Put Mental Health First on Employee Appreciation Day and Beyond

Employee Appreciation Day (Friday, March 4, 2022) is an opportunity for MSU employees to reflect on how you prioritize your mental health, how you talk about it with your supervisors, and how supervisors can show appreciation by supporting the mental health of their employees. Emphasize rest and recognition, learn about your self-care preferences and learn how to utilize the resources available to you!

Why we prioritize

Mental health should be treated like physical health. It should be discussed as normally as physical illnesses especially because physical and mental health can be connected. We should prioritize mental health because it has spent so long in the background. To break that cycle, put your mental health first and make it part of your everyday conversations.

Other reasons to prioritize mental health include:

  • Having high job demands makes it easy to put work over mental health, but it is not worth it in the long run
  • In a time of mostly online interactions, some of the natural in-person social interactions that are missing can inadvertently lower well-being
  • Therapy is still stigmatized, and prioritizing mental health helps release that

Self-care ideas

Becoming burnt out at work is easier than you might think, and the best way to tackle or prevent burnout is self-care. Engaging in self-care in the simplest terms is making sure that as you prioritize work, you also prioritize sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Other suggestions for self-care include:

  • Unplugging when social media and news get overwhelming
  • Treat yourself with compassion no matter how you respond to burnout
  • Enjoy the little things like an ice cream cone or some alone time with your pet
  • Close your laptop at the end of the workday and do your best not to open it again until the morning
  • Seek out help from an expert rather than relying on yourself or your team for mental health related answers

Start the conversation with your team

You don’t have to be the supervisor on your team to start a discussion around mental health. Use empathy to address situations regarding mental health and give space your coworkers space to speak openly about their experience. If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, use the MSU resources linked below and ease into it.

If you are a supervisor, here are four ways you can show appreciation for your team in support of their mental wellbeing:

  1. Show sincere interest in the needs, hopes and dreams of other people
  2. Watch for signs of burnout in yourself and others
  3. Demonstrate a willingness to help others and refer to appropriate resources
  4. Lead with compassion to contribute to a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture

Michigan State University recognizes the value of its employees and to show appreciation for the important work we all do, the university’s Worklife Office provides a variety of resources to support our wellbeing: 

Take a moment this Employee Appreciation Day to not only be thanked by those around you but also by your body as you begin to prioritize and destigmatize your own mental health.

Connect with Your Co-Workers on Employee Appreciation Day

Employee Appreciation Day (March 5, 2021) reminds us to connect with and recognize the awesome people we work with every day. After a full year of remote work and social distancing, it’s no surprise many of us are feeling more disconnected than ever. According to Employee Benefit News, “While COVID-19 has exacerbated the effects of isolation on employees, loneliness in the workplace has been a growing problem. A pre-pandemic survey by Cigna found that more than 60% of employees were lonely at work.” If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone and that there are small steps you can take to feel more connected.

While adding one more task to your to-do list may feel impossible, taking time to connect with or recognize your co-workers can improve your well-being tremendously. These interactions don’t have to be elaborate; a virtual chat over morning coffee with a few co-workers can do wonders for your mental health. And there’s no need to wait for a supervisor to initiate these activities. Reach out, connect and recognize your co-workers in a way and at a time that works for you.

Need some ideas to get started? Here are some ways to connect with and recognize your coworkers both one-on-one and all together:

  1. Take a virtual workout class together. Do you miss that afternoon walk or evening workout class with your co-worker? MSU Recreational Sports and Fitness Services offers virtual group classes over Zoom and Fitness On Demand, which gives you over 1,000 classes to choose from. Additionally, benefit-eligible employees have access to MSU Benefits Plus, which allows you to explore Global Fit’s growing library of free virtual classes and resources. Login to MSU Benefits Plus, click on Discount Shopping in the top navigation then type “Global Fit” in the search box to find a link to the digital resource library.
  2. Join or set-up an online coffee break to chat and check-in. Are there people you used to regularly talk with in-person that you now only communicate with via email? A regular coffee break just to check in could be an easy way to connect, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
  3. Engage new team members. If your team has new employees, they’ve probably never seen their co-workers face-to-face. And without those unstructured points of connection between team members — coffee breaks, walking to a meeting together, etc. — it can be hard to connect with others on topics outside of work-related matters. Why not try some virtual icebreakers to help everyone get to know each other? While “icebreakers” can sound a bit cheesy, the conversations that result can be great for helping people feel more connected. MSU Extension has a list of 65 icebreaker questions for online meetings to help. Here in HR, we have a Get to Know Your HR Colleagues questionnaire that people have the option to fill out, and then we share their answers in our internal newsletter.
  4. Learn something new as a team. Ask your supervisor or manager about setting up a training program for your whole team or unit to participate in together. We suggest you check out MSU Health4U’s new Virtual Health and Well-Being Sampler Series, which is offered to units and departments. Participating units will have a chance to map out a custom, six-week course series with classes about emotional wellness, food and nutrition, and movement and fitness.
  5. Team-led virtual lunch and learn sessions. Do you have co-workers with extensive knowledge on a specific topic or a cool hobby? Ask a team member to share what they know or give a demonstration during a lunch break.
  6. Play a virtual game. There are a variety of games your team can play virtually for some lighthearted fun. From collaborative online games to virtual scavenger hunts, google “online games for remote teams” and see which ones would work best for you and your co-workers.
  7. Step away from your computer and take a break outside. Spring is right around the corner and soon it will be nice enough to take a stroll outside in the sunshine. Check-in with a co-worker on the phone while you take a quick walk or sit outside.
  8. Send a shout-out to your co-worker to recognize all the great work they do. You could email them directly, give them kudos in your department newsletter, or send a Spartan Shout-Out to the InsideMSU newsletter that goes to all MSU employees (email kudos to insidemsu@msu.edu).
  9. Mail a Thank You Note or Token of Appreciation: during one the busiest times of the year here in HR, my supervisor mailed me a bag of coffee from a shop local to her as a token of appreciation. The gesture was so kind and unexpected, it improved my mood immensely and instantly made me feel more connected to the team. While you may not be able to send your coworkers gifts, a hand-written note or postcard letting them know you’re grateful for them can be a great way to recognize their contributions.

Feel free to think outside the box and come up with ideas that better suit you and your coworkers’ personalities. Taking time to connect with and recognize your co-workers — no matter how brief — can do wonders to improve your well-being and team morale overall. As a reminder, if you’re struggling with your mental health and need to talk to a professional, be sure to utilize your employee mental health resources.

Sources:

Place, A., & Nedlund, E. (2020, December 7). WFH loneliness is the latest virtual challenge for employers. Employee Benefit News. https://www.benefitnews.com/news/wfh-loneliness-is-the-latest-virtual-challenge-for-employers