. Joining in on a group walk, a yoga class, or even walking to a convenient lunch spot together is also a great way to get people motivated to move.

Aside from movement, employers should also support moments of stillness. Encouraging meditation or simple breathing exercises throughout the workday is a fantastic way to alleviate stress and anxiety and do a small reset throughout the day.


When we’re in the thick of work and deadlines are fast and furious, we tend to postpone essential opportunities to recharge, recalibrate, and renew. And while we all were just out of the office for the past year-plus, it’s not the same as a vacation. Thoughtful leadership can provide a gentle nudge by assessing which employees have been going full-steam since the beginning of the pandemic and get those folks to block out dates and take vacations. Travel is opening back up, and getting away from the same environment might be what an individual needs to get centered again.

And don’t forget the importance of breaks. Along with the exercise breaks we mentioned above, taking a moment to go outside for a cup of coffee or walk around the block, or even spending five minutes talking to another colleague about something other than work is a great way to refocus our brains. Sprinkling in several of those throughout the day can make a return to work a far easier transition.


This idea is one that many may not have thought about but getting actively involved in volunteerism and deflecting the attention we may have had on ourselves for far too long gives new purpose and meaning to our lives. Dividing our time between the important work we do and giving to others delivers immeasurable benefits to our health and well-being.

As leaders, we can formalize the time required to get out and help our local communities. Work with HR teams or the communications and marketing function to design a day of action or a longer-term charitable goal. Having something to look forward to where purpose and community take precedence is an outstanding choice.


We mentioned this earlier, but don’t forget to check in on every individual. They don’t all have to be in-person, but there should be a mix of face-to-face, email, phone calls, and video. Ensure the check-in is private and encourage honesty. Try and get a full temperature read on how employees feel, knowing that it could easily change the next day. Offer your attention, your support, and whatever resources they may require. Try not to talk at them and instead ask open-ended questions where they can do more of the talking. It’s a leader’s job to listen and provide what they can based on each person’s needs.

The post-COVID world is approaching. Everyone is getting excited to return to some sense of normalcy. We can’t take too much for granted by assuming everyone’s okay. We are a community, and we are each vulnerable to the implications of the past year and beyond. It’s time to lift the veil and remove the stigma associated with mental illness by showing our support and establishing the right ecosystem encouraging a culture that works to eliminate mental illness.

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