By Craig Booker
November 16, 2023

The onboarding process and mental health

Learn about the importance of an effective onboarding process in promoting mental health at the workplace.

You’ve just landed your new job! After months of searching, applying, and being ghosted, you receive and accept a job offer. Your first week of training begins next week. You mentally prepare yourself for what could be a fun or dreadful first five days. How bad could it be, right? It couldn’t be as bad as the search process, or could it?

For many, the process of searching for work is excruciating. What seems to last forever finally comes to a close. As one begins the first week of their new gig, the reality of their circumstances sets in. It wasn’t easy, but you managed to get through the hiring process without revealing your struggle with anxiety and depression. You thought the interviewer would ask questions, forcing you to disclose your challenges.

As the onboarding week begins, you discover a delightful welcome basket on your desk. Alongside it is a welcome packet filled with colorful materials on benefits, company policies, and more. You find a surprising note as you open an envelope in your basket. It reads, “We know that finding and starting a new job can take its toll on anyone. At Kind Co, we value the mental health of everyone on our team. To show you how much mental health means to us, we provide each new team member five free sessions with the counselor of their choice, no questions asked.”

The onboarding process is when organizations hold the attention of their most valuable asset, their employees. As new employees begin their first week after a long and grueling search, they hope and dream that their employer will live up to its values. The first few weeks of training are the opportune time to create lasting company advocates. It is a time to establish a foundation of loyalty, trust, relationships, and more.

Many people think of a company’s role in mental health as solely about benefits or supporting an existing employee who is struggling. Neither of these things is wrong, but there is so much more organizations can do. Organizations must begin to incorporate brain health at all stages for their team. It starts with hiring and continues long after employees leave the organization.

As discussed in a recent article, improving mental health begins with hiring. The next and perhaps equally important step is the onboarding process. Company policies, procedures, benefits, relationships, and company culture all play their part in creating a healthy work environment. The first few weeks are when new team members pay attention to see what story their new employer is telling them.

The weeks following training are the proving ground for all the content presented during onboarding. This is where the figurative rubber meets the road when supporting mental health. In today’s work environment, workers seek organizations that embrace flexibility, work-life balance, and brain health. If the pandemic of twenty-twenty taught us anything, it’s that these areas are non-negotiable.

As you sit down to hear about company policies, something strikes you. The presenter informs you how Kind Co looks out for their team’s health. This seems all too good to be true. Then the presenter says, don’t take my word for it. Watch this video. 

A video begins with actual employees providing testimonials about how they have seen these policies throughout the organization. Many were personally impacted, while others affected those outside the organization. Kind Co firmly believes in the role of Mental Health First Aiders, as they call them. These team members voluntarily sign up to receive training surrounding mental health.

These Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) look out for friends, family, and coworkers potentially struggling with brain health challenges. They have been trained to have practical conversations and offer resources to those in need. At the end of the video, they provide a URL where new employees can sign up for more information about training. As a part of the onboarding process, one of the MHFA team members comes into the room and introduces themselves to you.

Typically, this might be creepy, but this person genuinely cares about your well-being. They ask if it is all right for them to check in on you occasionally to see how you are adjusting to your new role. Shocked by how authentic and caring this person is, you enthusiastically agree. The rest of the presentation was standard stuff surrounding enrolling in benefits.

The second week ends, and what you thought might be a dreadful time was quite insightful. Throughout the week, you met people from various departments who were friendly and genuine. You learned about company culture and what the team values. You seem to hit it off with a person in your department who turned out to be one of the MHFA team members.

Before you know it, weeks have passed, and you have seen just how incredible Kind Co is. The first week, you were convinced this had to be a joke. As weeks have passed, you have seen how this company cares for its team. Managers, leaders, and coworkers on all levels work together to protect the team’s health. Just last week, you took Friday off as a part of what they call mental health days.

While the story of Kind Co is fictional, the reality is that it doesn’t have to be. Organizations, both large and small, can embrace flexibility, work-life balance, and brain health. Getting there will be filled with making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, but employees will be encouraged to see the changes. The process will take employers’ and team members’ combined effort and flexibility but will improve the workplace for everyone.

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About Craig Booker

Craig Booker is the founder of Overflow, a community for anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. He is a freelance writer and mental health advocate. Craig is an Edmond native with a bachelor's degree in Business Management from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is passionate about creating a safe space where people can be authentic, knowing they will find love, acceptance, and encouragement. Craig hosts a weekly podcast called, The Overflow Podcast," where he talks about mental health and personal growth. In each episode, Craig shares practical ways to positively impact mental health.