How to Create a Culture of Mental Health Awareness for Frontline Employees

How to Create a Culture of Mental Health Awareness for Frontline Employees

May 11, 2021 12:11:32 PM

Employee experience

If the idea of scrolling through another blog post about wellness in a pandemic makes you want to drop your laptop from a height, we don’t blame you. Not because it’s not a topic worth discussing, there’s no doubt it’s a growing crisis:

4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder compared to 1 in 10 adults in January 2019.

The stats speak for themselves. But many fluff-filled posts offering empty ‘wellness advice’ do little to actually counter this. This mental health pandemic cannot be fixed with a staff room fruit bowl and a poster encouraging employees to walk to work. Instead, this post is going to get to the heart of the problem, breaking down exactly why frontline employees are suffering, what a culture of mental health awareness looks like, and how organizations can create it.


The state of mental health for frontline employees

Prior to the pandemic, 38% of deskless workers said their job had negatively impacted their mental health. This has now risen to 51%.

As frontline employees in industries like retail and restaurants yo-yo between furlough and manic reopening shifts, many have left the industry due to fears around job security.

The picture is even bleaker for frontline workers who have worked throughout the entire COVID era in jobs like grocery store associates and delivery drivers. 25% of essential workers have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the start of the pandemic.


Why are more frontline employees experiencing poor mental health?

This mental health pandemic is partially down to COVID. Employees have taken on increased workloads to enforce social distancing measures and implement new concepts like curbside pickup and contactless delivery. They are also dealing with customers in a ‘heightened state’: as a result of the pandemic, 61% of retail employees have experienced verbal abuse from members of the public and 1 in 6 experience abuse on a daily basis. Furthermore, deskless workers have their physical safety and the safety of their households to consider. They put themselves at risk of contracting COVID on a daily basis - those in customer-facing roles are 5 times as likely to test positive as their colleagues in other positions. These issues alone are a lot to manage. But it’s not the full picture. 

Research found that the main driver for the current high levels of unhappiness is social isolation. A survey of 1,000 frontline employees discovered that 39% have an isolated work environment and 34% feel disconnected from HQ. Frontline employees often don’t get to meet many of their colleagues who work in different locations or have different shift patterns. This lack of social connection makes them more prone to unhappiness and illnesses like depression.

The social demographic of frontline workers also has a part to play. Millennials are predicted to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025 and 80% of the workforce is deskless or remote. When asked to describe their mental health during the pandemic, one third of adults ages 18 to 29 are in the high distress group, compared with just 15% of adults 65 and older. Highly distressed sections of the workforce are working in isolated, high-stress frontline roles, so it’s not surprising that 28% of millennial frontline employees feel disempowered at work.

Another factor is lack of support from employers. Out of the 1 in 4 frontline workers diagnosed with a mental illness during the pandemic, 75% say that they could have benefitted from more emotional support than they received. Generally speaking, 32% of frontline employees don’t feel recognized for their efforts at work and 79% believe their boss doesn’t care about their happiness. Feeling undervalued and unappreciated creates a negative emotional experience of the workplace which will cause employees’ mental health to decline on the whole.


What is a culture of mental health awareness?

It’s clear that companies are not doing enough to support frontline employee mental wellbeing, and this needs to change. Organizations need to create a culture of mental health awareness at work. A culture of mental health awareness establishes a safe space to share concerns and feelings and supports employees in striving for emotional wellbeing. 

This doesn’t just benefit frontline workers. Investing in frontline employee wellbeing improves  business performance as a whole. In the 2019/2020 financial year, 55% of all working days lost due to work-related illness were as a result of poor mental health and mentally engaged teams are 21% more productive.

Furthermore, companies who create a culture of wellbeing and mental health awareness build a better reputation to attract top talent. Younger generations specifically want a workplace which benefits their quality of life and may be put off by the stereotype of industries like retail and hospitality being stressful environments to work in. 

80% of millennials say they seriously consider how a position will affect their work-life balance. To attract and retain top talent in a competitive hiring environment, organizations need to do everything they can to turn the stereotype of frontline roles around. 89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are likely to recommend their company as a good place to work, so cultivating wellbeing and mental health awareness makes a business more appealing to younger generations of jobseekers.


What can employers do?

Lead by example

Research by Forbes found that after one company CEO spoke publicly about his experiences with poor mental health and encouraged senior employees to discuss the topic, 68% of employees spoke to someone about their mental health for the first time. 

Leading by example is one of the most effective ways to encourage employees to seek support for mental concerns. Companies can do this by emphasizing the importance of mental health awareness in company communications, promoting support services and relevant campaigns, and encouraging senior staff to share their experiences around managing stress.


Create safe spaces to talk

Only 50% of employees feel comfortable talking to their employer about mental health concerns. A poll of 2,000 workers found that 1 in 4 had not had any mental health check-ins with their employer since the start of the pandemic. Checking in with employees regularly to discuss how they’re coping emotionally shows that you care about their wellbeing and makes it easier for those who are reluctant to talk about their feelings to ask for help.

In addition to cultivating a work environment where employees know they can talk about their emotions, providing anonymous spaces to air concerns can also be useful. Things like anonymous surveys or worry boxes can allow managers to get a clearer picture of where employees are struggling and where additional support is needed.


Connect to employees

Investing in tools which help employees feel more connected will make it easier for them to share their feelings and concerns. A digital workplace tool can be used to keep employees in the loop with company news, recognize employees and celebrate successes. Feeling included and valued within the wider company enables employees to feel a sense of belonging at work, which is crucial to wellbeing.

YOOBIC Moodscale

Digital tools with features like mood surveys where employees rate their mood on a sliding scale allow businesses to regularly check in with how employees are feeling and identify any causes for concern before employees become overwhelmed. 

Related: 6 Ways to Support Frontline Employees with Internal Communications


Use wellness nudges

Employers who want their employees to be emotionally healthy can benefit from making healthy choices more accessible. 54% of essential workers said they relied on a lot of unhealthy habits such as alcohol, substance abuse, binge eating or smoking to get through the pandemic. Behavioural nudges like free healthy meals on shift, alcohol-free work socials and encouragement to take paid holiday can make it easier for employees to maintain their wellbeing. 

Wellness nudges and initiatives could also include cycle to work schemes, flexible working hours, paid leave to get vaccinated and free or discounted gym memberships, therapy, or childcare.


Even as vaccination rates rise, the mental health pandemic is a bigger issue than ever. Employers must act now to invest in employee wellbeing and create a culture of mental health awareness within their organization.

YOOBIC’s digital workplace connects employees to your company and provides employers with crucial insights into the wellbeing of frontline workers. Schedule a personalized demo to see how YOOBIC can help you support your frontline teams in 2021.

schedule my demo!