Studies have shown that healthcare workers are more prone to burnout than other professions, especially since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. And direct support professionals (DSPs) are no different. Caring for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) is emotionally challenging work. The challenges of the job, coupled with its physical demands and, often, low pay put DSPs at great risk for burnout. By implementing effective workplace mental health strategies, you can help your DSPs identify the signs of the burnout and take action before it becomes too much.
This will allow your DSPs to lead happier lives and feel more fulfilled at work, while bringing the bonus of increased retention rates. In fact, 75% of respondents to 2023 Relias DSP Survey Report reported that they would be “moderately more” to “extremely more” likely to stay with their current organization if provided with mental health programs. And as more DSPs stay on longer and feel more fulfilled from their work, the level of care offered to clients will increase.
Despite these benefits, just 52% of respondents to the above survey currently have access to such programs through their employers. To help close the gap, here are five effective workplace mental health strategies that your organization can use to promote workplace wellbeing and psychological safety.
5 effective workplace mental health strategies
1. Train supervisors on promoting mental health
In our 2023 DSP Survey, we found that supervisors play an important role in the work lives of DSPs. Tellingly, 50% of respondents have left an organization because of their supervisor.
For many DSPs, their supervisor is the face of the organization. Supervisors may be involved in interviewing or hiring them, coordinating their on-boarding, and overseeing their day-to-day operations. To ensure that DSPs at your organization have the mental health resources they need to succeed, you must train your DSP supervisors on maintaining good mental health.
This training should include:
- How to recognize when an employee needs help.
- This can include signs of burnout, depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
- How to talk to employees about mental health.
- While supervisors should be taught not to overstep, learning how to tactfully broach this subject could help the affected DSP get the help they need.
- How to create effective lines of communication with employees.
- In our 2023 DSP Survey, 50% of respondents reported that open and transparent communication surrounding important issues was a positive attribute in a supervisor.
- How to create a work culture that promotes well-being and psychological safety.
- Across all industries, workplace culture sets the tone for employee mental health. Work with your supervisors to create a culture based on respect and well-being and how to communicate and activate this culture among their DSP staff.
With this training program, you can help your organization’s supervisors develop the soft skills they need to be effective leaders. With these skills, they can more effectively help their DSP staff cope with difficulties inside and outside of the job.
2. Provide holistic health benefits
Another common theme we found among the responses to the 2023 DSP Survey was the frequency with which organizations provided DSPs access to holistic well-being services. 24% of respondents reported that their organization provided access to mental health care, employee assistance programs (EAP), and/or exercise facilities and programs.
While this is a good start, many of the services offered to respondents fell short. Many respondents to the survey reported that they only receive one free counseling session through their work.
We recommend offering benefits that include greater access to counseling services. While this may be difficult for organizations with smaller budgets, working with your insurance providers to include mental health coverage may help clear this hurdle.
Additionally, giving your staff access to a gym, yoga sessions, or some other form of physical activity can help. While exercise is not the cure-all, it is often touted to be in popular media it does help alleviate stress and produce serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness.
3. Promote DEI
The essence of DEI is to create an environment in which everyone feels encouraged to be their full selves. In an environment that embraces and promotes DEI, staff members feel comfortable sharing the varied perspectives that their experiences, upbringing, and culture have given them. This increased willingness to communicate leads to better outcomes for clients, increased productivity for staff, and even higher earnings for the organization.
When staff members feel comfortable being their authentic selves, they carry less stress. This, in turn, can help mitigate the onset of burnout, anxiety, and stress-related conditions.
If you create a workplace where everyone feels welcome, your staff’s mental health will improve.
4. Provide employees with the tools to address their mental health
While creating a workplace that promotes good mental health is a valuable and necessary first step, organizations should also consider providing staff with the tools they need to care for their own psychological well-being. Just because your workplace culture allows for individuals to share their mental health, doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable doing so. By providing these tools, you can ensure that everyone in your organization has the means to be proactive.
First, provide access to mental health self-assessments. These are great tools that allow individuals to gain a more clinical understanding of their mental health and any issues they may be experiencing. By gaining this insight, they can take the appropriate action. A great place to start is this free tool provided by Mental Health America.
Next, provide trainings to employees on self-care and recognizing when they may need help with their mental health. Though this should not be a requirement, it should be readily available to all staff. With this training, staff members can learn to recognize the symptoms of mental health conditions and how to take steps to mitigate these conditions.
Also consider providing mental health paid time off (PTO) that can be requested with no advanced notice required. Mental health issues like panic attacks can occur with little to no warning. Giving staff the ability to take time off when needed can prove hugely beneficial in managing these symptoms or conditions.
5. Take time to celebrate
Workplace mental health strategies are about more than just mitigating mental health conditions, they should also seek to spark joy in staff members.
For your DSP staff, take time to celebrate their hard work. The role of a DSP can be a thankless position at times, so setting aside days to celebrate and thank your DSPs will go a long way. These days can include anything from free lunches to raffles to DSP team social activities — anything that you think will brighten your DSPs’ day.
DSP Appreciation Week is a natural time to plan such activities, but also consider ways to show your appreciation and celebrate your DSPs’ accomplishments throughout the year. This could include tokens of appreciation, such a gift card, or one-on-one praise from their supervisor. In our 2023 DSP Survey, we found that 64% of respondents considered private recognition directly from their supervisor to be very to extremely valuable, while 51% of respondents found rewards such as gift cards were very to extremely valuable.
Ultimately, whatever type of celebration and recognition you offer, the focus should be on improving DSPs’ mental health in the workplace and offering an opportunity to feel joy.
2023 DSP Survey Report
The 2023 Relias DSP Survey Report delves into these topics and more. It covers attributes that DSPs want in a supervisor, the types of recognition programs DSPs find most valuable, recommendations on how to build a great culture at your organization, and so much more.Download Report →