Employee mental health could be HR’s biggest challenge and greatest hope these days.
More than 85% of employees said their workplace well-being declined since the start of COVID-19, according to a Harvard Business School study. The problems, to name a few: increased job demand, disconnection and disengagement.
Couple that with life’s issues, and it’s a bigger mess. About 85% of employees said their overall well-being went downhill. They feel isolated, lonely and often too stressed to take care of basic needs.
“By all accounts, employee mental health has taken a hit from the pandemic,” said Anna Mittag, Senior VP of Products and Services at LifeSpeak. “It’s always been an issue, but the pandemic put employee mental health at the forefront of the conversation. It’s something employers must deal with. The pressure is on now.”
Regardless of the source, when mental health issues affect employees, that will affect their work. So they need support and resources to regain mental well-being.
Here are six ways HR can help now:
Give more easy-access information
You can provide employees with a bounty of information and resources on mental health well-being, but like a horse to water, you can’t force them to take it in.
That’s why it’s critical to make the information uber-easy to get a hold of and understand.
“No-barrier access is really important,” Mittag said. “Head people off at the pass with education and help. Then make it easy to consume the content.”
Promote the services and information you have with:
- HR benefits specific email
- push notifications, and
- links in general corporate messages.
With each, tell employees how long it’ll take them to read or listen to the resource. Also make each resource – such as a short mindfulness session or advice on parenting when dealing with depression (which Mittag said is an increasingly hot topic) – just one click away.
Double down on manager support
Many front-line managers face a mental health double-whammy: They struggle with issues such as stress and isolation. And they support many people who share the same struggles with them in hopes of getting help.
“They’re not counselors, therapists or psychiatrists,” said Mittag, “yet they’re called to be these. So what front-line managers really need is recognition from HR and the executives that they need help and tools to support their employees.”
You’ll want to start or bolster front-line management training to include how to:
- identify when employees are struggling with mental health issues
- initiate and have conversations around mental health care
- respond to employees who bring mental health concerns to them, and
- send regular, ready-made, email with links to support mental health, plus content that helps them decide if or when it’s time to get more help.
Make strides every day
Nearly 85% of employees feel emotionally drained from their work, according to Mental Health America’s Mind in the Workplace report. It’s not a big occasional project, dispute with a colleague or failure that causes that kind of drain.
“Workers were more stressed than ever. They were more worried about their physical health and mental health. They’re more anxious about their financial well-being. They were more concerned that their employers and supervisors were unsympathetic to the stresses they felt,” said Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America.
Almost every day there’s a struggle. So almost every day employees need help to stay balanced.
Add – or again, bolster – resources to help employees with their lives outside of the workday. For instance, share recorded expert tips on financial health or help them create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) so they can collaborate on issues such as parenting in a pandemic, caring for older adults or socializing in a remote work model.
Address what’s important
While you want to give employees plenty of information and easy access to it, it’s equally important to provide what’s most useful to them now.
For LifeSpeak and its clients, requests for expert mental health advice and resources jumped 60% from March 2020 to March 2021. Mittag said most of the requests were on the subjects that had always been popular – anxiety, resilience, depression and relationships. But one in particular shot up: sleep hygiene.
That prompted LifeSpeak to amp up information and resources on sleep’s role in mental well-being, while providing great content on the usual most requested subjects.
So keep an eye and ear on the pulse of your employees’ needs. Pay attention to the subjects and resources they tap so you’re sure to have the most up-to-date information available to them, plus access to experts in those fields.
Build the culture
As with most workplace issues, efforts to improve and support mental health well-being will be most effective if they’re championed from the top.
“If you’re going to have a corporate culture that acknowledges mental health as important as all physical health – the same as treatment for cancer or broken bones, for instance – it has to be made explicit by leadership and HR,” Mittag said.
So the stronger the support you get from the C-Suite, the more likely HR’s efforts to help employees with mental well-being will work.
One effective tactic Mittag shared: One CEO starts companywide meetings with a brief video on a mental health issue – for instance, work-related stress – and a tactic to help cope with it. Then the CEO shares a struggle he’s had with stress and how he deals with it. That helps normalize mental well-being for all employees.
And if you think – or know – you’ll get pushback when pursuing support for mental well-being support, remind the C-Suite that investments in it pay off. In a Deloitte study, researchers found for every $1 a company invested in mental health care, it realized a $6 return – on important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as improved employee productivity to reduced sick time.
Encourage proactivity and positivity
With the support of the C-Suite, you can likely build momentum in a well-being initiative that takes any negative stigma out of mental health issues.
Then you can hold and promote initiatives aimed at maintaining a mentally healthy workforce. You might create – or invite employees to create – mental health support groups that fit their interests. Some might use time in nature. Others might want yoga or meditation. Some others might want group therapy on issues that impact their lives.
Keep your focus on employee needs, and you’ll find positive mental health initiatives for your organization.