What Agencies Are Doing to Support the Mental Health of Their Employees

Establishing breaks and helping parents are among the ways marketers are acknowledging the personal impact of the pandemic

family doing yoga
Agencies are acknowledging the difficulties facing parents during the pandemic. Getty Images

Unprecedented levels of anxiety spurred by the global pandemic have caused a spike in meditation app downloads. According to app analytics firm App Annie, meditation and sleep app Breethe climbed up 31 spots in the health and fitness rankings to No. 40 in March, as did BetterMe, another meditation app, which skipped over 70 spots up to No. 26. Concerns about the crisis, as well as lockdown cabin fever and longer remote work hours, are also keeping nearly a quarter of Americans up at night.

Brands have also begun to take notice of Covid-19’s mental health stressors. Facebook rolled out Quiet Mode to encourage users to set boundaries on the social media platform, while Verizon Media launched wellbeing hub Yahoo Life. Even the World Health Organization turned to a CGI influencer to share advice on issues such as loneliness.

Keeping employees committed to their work is important, sure, but so is ensuring that they’re staying committed to themselves. So, how have marketers responded to the emotional challenges of these daunting times? We surveyed more than 75 top brand marketers, agency leaders and advertising experts on what they’re doing to support their employees’ mental wellbeing.

Championing parents

For the past two months, parents have had to add teaching and finding endless new ways to entertain their kids to their usual household duties, all the while keeping up with their career obligations.

“Some parents have had such a tough time juggling kids being out of school and doing remote work, so we have been making it a point to do regular check-ins,” said Steve Parker Jr., CEO and co-founder of Charleston, S.C.-based digital agency Levelwing, adding that these one-on-ones are arranged so that Levelwing’s leadership can best assist parents in managing their workloads.

Michigan-based agency Doner has gone one step beyond, creating a 10-week yoga and nutrition program for their children. Tom Anderson, director of employee engagement, explained that the program includes a yoga pose of the week aligned with a nutrition worksheet, recipes that can be made with family and wellness classes. “On Fridays, we review the sessions from earlier in the week before celebrating with Friday Story Time for the Doner children,” Anderson said.

Other unique initiatives taken by industry leaders to champion parents include Team One partnering with Little Renegades creator Blake Beers to host mindfulness sessions for agency parents and kids; The VIA Agency’s story time for associates’ children; Goodway Group dedicating Fridays to family fun; and Hook Studios offering a subscription to KiwiCo to keep little ones occupied with science and art activities.

Encouraging breaks

According to John Caruso, co-founder, partner and chief creative officer at MCD Partners, everyone in his office is watching Tiger King and playing Animal Crossing. But instead of only using these boredom busters off the clock, Caruso encourages his employees to take a day off to disconnect, unwind and recharge in their own ways. “We want people to keep regular office hours,” he said, “but we also want to try and help them maintain a good work/life balance.”

But urging employees to use vacation time (or even granting more PTO) can be ignored by those feeling guilty about unplugging. To further push employees to relax, content intelligence platform Knotch and experiential agency Fake Love have established daily mandatory breaks.

Providing resources and outsource assistance

Michelle Miller, director of people and culture at Madwell, said the agency’s first course of action in response to Covid-19 was to ship masks from its Hong Kong office to drop points in Brooklyn, Denver and New Jersey to ensure employees were taking care of themselves physically. The second course of action? Ensuring employees were taking care of themselves emotionally by giving out memberships to Talkspace, which offers 24/7 online, text and phone access to licensed therapists.

Throughout our survey, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) were brought up by several companies that offer them—BSSP, Billups, Firewood, Havas Media North America, Levelwing, Publicis Groupe, RPA, Saatchi & Saatchi, Spark Foundry and SpotX, to name a few—which include confidential and professional counseling and crisis support services, among other benefits.

And, like Madwell, plenty of agencies and brands such as DiGennaro Communications, Futurebrand, Hootsuite, Publicis Groupe and The VIA Agency have extended free memberships for their employees to teletherapy apps Talkspace and Ginger, or meditation app Headspace.

Other organizations are providing more atypical mental health resources. Marketing communications agency Chemistry is footing the bill for Yale University’s online course The Science of Wellbeing, which teaches methods to achieve happiness. “We have incentivized participation in the class by offering $100 to anyone who completes the course with a certificate,” Chemistry president Tim Smith told Adweek.

Nurturing a culture of self-care

Practicing self-care is more than just incorporating mindful meditation, power Vinyasa and digital HIIT classes into your weekly routine. Making space for joy during (or right after) work can make the 9-to-5 more bearable and less burnout-inducing. Amobee is offering a food delivery service membership; Ragged Edge is planning to host Spanish lessons; Saatchi Wellness is participating in the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ virtual walks; Muh-tay-zik/Hof-fer has a weekly movie club and themed happy hours; Organic sends out hydration reminders; and Diligent’s employees lead cooking tutorials.

@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.