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Five ways your intranet can help support mental health

Three simple signs on a chain fence against plants. Dont give up. You are not alone. You matter.

Five ways your intranet can help support mental health

May is mental health awareness month every year, although organisations may also run various mental health campaigns throughout the year. Often HR or Internal Comms, concerned with aiding employee wellness and ultimately employee engagement, runs these campaigns during a defined period. Ideally, employee mental health would be a topic of concern all year round, but it’s not always practical to run high impact campaigns at such length.

Your intranet can help support good mental health not only during an active campaign, but also throughout the year.

Show people help is available

When I was an intranet practitioner a few years ago, the HR department came to me to ask me to run a campaign to promote our employee assistance programme. The EAP company said our call rates were low compared to other organisations, so it seemed likely people didn’t know about the programme. One change I made was to add the phone number and link to the page with information about the EAP onto the intranet’s home page.

Once the campaign ended, I left the phone number and link on the home page — even though the page analytics suggested it didn’t deserve such prominence. For the people who needed it, it was invaluable. The campaign and ongoing positioning of the phone number had a huge impact: People started using the service and the rates ended up being comparable with other businesses using the same EAP. Then I saw people recommending the service on the discussion boards and HR gathered anecdotal feedback about how it was helping people. The small change made a huge difference to the mental health of our organisation.

Signpost. Sunrise.

If your organisation doesn’t have an EAP or a similar service, you may still have other helpful guidance on your intranet you can highlight. For example, you may have pages that provide links to websites such as charities or government advice. I’ve even seen information on where to go for employment advice published in a “you” section on an intranet. Whatever approach you take, make sure employees are aware of the resources available to them. Showcase an article a month on the home page, or make a link to the section obvious, or maybe just have a phone number in your header or footer.

For a simpler, but still regular, approach to this content, consider appropriate themes. For example, sharing information about support for gambling at the time of key sporting events, such as the Superbowl or World Cup, or actively posting content during mental health awareness month is a good start.

These stories don’t necessarily need specifically to be guidance or “how to” articles. Sharing stories from colleagues is a far more powerful storytelling device, not only to demonstrate how people can find help but also to indicate that you have an open culture.

Explain how the organisation will help

Policy documentation is another way to help people cope with difficult situations. Make sure sensitive topics are covered by accurate, up to date and findable policies. Run a search on your intranet trying to find topics such as bereavement” or even trigger words like “abuse,” for example. Scour your search analytics to see what search terms people use, and check whether they are easily able to find useful content.

If policy information is entirely missing, speak with HR to get something pulled together. While HR may want to hear directly from a colleague who’s going through a tough time, it’s still helpful to have blanket policy pages for someone who may simply want to understand their rights in a particular situation or check whether their manager is following policy correctly. A friendly-worded policy page that also encourages someone to contact their manager and / or HR can reassure those in a difficult situation.

More and more organisations are training mental health first aiders. If your organisation is one of them, make sure you shout about it because it’s an amazing initiative to be a part of. Support HR with actively recruiting new participants, and include the position on intranet profiles as well as on relevant reference spaces. Helping people to find appropriate colleagues and additional information can be really valuable, particularly if they’re going through a tough time.

Allow people to talk freely

If you have an open and inclusive culture, your intranet should be a welcoming place to share thoughts and opinions. Social spaces and even page comments should be buzzing with the day-to-day, and when they are you may find people are willing to share more personal thoughts and experiences. You can offer individuals opportunities to transform these into broader articles or blog posts, giving your intranet more authentic voices and stories amid “regular” communication. This may not be appropriate for or happen in all organisations of course, but make sure you have processes to follow if you think someone may need help (regardless of the tone of the social space).

A brick building, fire escapes zig zagging up it. On the side, a simple poster; "How are you really?".

Your organisation may not be fully open and inclusive yet, in which case you may end up influencing its culture, nudging it towards a place where people feel safe to be themselves in the workplace and then opening it up further as a culture of sharing. Your intranet can be a home, facilitator and nurturer of this content.

A client we worked with recently had clear analytics showing their “human interest” stories were far more popular — in terms of page hits and discussions afterwards — than their day-to-day communications. The breakthrough moment was a story one colleague shared of growing up on a small Greek island, what it felt like when he came out about his sexual orientation, then his subsequent experiences in the workplace and ultimately in that particular company. The success of this article helped the comms team reassess their approach to communication, giving more prominence to these stories from colleagues. They’ve introduced blogging for the first time and are hoping to encourage even more honest stories from real people.

It’s so rewarding to see people sharing their thoughts and reactions to news stories. But when it’s time to share some difficult news on the intranet, put plans in place to share the responsibility of responding to comments or social space conversations. For example, from experience I know being the sole person responding to news of a company-wide restructure can be disheartening. Keep in mind the mental health of those whose job it is to tackle comments and questions, and share the responsibility where you can so they feel less overwhelmed.

Reduce mental burdens

We live in a world of endless notifications, so it’s not surprising that people are detoxing from social media and other platforms. This is harder to do when it comes to work-related notifications and messages, but even on an intranet people can choose to skip over things they don’t feel are relevant or pressing. I’ve written previously about the newsworthiness of intranet news, but ensuring the intranet presents relevant, useful news to people is vital both to the success of the intranet and to keeping employees’ mental capacity at a workable level.

Intranet platforms can support this balance by helping communicators manage the flow and volume of news, with intelligent audience targeting and with a variety of media. “News” doesn’t necessarily mean a written article — it can be a video, podcast or infographic instead. The home page layout can help too, by making information that personally affects people somehow — for example, a planned system outage, a charity bake sale or an increase in expenses allowance — defined from engagement-related stories.

Support longer campaigns

Two men in high-visibility garb and hard hats, discussing.

In the UK, Network Rail has been running a continuous mental health campaign since 2019, since they discovered that over the course of a year 69,000 working days were lost due to mental health related absences across their 40,000 employees. When the programme began, 75% of employees said their job required them to hide their feelings.

In response, Network Rail developed a multi-channel campaign, including excellent videos, and encouraged people to share their experiences on Yammer. Absence rates have dropped by 17%, and 85% of managers said that they’d had a conversation with at least one member of their staff about mental health concerns.

If you are running longer mental health campaigns, make sure your intranet is a hub of activity. In addition to all the tips outlined here, you can take other actions such as including appropriate tags on news stories or encouraging themed blog posts at certain times. Your intranet can host other formats too, like video, to make it easier to find and interact with content.

This article was originally published by Reworked.

Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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