When US gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the recent Tokyo Olympics citing mental health concerns, it proved a point about mental health. From athletes to celebrities and CEOs, advocates for better mental health are all around us. For corporations, the focus on team health and wellbeing has been put into fifth gear by COVID-19.  But while everyone agrees on the importance of better health at work  – whatever the domain/industry – not everyone has vast resources or budgets to invest in team health and wellness programmes. That is why budget-friendly ways to invest in team health are critical.

So what can companies do?

The good news is: good team health on a budget is not only possible; it is also a reality. Here are some cost-effective ways to ensure employees’ emotional health and wellbeing:

It starts with culture:

At a macro level, the culture of the organisation needs to be pro-mental wellbeing. Encouraging and promoting mental wellbeing has to be in the company’s DNA. There are organisations that claim to be pro-mental health but have abusive managers who humiliate their juniors, and the same is tolerated because the managers are high-performers.

So make sure your company has a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying and offers psychological safety to every employee. If the senior leadership believes that the wellbeing of every employee, regardless of seniority, is important, it can lead to cultural change. Otherwise, mental health initiatives will remain largely on paper, or as token workshops organised for the sake of doing something.  

Create a budget wellbeing programme

Creating an employee wellbeing programme does not require you to have deep pockets. There are plenty of budget wellbeing initiatives you can take.

For instance, you can invite experts to talk to your employees on various mental health topics – from the warning signs of deteriorating team health to information on mental illnesses, assessments, workshops on mindfulness, motivation, stress management, work-life balance, emotional regulation, time management, and others. If you don’t have the budget to call in external experts, you can get wellbeing experts from within the organisation (for example, employees who regularly practice mindfulness, yoga, or any other wellbeing activity) to share their experiences, tips, and advice with colleagues.

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Optimise your employee health insurance

Negotiate with your medical insurance provider to cover mental health problems in employee insurance. Mental health care is expensive and many employees struggling with mental health issues may not seek help due to the prohibitive costs. Such initiatives by the company may encourage employees to take their mental health concerns more seriously.

Create safe spaces for discussions

Encourage open conversations on barriers to team health at work, starting by getting your senior management to talk openly about it so that employees are more forthcoming with their own issues. As an adjunct to this, however, disclosure of health issues (mental or physical) should not lead to stigma or discrimination, which goes back to the earlier point on why a cultural shift matters. Several studies, including one by Villotti et al., talk about how employees face discrimination at the workplace if they disclose their poor mental health situation. Hence, make sure that nobody’s privacy is violated during such exercises.

Encourage teams to bond

Apart from work stress, another major cause for workplace mental health issues is loneliness or isolation. Consider getting periodic sociometry tests done to understand the dynamics of team bonding at your organisation. This simple technique can provide significant insights on how to foster a culture of camaraderie and openness among your teams.

Look at your peers for inspiration

You can also take a page out of what other companies are doing to ensure better team health on a budget. For example, Prudential Financial monitors the effect on team health whenever there is a change in supervisors. It also encourages open discussion on mental health topics by getting senior leaders to open up to their employees about their own struggles. TiER1 Performance Solutions has an awareness campaign called Start the Conversation about Mental Illness, which focuses on six key mental health issues. The company creates awareness through emails, infographics, and educational and storytelling videos.

Organisations could have an unwind room (that is not digitally connected) within their premises. A creative agency in India, Schbang, encourages discussion about mental wellbeing and also offers employees days off to recharge mentally.

Apart from the above measures, you can also focus on the physical health aspects of employees as physical and mental health have a two-way relationship. Here are a few physical health tips you can implement at work:

  1. Encourage employees to walk more or take the stairs more.
  2. Spread awareness about the benefits of quitting or reducing tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances.
  3. Stock healthy food in the office pantry.
  4. Have internal sports tournaments to promote activity and team-building.
  5. Encourage better sleep habits by setting reasonable deadlines for tasks.
  6. Provide gym memberships as perquisites to employees.

While not all of these measures come at ‘zero cost’, they are not likely to majorly pinch your pockets either. There are many upsides to implementing these low-cost team health programmes: from a more happy, engaged workforce to better organisational performance. So why wait? Get started today!