Top mental health nudges for managers and employees

Becky Wood
Team Humu

With employee burnout still on the rise,  mental health is at the top of every employee’s mind — and their manager’s, too. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 3 in 5 employees reported feeling the negative impacts of stress on the job in just the last month. These included a lack of interest, motivation, or energy, emotional exhaustion, and physical fatigue.

Thankfully, our research reveals there are steps employees and managers can take to improve well-being at work. To help offer solutions during Mental Health Awareness Month, we took a look at the top mental health-focused nudges that resonated most with employees and managers over the past six months. Here’s what we found:

Employees seek growth and connection 

In a recent survey of US-based employees, we found that the top three factors affecting how much people like their job are work-life balance, their manager, and their coworkers. 79% of employees say they’d leave their job for one that better supports their wellbeing, and 69% say they’d leave for one that better supports their professional development. 

It makes sense, then, that employees’ favorite nudge is “Learn something new.” When we learn a new skill, even if it’s not directly related to our job responsibilities, we tend to perk up, remember that we’re capable, and feel more motivated overall. The “Set a weekly reminder” nudge, meanwhile, is a favorite because it helps employees feel more connected to each other. It’s easy to remember to thank someone when you bump into them in the kitchen, but harder to remember to do that if you never see them outside of Zoom meetings. 

Top 5 employee mental health nudges

1. Learn something new - It may sound surprising, but learning something new can help you feel more resilient and refreshed at work. This week, dedicate some off-time to a hobby, developing a skill or talent, or reading up on a subject that’s new to you. Need help committing? Try putting it on the calendar now.

Why? Research suggests that when we learn new things, both on and off the job, we’re better able to recharge and recover during downtime—which can go a long way in restoring well-being and reducing work-related stress.

2. Are you a segmentor or integrator? This week, spend some time reflecting on what feels most natural. “Segmentors” like to keep work at work, while “integrators” feel best getting things done, wherever and whenever. If you find there is a disconnect between your preferences and your work environment, make a plan to align them as much as possible.

Why? It’s clear from the research that tailoring your work environment to your preferences is key for your long-term satisfaction and well-being.

3. Keep a smile file - Create a folder on your phone or computer—this is your ‘smile file.’ Use it to save any positive feedback or notes from coworkers that make you feel great. The next time you need a mood boost, spend a few minutes reading through all of that goodness.

Why? Reflecting on your strengths boosts confidence—and makes it easier to be a supportive colleague and friend.

4. Come with questions - If there are policies you have trouble with—from benefits to team decision-making practices—discuss them with your manager in your next 1:1.

Before the conversation, think through how you’ll explain:

  1. The challenge you face (or see others facing)
  2. A specific question that will help you get to a solution

Why? The academic literature shows that a critical factor in dealing with work-life conflict on teams is something called “Leader-Member Exchange.” By raising concerns—and proposing solutions—you can develop this important muscle, and build trust.

5. Set a weekly reminder - Challenge yourself to recognize one person each week who makes work better for you. Don’t keep it to yourself—write a note or give them a public shout-out during a team meeting.

Why? Small, personal acts of recognition can go a long way toward making your co-workers feel appreciated.

Managers can offer autonomy and recognition

The top mental health-related nudges for managers focus on autonomy and recognition, which aligns with what employees tell us they want most from their manager: work-life balance, a sense of progress, and control over how they do their work. 

In fact, according to our research, 71% of employees say they would leave their job for one that lets them have more control. Employees also want to feel like they’re making progress on important tasks, which can help prevent burnout.

Top 5 mental health nudges for managers 

1. Have experts take the wheel - This week, tell your strongest team members they can take ownership of projects in their areas of expertise. Ask them to keep you in the loop, but encourage them to make decisions without your sign-off.

Why? By pushing capable team members to take charge, you help them move from followers who ask for permission to trusted partners who can help you achieve goals faster.

2. Encourage stretch goals - Show you believe in your team by encouraging them to set goals that aren’t just achievable, but ambitious—and maybe even a little scary.

Why? When leaders set difficult goals, team members perform at a higher level—and report more self-efficacy (belief in their abilities). What’s more, they set higher goals for themselves in the future!

3. Together, one step at a time - In your next meeting, help your team break long-term priorities down into smaller goals. Ask members to pick one thing to work on over the next week—and to hold each other accountable. Tip: By trying this with your team, you can introduce a new—and powerful—way for your team leaders to try mentoring and managing their own people.

Why? By focusing your team on action and encouraging them to bring accountability to the process, you set them up for success—and real, positive change.

4. Catch people doing something right - Don't wait for your next scheduled meeting! When you see an employee doing good work (e.g., sharing an idea, giving a great presentation, helping a colleague), reach out to them to reinforce the value of what they did.

5.  Trust your people with control - This week, find ways to empower your team to own their work. For example, you could let employees self-select their work schedule or flex their hours as needed.

You could also ask your people which tasks are most appealing to them, and allow them to rotate off projects that are especially draining.

Why? Research shows that giving employees control over how and when they do their work can reduce stress, even if the workload stays the same.

We hope these nudges help your team feel more balanced, connected, and in control of their work, this Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond.

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