Posts

How and Why to Honor Mental Health Awareness Month at Work

Mental Health Awareness Month is here again. For leadership, it’s a critical opportunity to reassess how your organization supports the mental health of your workforce, and plot out a more effective course to do more.

Why do more? Mental health has never been more important. The pandemic not only brought the issue to the forefront but also exacerbated it. In a post we published last fall, the author called today’s mental health challenges a “bittersweet lesson.” I love that term (and his post is definitely worth a read if you haven’t already). Covid-19 and its impacts have forced leaders to look at mental health not just as a factor in performance, but in retention as well, and by extension, the whole enterprise. We’ve also seen how a whole range of factors — being minority, lgbtq+, having an existing mental health condition, or being in a difficult work situation can turn a minor issue into a major one.

So I’d say there’s some real urgency here. But one of the blind spots I’m finding among leaders isn’t a commitment to do more. It’s a commitment to understanding how mental health is interwoven throughout the world of work right now.

Connect the Great Resignation and Mental Health

Let’s acknowledge that most leaders don’t have the time or the bandwidth to play connect the dots on their own — another reason why occasions like this can be so useful. But even among top-notch HR teams and benefits experts, certain problems tend to get siloed in order to get solved. Triage is not a holistic approach, but mental health is.

Take one enormous — and nearly universal — a challenge facing workplaces: the Great Resignation. Some 47.8 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in 2021. This unprecedented wave of quits hit many sectors. It’s certainly still happening. And it has everything to do with mental health.

Attrition and Unhappiness

There are those who argue that the real reason for this surge of voluntary departures is opportunity, not discomfort; ambition, not unhappiness. They point to the hot jobs market as an irresistible chance to try the “grass is greener” approach, despite all that their employers have done for them. They note that younger generations have a different mindset when it comes to how long to stay in a given job. The urge to career climb may drive some to great heights — and you should celebrate that — but it doesn’t account for what’s happened with nearly 50 million people.

There’s plenty of tangible evidence that when employees aren’t happy, they try to find a place to be happier. It could be employees not feeling valued and workplaces being too toxic to thrive in. (For more on toxic workplaces and how to identify and then fix them, we published a great post that still holds true.) So while it may be easier to point your finger at a workforce getting too big for its britches, I don’t recommend it. While you do, you’re likely still losing employees.

Job Dissatisfaction Goes Deeper Than we Like to Admit

So why do people really leave? A recent Pew Research survey of more than 6,600 employed U.S. adults found that the top reasons cited for leaving one’s jobs in 2021 are all related to mental well-being in some form. These include low pay (63%), lack of opportunities for advancement (63%), and feeling disrespected at work (57%). Nearly half of the Pew survey respondents cited childcare issues (48%). Others said they were frustrated by a lack of flexibility (45%). A hefty portion of respondents (43%) cited the need for better benefits, including health benefits and paid time off.

Conditions of employment? Perhaps. But all of these are factors known to play a well-established role in either promoting or detracting from emotional and psychological well-being. Concurrently we’ve seen a rise in conditions such as anxiety and depression: from pre-pandemic to January 2021, reported symptoms of anxiety or depression among U.S. adults jumped from 11% to 41%. 

What Mental Health Really Means

This isn’t a judgment, it’s an observation: While organizations tend to know what they are required to do in terms of regulations, they don’t necessarily know how to best improve mental health in the workplace. There are clear rules spelled out by the ADA, FMLA, and other legislation that help maintain clear guardrails about workplace culture, clinical support, pre-existing conditions, benefits policies, and more. But it may be easier to focus on staying within legal compliance for the organization’s sake than drilling into why these actions are so important in terms of the workforce’s sake.

I’m also finding that most leaders — particularly in the C-Suite but also high-level HR execs and managers — have their hearts in the right place. But we all need more guidance on where mental health begins and ends in the workplace. Bottom line: these days, given the blurred lines between work and life, I don’t know that it ends at all. But it does help to know what mental health stands for: an umbrella term for hundreds of conditions, clinical or not, that comprise emotional, psychological and social well-being.

Ensuring a healthier, productive workforce starts with understanding who you have,” one of our contributing authors wrote recently. I’d concur — though it’s also important to understand the nature of your workplace, virtual, hybrid, on-premises, flexible, shifts, supervised or not. And you need to understand the overall culture of your organization — not just your projected employer brand — and how that plays a role in mental health. I’ll give you one example: Organizations that made “innovate!” a key imperative in their work culture are unwittingly (or not) putting employees under an undue level of stress, and may be increasing their own workplace attrition rates. An MIT research team found that the pressure to innovate is actually one of the primary drivers of attrition.

Factoring in the Costs of Unhappiness

In mid-2021 the Great Resignation caused at least a 1.1% rise in the rate of inflation, according to the Chicago Fed; and it’s certainly having an impact on the global economy, the supply chain, and the bottom line.

We also know that the cost of replacing employees who leave can run as high as $1500 per hourly worker, and note that the figure was calculated pre-pandemic — the costs could be even higher now. SHRM also estimated that for every salaried employee we lose, it can cost the employer 6 – 9 months of that employee’s salary to find a replacement. That, too, was a pre-pandemic metric. From that perspective, there’s a business case to be made for making sure your organization is doing all it can to support your workforce’s mental health.

Get on the Bus: 10 Actions to Celebrate Mental Health Month

To honor Mental Health Month, use the time to assess all the factors that contribute to and detract from emotional, psychological, and mental well-being in your workplace. Then, commit to making meaningful improvements. This isn’t a time for performative gestures, it’s a time to take actions that count. So here’s a quick list of possible strategies:

1. Invite full participation.

Enlist the whole organization so that anyone that’s interested can participate (inviting participation is itself a form of promoting mental health).

2. Make the month different.

Treat the month as an occasion. Consider making some radical changes for May to see if they have an impact on mental health in the workplace. For instance: make a month-long policy allowing for a half day personal break once a week, no questions asked. Try a no-contact after work policy, so people can decompress and work doesn’t come home with them. Bring in meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and exercise instructors for virtual or in-house classes. Provide access to on-demand webinars and courses about self-care, mental health, and staying balanced. Bring in SMEs to talk about mental health issues. When the month is over, ask your teams what they enjoyed, and what they would want to continue.

3. Assess your mental health benefits.

Have a summit with your benefits teams and providers to see what can be added to your mental health offerings. For instance, could you offer telehealth with therapists? What about childcare/caregiver support? How hard would it be to build more mental health support for your existing program?

4. Evaluate DEI in your work culture.

Discrimination, bias, and feeling isolated for one’s identity can take an enormous toll on individual mental health. Look at how DEI is working in your culture. You may want to reach out to those who may be feeling isolated or disadvantaged to get their take. Make a safe space for women, minorities, LGBTQ+, and others who may feel disenfranchised to speak their minds.

5. Check on the impacts of your workplace conditions.

Are your employees feeling a sense of connection if you’ve shifted to remote or hybrid working? If not, look for ways to increase it, and build community no matter where people are. What safety policies have you instated to make your workforce feel less at risk if they have come back to the office? If you’re all on multiple messaging and communication platforms, is there a way to scale back and free up some mental space?

6. Take the workforce’s pulse.

Survey all your employees on their state of mind. Make sure it’s clear that this is confidential, but invite and make room for candid input — not just pre-set answers.

7. Check in with your managers.

Reach out to your managers about their own mindsets, as well as the state of things on their teams. Your managers remain a direct line to your employees. Their mental health will certainly have an impact on the people who report to them.  

8. Evaluate your recognition and rewards programs.

Recognition and rewards are the most tangible proof that employees are valued and supported by the workplace. Don’t underestimate their power to boost self-esteem and a sense of belonging.   

9. Bring in leadership for a workplace roundtable.

Having a Q&A with leaders on issues of mental health is a great way to get leaders involved. Topics might include mental health awareness, emotional well-being, workplace stress, and mental health benefits questions. 

10. Track the results for the month.

Track data on your efforts the same as you would any other: mental health has its own metrics. Participation, survey results, questions asked in a Q&A, how managers rank key issues, and much more should all be shared, and used to take further actions to improve your mental health support system in the workplace. Bonus points if you conduct an open debriefing, where not only do you share the data, you invite your workforce to weigh in on their own experiences over the month.

Conclusion

Use Mental Health Month for a reckoning — but don’t stop there. Every time we talk about mental health on our #WorkTrends podcast (for just two great examples, head here and here), the conversation feels like it wants to continue. So keep it going. Steering the organizational ship is inherently complex, and decisions need to be made with context, clarity, and humanity. But they also have to be made with compassion, commitment, respect, and hope.

10 Ideas To Make Mental Health Support More Accessible For Employees

What are some ideas to make mental health support more accessible to employees? This question was posed to a group of talented professionals for their insights. From offering mental health holidays to flex work schedules, here’s what they had to say.

Offer Mental Health Days

Mental health Days are meant to be used when you have too much on your mind or when are feeling high levels of stress and anxiety. We can’t pre-plan how we will feel, so it’s important to allow employees to take unplanned days off.  Moreover, it is a great way to track the mental health of your employees. If someone is taking too many “mental health days” then you can reach out and support them! It’s easy to apply and simple, yet so few companies do it!

Annie Chopra, She TheQueen

Take Time to Communicate Benefits

In our brand new research on mental health, we found that employers rated themselves a “C” while the workforce rated employer support for mental health as an “F.” When you get into the data, you see that while companies are trying to make changes, these changes aren’t always felt by the workforce. We have to spend as much time communicating the changes and benefits we offer as we do actually selecting those benefits if we want to see real impact.

Ben Eubanks, Lighthouse Research & Advisory

Provide Health Coaching Sessions

Working with a qualified health & wellness coach has the potential to make a big difference in employees’ work and personal lives.  A health coach is NOT a licensed mental health practitioner. A good health coach IS a trained empathetic listener and motivator who works with people in groups or one-on-one. They help to create and work toward solutions to increase the enjoyment of life and work. 

Employers can offer coaching services onsite or remotely, in groups or individually.  The National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) certifies coaches who have completed specialized coaching training, demonstrated coaching skills, have experience working with clients, and passed a rigorous exam.

Ronel Kelmen, Attainable Transformation

Include Inspiring and Regenerating PTO Perks

We all understand that employees need sufficient high-quality PTO experiences in order to stay sharp, satisfied, and healthy at work. But what really makes PTO beneficial for our mental health is when that time is also inspiring. 

For example, we offer our employees three fully paid 24-hour days per year to participate in volunteer activities. Not only do these experiences give our team the chance to step outside their work and breathe, but while doing so they’re also engaging in work that can reignite and reshape their worldviews.

Tina Hawk, GoodHire

Promote a Work-Life Balance

Make sure your employees are taking time away from work on a regular basis. This means encouraging regularly scheduled vacations and not rewarding a burning the midnight oil mentality. You may get short-term results, but this type of schedule will often lead to burnout and far less productivity and motivation. 

A great leader challenges their employees to regularly rest, recharge, and connect with their loved ones. When employees feel valued, they will be much more motivated.

Mark Daoust, Quiet Light

Host Mental Health Fairs

One out-of-the-box way to make mental health more accessible to workers is to hold a mental health fair. These events function like traditional health fairs yet focus on psychological health. Booths can give out information on practices like stress management and avoiding burnout. Additionally, you can do activities like meditation and mindfulness worksheets. Beyond providing at-risk employees with resources, you can also use these fairs as a way to educate the workforce at large about mental health and help professionals to be better allies to psychologically vulnerable peers.

Carly Hill, Virtual Holiday Party

Encourage the Use of Wellness Apps

Employers can provide free resources and access to mental health apps. It can be a way for everyone in your company to get the mental health help they need, especially to prevent burnout amongst your employees. Using an app might feel less intimidating when seeking professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist.

You might not be there to visually recognize when an employee is overworking themselves. But with certain apps, they can get reminders to take breaks and maintain healthy habits during their working hours.

Scott Lieberman, Touchdown Money

Foster a “Life Happens” Culture

A healthy company culture understands that even the highest performing employees will face unideal circumstances that may take them away from work. A culture of ‘life happens’ understands that company needs shouldn’t supersede employee needs but ebb and flow. As we navigate turbulent times as a nation, we’ve all faced the universal truth that life happens, and sometimes things are out of our control.

Amrita Saigal, Kudos

Allow Flexible Work Schedules 

A remote or hybrid work schedule creates more flexibility for employees to take care of their physical and mental health how they see fit. Workers want freedom – time to spend with loved ones, take care of themselves, and travel – promoting one’s mental health on their terms. Allow the space and flexibility for your employees to take care of their mental health at their discretion.

Breanne Millette, BISOULOVELY

Train Leaders to Create Inclusive Environments 

Smaller businesses can make mental health more accessible to employees by equipping leaders with the tools and resources to have open, honest conversations and by creating a safe space for employees to speak openly without fear of judgment. 

Creating inclusive environments for conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia can go a long way in making sure everyone feels supported at work. By educating people about and accepting neurodiversity, you can create an inclusive and supportive workplace where everyone can thrive.

Dan Gissane, Huxo Creative

       

A New Era of Workplace Safety: Prioritizing Psychosocial Health

For too long, the workplace has been viewed as a mystical place where we bring a version of ourselves that is unbreakable. It’s a version of ourselves that powers through every obstacle, even if it takes a toll on our health. Sadly, it’s a version that is essentially unsustainable. How often have we seen an employee get lauded for “going above and beyond,” even when we know that what we’re saying is just code for working through illness. Or forsaking personal commitment? Or working well beyond reasonable and safe hours?

That attitude–celebrating the workaholic, to put it bluntly–is an example of how the conversation around mental health has been too narrow. It’s especially been too narrow when discussing mental health in the workplace. Also, until now, occupational health and safety management was focused almost exclusively on physical safety rather than psychological health. That changed this past summer. An international standard was issued in June to provide a structural framework to help businesses manage psychological health and well-being in the workplace.

In essence, the ISO 45003 Psychological Health and Safety at Work guidelines have two goals:

  1. Lay out global standards for organizations to create and administer an environment where the psychosocial well-being of employees is as clearly defined and cared for as their physical safety
  2. Offer a helpful baseline for HR professionals across industries to evaluate how effectively their organizations are providing a psychosocially healthy atmosphere, without the need for in-house specialists with deep expertise in mental health

For HR and training leaders, it’s important to recognize:

  • Three common mental health and wellness issues that organizations face
  • How the new standards for workplace safety could lead to a more psychosocially healthy work environment

1. A Stigmatized or Nonexistent Support System

The pandemic highlighted the lack of supportive environments for employee mental health at an organizational level. It also shed light on unsustainable and unfair workloads and untimely or ineffective recognition practices. Because of these issues, employees have very little time during the workday and very few, if any, tools to take care of themselves psychologically or emotionally. In a 2021 survey that covered 46 countries, 89 percent of respondents said their work-life was worsening. Eighty-five percent said their well-being had declined, and 56 percent said their job demands had increased.

A strategy for change: Discussing mental health openly at work starts with a clear organizational strategy. You need to create an environment of psychological safety. That means a workplace where employees feel comfortable being themselves and discussing emotional and mental concerns. The ISO guidelines go a step further. They ask top leaders to remember the important role they play in supporting these conversations. They also ask leadership to set a culture of protection from reprisal or judgment for employees who speak up.

2. A Diverse Workforce Has Diverse Mental Wellness Needs

More than nine out of 10 respondents in a 2021 survey felt that mental health should be a focus within the company culture, up from 86 percent in 2019. The increase shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that between 2019 and 2021, mental health was cited as an increasingly prevalent reason that employees left their jobs. Overall, 84 percent of respondents felt that at least one workplace factor negatively impacted their mental health. Further, the problem is most acute among Millennials and Gen Z.

The numbers were disproportionately higher among younger workers and members of underrepresented groups. Women, minority groups, remote workers (in some organizations), and the younger generation joining the workforce are all prone to feeling excluded from blanket policies and run-of-the-mill pledges of inclusion.

A strategy for change: Sure, companies have increased investment in employee mental health over the last decade. The global mental wellness industry grew nearly twice as fast as the global economy from 2015–2017 alone. But the quality and reach of these programs are what matters. ISO guidelines call out the need for organizations to consider the diversity of the workforce and the needs of particular groups around a psychosocially healthy workplace.

3. Burnout Remains Pervasive and Prevention Is the Best Cure

Meet the new mantra, same as the old mantra: Prevention is the best medicine. Yu Tse Heng, a researcher who uncovers ways to humanize workplaces, puts it this way: “It starts with employers, to protect employees from becoming resource-depleted in the first place. And it’s also on the employer to provide the resources necessary to support employees’ mental health.” The employee’s responsibility, meanwhile, is to try and understand where their burnout stems from and to craft a way to get out of it.

Even pre-pandemic, the results of implementing mental health programs at work spoke for themselves. In a 2019 study conducted by Deloitte and the Australian Institute of Health & Safety, the ROI for workplace mental health programs yielded $1.62 for every dollar invested. That’s just in one year. For companies with programs that had been implemented over three years, the median ROI was $2.18 for every dollar spent.

A strategy for change: Self-reflection and self-care are crucial to recovering from or preventing burnout. But the ISO reiterates the importance of employers implementing and maintaining support systems in the workplace for burnout prevention. For example, having trained personnel on staff who can take charge of these programs further mitigates the risk of psychosocial damage.

A Significant Opportunity for Organizations Ready for Change

As mental health and workplace safety become increasingly important and open subjects, employers are at a crossroads. Traditional solutions just won’t cut it. A vacation does not erase the dread of returning to a draining work environment. In fact, American workers last year left an average of 33 percent of their allocated paid time off on the table. At the same time, they reported a 49-minute increase in the average workday.

Organizations seeking a transformative solution to employee mental well-being should consider activating the new ISO guidelines. They present an opportunity for companies to take a fresh look at:

  • How they view employee mental health
  • The role their leadership is playing to change the company culture around mental health
  • The effectiveness of their mental health strategy for today’s changing workforce

As with everything around workplace safety, you can be superficial with fixes and apply Band-Aids to mask the issues. Or you can choose to step up and transform how you approach workplace mental health.

Employee Mental Health: It’s Not an “Either-Or” Proposition

In a bittersweet lesson, the pandemic has shone a bright light on the inequalities that we’ve lived with for far too long. These inequalities continue to affect the engagement, productivity, happiness, and mental health of so many unique groups within the world’s workforce. People are sidelined because of their gender or gender choice every day, or their cultural, societal, or ethnic background or beliefs. The cumulative impact of being minimized or overlooked because of one’s perceived differences builds barriers to a healthy mind. It also prevents equitable access to resources for mental well-being. Finally, the damage occurs even when the offending behavior is subtle, indirect, or unintentional. As a result, we all suffer.

What can employers do to change the story? The sources range from an employee’s personal life experiences to underfunded healthcare systems. They include poor leadership, overt discrimination, and stigma. The consequences are real, and they’re measurable.

A Sad New Triad: The Pandemic, Workplace Discrimination, and Employee Mental Health

Research in the last 15 years has demonstrated that when someone is mistreated because of their personal characteristics, it can have wide-ranging negative impacts on their mental and physical health. Discrimination can lead to anxiety, psychological distress, cardiovascular effects, and poor self-reported health status. Evidence also shows that mothers who experience racial discrimination are more likely to have babies with low birth weight (which in itself predisposes that child to more inequality). Workplace discrimination can also cause:

The pandemic exposed yet more discrimination in the workplace, adding new challenges to employee mental health:

  • Socially, culturally, or sexually diverse employees in the U.S. have experienced an average of 1.6 “acute challenges” during the pandemic. This compares with only one for incidents among their non-minoritized colleagues, according to McKinsey.
  • The same McKinsey investigation highlighted that two out of three self-identified LGBTQ+ employees report either acute or moderate challenges with mental health. They are also 1.4 times more likely than heterosexual and cisgender employees to cite challenges with fair performance reviews, workload increases, and losing workplace connectivity and belonging.
  • One in 10 women with young children quit their jobs because of the pandemic. The rate is nearly double (17 percent) for single mothers, according to KFF research.
  • The Latino community represents only 18 percent of the U.S. population but accounts for 29 percent of the COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.
  • COVID-19 also disproportionately affected Black workers. According to McKinsey, 39 percent of jobs held by Black workers in the U.S. were defined as “vulnerable” because of the pandemic. Comparatively, three percent of white workers holding similar jobs were subject to furloughs, layoffs, or being rendered unproductive during periods of high physical distancing.

Workplace Discrimination Has a Broader Impact

Discrimination affects each person’s mental health. It also inhibits their ability to access support for their challenges and stifles their capacity to remedy the root cause of their injuries.

Obviously, employer-sponsored mental health solutions are more important than ever–and for everyone in the workforce. It’s critical to ensure the solution you choose is accessible and suitable for your entire population. But it’s equally important to realize the limitations of the traditional “either-or” model of mental well-being–that we’re either mentally well or mentally unwell.

Fortunately, psychology is embracing a model of mental well-being that draws a wider net. It will also help remove the barriers built by social and cultural stereotypes. Finally, and over all else, it will more readily enhance employee mental health and well-being and company success.

Employee Mental Health Is Not A Yes-No Question

Since the 1950s, mental health has been guided by what’s called the “single-spectrum model.” It’s a paradigm that says mental health and mental illness are opposite ends of the same spectrum. In other words, it says mental health is the absence of mental illness. This model has been useful in helping people understand that everyone’s mental health fluctuates. But the either-or picture it paints can also be too simplistic and potentially stigmatizing.

This model automatically implies that someone cannot experience positive well-being if they are mentally ill. The evidence tells us otherwise. Today, we more fully appreciate that the single-spectrum model of mental health:

  1. Inhibits employees from getting help with mental health conditions (because of its either-or mindset toward mental illness)
  2. Doesn’t foster the potential of nurturing a healthy mind (but focuses instead on “fixing” mental health problems)
  3. Creates discrimination (by continuing the stigma around mental health)

The reality is that:

  • Every single employee is unique
  • Everyone’s mental well-being picture is different from anyone else’s
  • Everyone lives in a vast landscape of mental well-being. A yes-or-no response isn’t always appropriate when it comes to whether they’re mentally healthy.

So, it’s time to look at employee mental well-being from a perspective of whether someone is flourishing at work and home (that is, they feel good about their life and are functioning very well) or if they are struggling and languishing in life. This is a much more equitable and inclusive view of mental health and how it affects employees.

This Mental Well-being Model Help Remove Discrimination

With the right treatment and tools, someone experiencing chronic depression can feel purposeful in life. They can make valuable contributions to their team and the wider community. On the other hand, consider someone with no mental health diagnosis–or someone who has no symptoms they associate directly with mental illness. They can be ungrounded and disconnected from their work and family, and perform well below their norm.

This dual-spectrum model is underpinned by years of research and is about 20-years-old. It can help us stop pigeon-holing employees as being either mentally ill or mentally healthy. Instead, we have the opportunity to look at someone’s entire employee experience as a field on which those two areas play out. It makes us realize that positive mental health and mental illness are not necessarily polar opposites.

The dual-spectrum concept of mental well-being means having positive feelings and functioning. This needs to happen at home and at work, in personal relationships, and in colleague interactions. It also acknowledges that we can experience positive well-being regardless of any mental health condition. In other words, employees with mental illness aren’t always struggling. And those with no defined mental condition aren’t always doing well.

But in almost every case, and regardless of the model you subscribe to, the solution to discrimination’s harsh impact on mental health begins in the same place: with awareness and understanding. By appreciating that each individual carries their own experiences, identities, cultural and social richness, and viewpoints, we realize we have more that unites us than what separates us. With understanding, we can create empathy. From there, we can begin to overcome barriers, break stigmas, and smash glass ceilings.

There is no such thing as normal. We’re all unique. Everyone has the right to a healthy mind.

Taking Time Off Won’t Fix Employee Mental Health

For too long, employers have leveraged time off to support employee mental health. We’ve all heard managers or supervisors respond like this to a stressed and weary employee: “You’re feeling tired? Take some time off and recharge your batteries!” or, “You’re feeling overwhelmed? Use your PTO and step away for a bit.”

Unfortunately, anxiety and depression are worse for employees during the pandemic. But employers continue to rely primarily on time off as the solution. In fact, some companies are actually increasing the amount of paid time off they’re providing.

More than one in five companies are offering employees more vacation time this year, according to a survey from the executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Some employers have gone a little further by encouraging employees to unplug, and they’ve designated time during the week or month for employees to do just that.

  • One technology startup declared the last Friday of every month as an office holiday.
  • A 50-person business-to-business marketing agency in Texas permanently revised its office hours to be based on what it calls a “three-day weekend” calendar.
  • Technology giant Cisco last year introduced “unplug” days.

Other companies have gone even further to encourage employees to take time off. PricewaterhouseCoopers started paying employees to use their PTO—offering $250 for taking a full week off.

Yes, taking time off helps. But it isn’t helpful when it’s mandated as a preventive measure or treatment for burnout, stress, and other symptoms of mental ill-health.

Time Off Is a Double-edged Sword

As Erin L. Kelly, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, told Forbes, a vacation declaration essentially pushes some people to take unpaid leave when their families might be under great financial stress. And with the continuing high unemployment rate, people who feel lucky to be employed may think they’re taking a risk if they take vacation days.

Employees also may feel legitimate anxiety around taking time off, according to Kelly. In their minds, admitting they need a break will mark them as less committed and make them vulnerable to poor performance reviews. It can also result in missed opportunities for good assignments or shifts, or they may be targeted in the next round of layoffs.

So, will employees really take advantage of permanent three-day weekends and Friday afternoons without meetings? Will they really unplug when they’re scheduled to? Statistics say they won’t, and especially not workers in the U.S. American workers left an average of 33 percent of their paid time off on the table last year.

Better: Supporting Mental Health Every Day, for Everyone

Every mind is unique, and every person’s situation is different. And just as we all exist somewhere on a very wide spectrum of physical health, we are every day somewhere on a very broad spectrum of mental health: from barely coping to abundantly thriving, from totally disengaged to fully and productively engaged, from struggling to stay focused minute-to-minute to sustaining razor-sharp attentiveness.

And it’s not just about how we feel when we’re at work. What happens at work doesn’t stay at work, and what happens at home doesn’t stay at home. This is even more true as we continue to navigate the uncertain and constantly stressful impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Research has already proved the importance of focusing on a healthy work/life balance, of supporting employees to be more mentally fit in every area of their lives, personal and professional. Giving employees more time off is only a first step in preventing more frequent and more serious incidents of poor mental health in our workforces.

9 Steps Toward Greater Employee Mental Health

To be as effective as possible, consider these nine aspects of a proactive and preventative mental well-being strategy.

Accessibility

Ensure every employee has access to all of the mental health services and programs you offer— anytime, anywhere. A digital approach, for example, allows all employees to engage with resources however and whenever they want.

Data

Use data and insights to influence your wider strategy. Data on uptake, engagement, outcomes, improvement, and the collective well-being of your organization will help you track and understand the impact of your initiatives.

Training

Empower your managers to support mental health. Four in five managers believe it is part of their job to intervene when an employee shows signs of depression—but only one in three managers report having appropriate training to intervene.

Measurement

Empower employees to measure and manage their mental health and well-being. Online tools are available to help employees track changes in their moods and emotions, to better identify triggers, and ultimately be able to make better-informed choices about how best to respond.

Variety

Cater to a diverse range of needs and preferences. Everyone’s mental health and well-being are diverse, vibrant, and ever-changing. It’s also essential to consider how a diverse population will have different preferences, requirements, and outcomes.

Credibility

Have experts in their respective fields design your initiatives. Research has shown that only a small proportion of the thousands of mental health applications on the market are backed by clinical evidence.

Tone

Make your employee communication aspirational and engaging; talk about mental health as something to aspire to rather than hide from. The terminology and tone you use can have a significant impact on employee perceptions of your program.

Visibility

Combine a top-down and bottom-up approach to communication. Success demands an always-on communication strategy that continually reminds employees of the support, tools, and networks available to them.

Signposting

Direct employees to reactive support when necessary. Ideally, treatment-based support strategies need to be timely and offer a sense of choice in available treatment. One example: instant access 24/7 to your employee assistance program (EAP) with the touch of a button.

Key Takeaways

A proactive, whole-person approach to supporting employee mental health will create a culture of caring and support, an environment in which employees can express their emotional and mental challenges, and a workplace where mental health is understood, nurtured, and celebrated day in and day out.

Voluntary Benefits and Why Employers Should Offer Them

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated two recent and parallel trends in employee benefits. One is that more employers want to take a holistic approach to employee health and wellness. The other is that employees are increasingly looking to work for companies that show a culture of caring.

These trends, combined with other impacts of COVID-19 on the global workforce, have brought the value of so-called voluntary benefits to center stage. Employers should take note if they’re not already.

The Current State of Voluntary Benefits

Even before the pandemic, 41 percent of workers said they were likely to look for a new job with better benefits, according to Unum research. That percentage is even higher among the younger generations: 57 percent of millennials and 65 percent of Gen Z workers said they felt the same. Meanwhile, a recent employee benefits survey found that if employees had to choose between a high-paying job and a lower-paying one with quality health benefits, 88 percent would consider the lower-paying job. More telling, a majority (54 percent) of employees would “heavily consider” the tradeoff.

And employees are looking more closely at the benefits they’re being offered. During the last enrollment season, thanks to COVID-19, more than seven in 10 employees (71 percent) reported that they intended to spend more time reviewing their voluntary benefits. More than half (53 percent) planned to make changes to their benefits coverages.

No wonder 94 percent of employers now consider voluntary benefits part of their value proposition. That’s a massive increase from barely 33 percent of employers who felt the same way in 2018. When they were first introduced, voluntary benefits were considered icing on the cake. They were sweeteners to help close a deal with an employer buying basic medical (core) benefits. About a decade ago, the voluntary benefits market grew gradually, and then it exploded with a variety of supplemental benefit add-ons. Consider this: 63 percent of employers are adding child care benefits to their lineup this year.

Statistics to Consider

The subject of voluntary benefits has recently become a critical tool for employers to support employee mental health. It’s a topic that employers were just starting to focus on before the pandemic. This happened, coincidentally, when voluntary benefits were beginning to take off. The pandemic catapulted voluntary benefits into the spotlight. People everywhere were forced to work from home, social-distance, wear masks, and forgo most of their everyday social habits. Consider these telling statistics:

  • In early 2019, SHRM’s annual Employee Benefits Survey found “slow but steady increases” in on-site stress-management programs provided by employers, compared to five years prior. Stress management programs were up to 13 percent and meditation and mindfulness programs were at 11 percent.
  • Earlier this year, research by Randstad found that 41 percent of workers say their employers began offering new health- and wellness-focused benefits during COVID-19. Among those companies, “mental health assistance” was the third most commonly added benefit (13 percent). The number of companies adding benefits to support mental health was, in fact, statistically the same as for new “general health and wellness benefits” (14 percent). (At 20 percent, “flexible work hours” was the most prevalent new benefit.)

The increasing attention by employers to employee mental health is coming none too soon. Roughly two in five U.S. adults reported symptoms of either anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic—up significantly from one in 10 who reported these symptoms in the first half of 2019. The rate is even higher for essential workers (42 percent) versus nonessential workers (30 percent).

Developing an Effective Mental Health Initiative

These numbers shouldn’t alarm just HR and wellness professionals. All business leaders should take note. Why? Two reasons:

  1. The global cost of lost productivity, absences, and turnover caused by poor mental health is already estimated to be about $2.5 trillion annually.
  2. Employer investment in what one study called “effective mental health initiatives” can return an average of just over $4.00 for every $1.00.

So, where do you begin to find and implement an effective mental health initiative?

First, look for a solution that takes a four-part approach. You’ll need a solution that:

1) Takes a whole-person, whole-organization mindset

2. Includes tools and programs for all employees (not only those who are reporting mental health concerns)

3) Empowers employees and delivers practical insights to HR and wellbeing leaders

4) Has a human touch (support from experienced, dedicated service specialists) backed by solid science

To stay competitive in the new world of work, there really is no Plan B.

Overcome Your Self-Sabotage to Live a Confident, Empowered Life [Podcast]

Self-sabotage is the act of keeping yourself from achieving what you want. It can take a variety of shapes and forms, from anxiety to depression to negative self-talk. It happens both in your personal life and at work–and can wreak havoc in both. For instance, self-sabotage could mean the difference between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to get that promotion–and losing the opportunity completely.

To lead a fulfilling life, it’s important to develop deep self-awareness. By rewiring behaviors, negative thought patterns, and challenging yourself to change, you can take control of your self-sabotage and overcome what’s holding you back.

Our Guest: Therapist, speaker, and author Dr. Candice Seti

On the #WorkTrends podcast, I recently spoke with Dr. Candice Seti, therapist, speaker, coach, and author of The Self-Sabotage Behavior Workbook. In her private practice, Candice works with individuals to help them through maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns. The aim is to replace those patterns with healthier ones that allow her clients to overcome self-sabotage and see success in their personal and work lives.

Because self-sabotage is so prevalent in the working world, I wanted to get Candice’s professional opinion on why we do it. Why would we voluntarily engage in behaviors that hurt us?

“Where to begin? Fear, comfort, self-doubt, anxiety, just poor self-esteem. I mean, there are many reasons we self-sabotage. But mostly, it’s habitual. Habits develop and ultimately reinforce themselves … they create self-fulfilling prophecies,” Candice says. “So we just get stuck in that habit loop … so it very easily creates a pattern, which is part of the problem.”

Another part of the self-sabotage problem that existed pre-pandemic has been further exacerbated by COVID-19. More people are experiencing the effects of self-sabotage due to major life changes and emotional ups and downs.

“With the impact of the pandemic over the last year, stress levels have increased exponentially. Work changes have been implemented and there’s been a major increase in self-sabotaging behaviors as a result. I mean, you definitely see it in the workplace with things like procrastination taking stronger form,” Candice says. “You’ve also seen more social avoidance and emotional eating.”

Overcoming Self-Sabotage: Breaking the Cycle

So if self-sabotage is so pervasive, what can we do to break the cycle? According to Candice, the first step is to be aware of how negative thoughts are manifesting in your mind. She says you need to pay close attention to the voice in your head telling you that you can’t do something, or you’re not good enough, or you should put tasks off.

“Pay attention to that voice. Not only what is it saying, but how you’re responding to it and what behaviors you’re engaging in. Then, you’ll have a good, solid understanding of what your self-sabotage looks like,” Candice says. 

Once you understand it, says Candice, then you can figure out a plan of attack. For example, if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, where you believe that you’re not experienced enough to be doing your job, you can combat those negative thoughts with positive ones. Focus instead on your achievements and capabilities, rather than any failings you may encounter. This will help build your confidence and drown out the self-sabotaging dialogue.

“Self-sabotage is rooted in fear,” Candice says. “Think about how you can start facing those fears to prove yourself wrong and start building your confidence and challenging those fears.”

Once you face your fears head-on, your whole relationship to success changes. By being aware of what’s holding you back, you can become empowered to go after what you want.

“For most people, when fear of success is the driver, it’s not enough to just say, ‘I want to succeed.’ You have to actually challenge the fears because those are what are keeping you rooted in that self-sabotage,” Candice says.

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. You can learn more about taking control of your fears and combating self-sabotage by connecting with Candice Seti on LinkedIn.

HR in a Post-Pandemic World: Where Are We Headed?

As a human resources professional, you’re no stranger to thinking on your feet and solving complex problems. You never quite know what you’re going to get on a given day in the office. An employee complaint? Someone putting in their two-week notice? News of a budding office romance? These are run-of-the-mill challenges. But no one could have predicted what happened in 2020 and 2021. Or what will happen for HR in a post-pandemic world.

When COVID hit, HR professionals had a lot to figure out, from navigating the shift to remote work to managing furloughs and layoffs. Clients left, offices shut down, and employees struggled with their mental health the longer quarantines dragged on. A lot of unforeseen situations cropped up, and HR rose to the occasion.

In addition to solving the pandemic’s logistical challenges, HR departments answered the call to build more inclusive and diverse workforces as the U.S. became more aware of ongoing racial violence. Quite a few professionals felt like they needed to do more to help their industries and companies focus on representation and accessibility. So, they juggled their day-to-day responsibilities and developed companywide diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

The role of HR is evolving. Today’s professionals are talent managers, counselors, and advisors. As we enter the era of the post-pandemic world, it will be critical for everyone to embrace these changes. Here’s what you can expect to do going forward.

1. Renew your company’s focus on diversity and inclusion.

As the world reopens, HR professionals are renewing their focus on finding diverse talent for their firms. If you’re in this position, take the time to search for candidates with diverse backgrounds. Try posting your job listings on several platforms for a set amount of time to ensure that various applicants can find you. This will help you widen the voices and perspectives at your company. It will also demonstrate to your current employees that this is a priority, which 86 percent of employees strongly value, according to the Citrix Talent Accelerator report.

Another way to improve diversity and inclusion in a post-pandemic world is to consider your internal development and internship programs. How does your company handle promotions? Without an explicit selection or application process, unconscious bias can creep in. Where do you look for interns? For instance, if you’re an agency, you might usually bring on marketing students from a local university. But if you only recruit from that university, you limit your candidate pool to its demographics. Try advertising your internships through organizations that reach BIPOC folks.

2. Create and enforce new work-from-home policies.

When the world shut down in 2020, HR professionals sprung into action to create updated work-from-home policies. In the past, they may have allowed people in specific roles to work from home occasionally or on certain days. Suddenly, they had to find ways to make everyone’s jobs remote.

That alone was an accomplishment, but it also created countless questions about the future of work. People are accustomed to working from home now, and they hope to telecommute a day or two a week after the pandemic is over. According to the same Citrix report discussed above, about 88 percent of workers say complete flexibility in hours and location will be an important consideration in future job searches. As an HR professional, it is your responsibility to decide what’s best for your employees and create policies accordingly.

3. Address mental health concerns.

Mental health was a significant concern during the pandemic—and for a good reason. People were completely isolated from family, friends, and co-workers for months on end. They had to deal with unprecedented obstacles in their work and personal lives, and they had to give up many of their routines and hobbies without warning. This affected many individuals’ mental health in significant ways.

With this in mind, it will be essential to help employees set boundaries for turning off their laptops and taking time away from the office. As an HR professional, the best thing you can do is lead by example. Don’t answer emails after a particular time of day, and communicate your boundaries with employees. While you’re at it, tap into any resources you recommend to your workforce. And if you’re one of the 61 percent of employers that offer mental health benefits, be sure to communicate what’s available to everyone in the company.

The past year or so has been one for the books. HR professionals had to deal with a seemingly endless list of unforeseen challenges, but there was a silver lining. These issues challenged HR departments to revisit their cultures and policies, helping them understand the importance of prioritizing diversity and inclusion, flexibility, and employee mental health. In a post-pandemic world, it will be important to embrace these responsibilities and usher in a new future for HR.

How to Be a 2021 Leader: Help Bring Employees Back on Their Terms

Just when everyone got the hang of working from home, employers are bringing whole departments back to working in office settings.

According to CNBC reporting, Google and Bloomberg are among the 70 percent of companies that intend to put an end to mass telecommuting within the coming few months. Yet not all teleworking employees are eager to change their daily habits once again.

Some people had a chance to discover how they truly worked best. Many found that working from home allowed them to spend more time with family, eat dinner at normal times, exercise during the day, and wake up on their own terms. Pew Research Center insights show that more than one-third of remote workers say they can now balance all their familial and professional responsibilities. Similarly, about half are enjoying the freedom to choose how they divvy up their hours.

How to Be a 2021 Leader

This puts a high degree of pressure on corporate talent managers and leaders like you. On one hand, you want to get your operations back to pre-pandemic norms. On the other hand, you can’t ignore the sweeping effects that the pandemic has had on people’s daily routines. The flexibility to structure one’s day in a more balanced way has been refreshing, and lots of employees learned that remote work could be highly beneficial (and quite productive).

What’s the bottom line? Above all else, you have to understand that telework may feel isolating to some, but not to all. A good number of your employees won’t immediately forget the advantages they enjoyed by avoiding hairy commutes—or the need to dress up beyond throwing on a “Zoom shirt” now and then. And most won’t love paying once again for fuel, daycare, or expensive lunches.

This doesn’t mean that employees will launch walkouts (or perhaps home work-ins?) en masse. Most understand that getting everyone back into the office setting can be advantageous. At the same time, if a company is working to bring employees back, workers expect and welcome patience, creativity, flexibility, and empathetic leadership from their managers. Begin by taking measures to support an environment of collaboration and connection.

1. Allow flexibility for telecommuters returning to “home base”

Even as organizations bring employees back to work, some workers may want additional flexibility to deal with the transition. Support your people by enabling them to potentially switch working hours or even try hybrid workweek solutions.

Can’t offer a hybrid option long-term? Float one in the interim just to ease everyone’s tensions. Let’s say you have employees who can’t quite make the transition seamlessly within a week or two. Maybe they have to line up babysitters, or perhaps they are still caring for sick relatives, or simply need the time to adapt to the change. Seek out ways to gradually bring employees back at a pace that works for everyone.

2. Continue to overcommunicate with your team

During COVID, you probably began to communicate more often with your team members to fill in the interaction and collaboration gaps. Now isn’t the time to scale back on initiating conversations or sending emails. Instead, keep up with consistent dialogues and informational flow. Set up routine check-ins too. Ask employees how they’re doing, what you can do to support them, and whether they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Overall, make transparency and open dialogue your guiding motto and mantra. Even though the office may seem “normal,” it’s not. Workers are hungry for information they didn’t think about before 2020.

3. Focus on your employees’ safety needs

Many workers, including ones who are vaccinated, remain wary about coming back to an environment where they see colleagues—and maybe clients or vendors—in person. Ease their fears about their health and well-being by sharing the safety measures your company has put in place.

These could include building enhancements, workstation rearrangements, or cleaning protocols. Again, it’s not possible for you to overemphasize what your organization is doing to keep everyone as protected as possible.

4. Anticipate people’s psychological needs

Although you can’t predict how each worker will react when you bring employees back to the office, you can plan for some emotional ups and downs. Many employees re-established their top personal priorities during the pandemic. This means they might need different types of emotional support than they did before.

For instance, a team member who experienced extreme stress or anxiety over the course of the past year may need to transition more slowly into pre-COVID workflows. Stay attuned to each person’s responses. As Gallup has noted, leaders likely will have to face some hard, deep conversations. Your talks may make you uncomfortable or take you outside your element. Need help? Lean on your trusted human resources representative or employee assistance vendor for guidance.

It can be tempting to just bring your whole staff back into the fold at once and be done with it. But you can’t pretend that the past year didn’t happen. Instead of moving suddenly, take some small steps toward the next norm. Your people will appreciate your concern for their well-being.

Why Companies Focusing on Workplace Design Thrive

Companies have specific priorities to help them create traction and build better businesses. They make sure their finances are going well, remain competitive, and engage employees for optimal productivity.

However, during 2020, unprecedented shifts happened. The pandemic and quarantine greatly impacted how organizations operated. Chiefly, among those impacts, were shifts in workplace wellness programs.

Companies were in survival mode, but they also had to address physical safety concerns due to COVID-19. They had to set up work-from-home measures and help combat feelings of disconnect associated with a remote workforce. Now that we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, companies are beginning another shift from surviving to thriving. They’re expanding their typical view of employee wellness to fit long-term needs.

How to Improve Well-Being in the Workplace

Last year, we saw a rapid evolution in the workplace wellness space. Many companies are learning that employee well-being can affect engagement, productivity, and the bottom line. They’re also discovering that more than just the typical aspects should be included in their wellness programs. A modern wellness program should go beyond telling individual employees how to improve their physical health, for example.

Today, the following should be integrated into a comprehensive strategy.

  • Physical well-being | This is the most traditional aspect of a company’s wellness program. It’s related to offering activities and support that focus on physical health.
  • Mental health | Employees’ mental well-being has garnered attention and investment recently—especially in light of pandemic stressors.
  • Community and connection | A remote workforce highlighted that relationships and employee engagement need to be redefined and fostered more intentionally.
  • Telehealth and employee assistance programs | Providing remote medical resources and assistance programs helps employees overcome issues more easily.
  • Financial health | A notoriously overlooked, yet critical element of workplace wellness programs includes providing financial planning support, resources, and even extended paid leave.
  • Workplace design | Workplace design is an emerging trend that highlights how employees’ work is actually designed to alleviate stressors, improve engagement, and boost productivity.

Proof That Workplace Design Works

Companies that focus on improving their workplace design are experiencing positive results. Microsoft Japan is a great example of an organization using workplace design as a strategic mechanism to increase productivity. It implemented a four-day workweek, encouraged 30-minute meetings, and emphasized its chat messaging system over email. The results? A whopping 40 percent swell in productivity.

To determine the return on investment of workplace wellness programs such as Microsoft Japan’s, measuring employee engagement is key. An engaged workforce has a slew of advantages. These include greater productivity, fewer absences, and increased retention rates. In turn, all of these benefits of workplace wellness programs that focus on workplace design lead to a more profitable company.

Workplace Design as a Strategic Mechanism

Implementing and integrating a thoughtful and strategic work design with well-being in mind is an important step for organizations that want to be industry leaders. There are three key areas of focus that will help any company improve wellness in the workplace using creative workplace design:

1. Stay up to date on technology trends

Keeping up with new technology that enables employees to work remotely with more efficiency and engagement is key to modern workplace design. By staying abreast of emerging trends and better technology practices (such as virtual private networks and desktop-as-a-service offerings), companies set their remote or hybrid workforce up for success. In addition, setting up Slack channels or Zoom meetings that function as virtual break rooms can increase engagement.

2. Create new cultural norms

Your team won’t know how to improve well-being in the workplace using workplace design without a cultural shift that starts at the top. When leaders model the changes in a company’s modern workplace design, employees are much more likely to follow suit. Set up walking meetings, flexible work hours, and a culture of no-meeting days to combat Zoom fatigue. Also, be sure your leadership team embraces those practices.

3. Allow employees to choose wellness initiatives

Not every wellness practice suits every team member. Some (say, parents) might prefer flexible hours, but others might choose to work from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Make promoting workplace wellness programs part of the company’s day-to-day. But let your employees pick what works for their lifestyles and preferences.

Companies that pivoted to survive the pandemic must continue to be flexible with their thinking and business practices. It’s clear there’s a “new normal” for a company culture that includes support for remote work, intentional employee engagement practices, and investment in employee well-being in general. Embracing modern workplace design is the next step toward creating an organization that doesn’t just survive, but also thrives.

The Real Girl in Red and What It Means for Employee Mental Health

“Do you listen to the girl in red?”

It’s a good question for anyone whose job it is to understand workplace culture and employee mental health. The question has become a coded way for women on social media to ask each other if they’re queer. But for HR and talent leaders, the question carries significance beyond gender identity.

The hashtag #doyoulistentogirlinred was created in April 2020. The tag was the outgrowth of Girl in Red, a pop music project of Marie Ulven. She is a 22-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter and record producer. Ulven shot to prominence between 2018 and 2019 with homemade bedroom-pop songs about queer romance and (here’s the connection for employers everywhere) mental health.

In a recent interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition, Ulven discussed fame, sexuality, her new album, and her battles with mental ill-health.

She specifically talked about the continuing stigma that prevents so many people from speaking out or seeking support for their mental health challenges. Even the name of her new album, “If I Could Make It Go Quiet,” speaks to a challenge that many people face: undesired intrusive thoughts they can’t control.

The stigma is real. Are you listening?

Another song on Ulven’s album called “Serotonin” is even more direct about Ulven’s struggle with mental illness.

“I’ve been struggling with intrusive thoughts my entire life, and I’m just mentioning a couple in this song,” Ulven told NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

When asked what she hoped people would take away from this song and her experiences with mental ill-health, Ulven replied, “I really hope that people feel less crazy.”

“I think it’s so important to just hear that a lot of people have these thoughts,“ Ulven continued. “I’ve been scared about jumping in front of trains, been really scared of being at train stations. And I’ve had so many people message me about that, like ‘I relate so much to this song.’”

Her audience is your workforce

In general, Ulven might just as well be speaking on behalf of a huge percentage of today’s workforce. For example, one estimate says more than six million people in the United States may experience intrusive, worrying thoughts. Amid the stress and upheaval caused by COVID-19 and so many social and political events in the last year, a growing number of employees are:

  • Urging employers to be proactive and provide preventive programs and tools to help them navigate their mental health
  • Increasingly saying they want to work for companies that have a culture of caring for the whole employee—including physical, social, and mental aspects

Even before the pandemic, in 2019, one study investigating the attitudes of employee mental health found that:

  • 86 percent of survey participants thought a company’s culture should support mental health.
  • 75 percent of Gen Z employees (like Ulven, currently between the ages of six and 24) and half of millennials left roles in the past for mental health reasons (voluntarily and involuntarily), compared with 34 percent of respondents overall.

Unfortunately, too many employers aren’t getting the message. A recent study by Unmind and WELCOA found that:

  • Barely one in three employers (37 percent) feel they have a strong understanding of the mental health and well-being of their people.
  • Only 64 percent of employers have a strategy in place for specifically managing employee mental health and well-being.

The light at the end of the tunnel: the mental health train headed in your direction

Yes, Americans are starting to return to the workplace, returning to the rituals of after-work drinks and lunching together at nearby restaurants. But the fallout of COVID-19 will be felt in the workplace for quite a long while. With this in mind, a year of living in fear, isolation, and sorrow may have taken a toll on the mental and emotional health of your employees.

“We’re seeing pretty alarming numbers,” says Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association (APA), who oversees its Stress in America survey. “People’s bodies and minds just aren’t in quite the fit place they were in a year ago.”

At the same time, most employees are afraid to talk about being stressed out and possibly burned out. According to a recent survey by Joblist, almost 48 percent of employees fear negative consequences. Namely, they’re concerned they may be denied a raise or promotion if they talk about work stress.

What can you do? Chiefly, Unmind argues that the answer lies in embracing the new vision of workplace mental health. The first step is to understand the four foundational elements needed to help manifest a  proactive, prevention-based approach to employee mental health.

Those four pillars are:

1. The whole-person, whole-organization mindset

Basically, this should be the north star for any employee mental health solution. It aims to do more than respond with a treatment to mental health issues. Or simply ease employee stress and anxiety.

2. No employee left behind 

Too many mental well-being platforms and apps simply fail to empower everyone to navigate their own situation. With this in mind, instead of offering treatment options only for the one in five U.S. employees who report having mental health concerns, solutions should offer programs and tools for everyone.

3. Empowerment for employees and insight for HR and well-being leaders

An optimal mental health platform will only succeed if it can deliver on three critical drivers of its value. These include 1) measurement of outcomes, 2) variety of programs and tools, and 3) accessibility for everyone. It will empower employees with a variety of tools. These can include self-guided programs, in-the-moment exercises, daily diaries, and the receiving of gratitude and praise.

4. Human touch and solid science

The new vision of workplace mental health demands the right support for you and your employees. The science and software behind even the best-planned solution will be next to useless without proper vendor support.

With those pillars to build upon, you would have a proactive workplace mental health platform. Also, you would have an authoritative and trusted partner to help deliver better well-being, improved employee performance, and enriched company culture, and a stronger brand.

In addition, far fewer of your employees would feel alone and disenfranchised. As you create a new beginning for workplace mental health, you’ll be offering your employees something positive as they enter a  post-pandemic world.

 

Image by Andrea Piacquadio

The Languishing Issue: Help Employees Move from Stuck to Strong [Podcast]

Ever get that blah feeling? That surge of listlessness you can’t explain? The thing that keeps you in bed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer until 8:13 am when you have a work Zoom meeting at 8:15? Well, that blah feeling is called languishing, and it’s what some are calling the dominant feeling of 2021.

Languishing is a newly discovered mental health state that encompasses a sensation characterized by apathy, dissatisfaction, and loss of interest in most things. And it can dramatically affect your success at work.

With 85 percent of employees reporting that they’d take a $5,000 pay cut to feel happier at work, and with so many employees leaving companies at a rapid rate–employers and employees both need to take languishing seriously.

Our Guest: Maya Garza, VP of Solution Consulting and Behavioral Science at BetterUp

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends I was excited to talk to Maya Garza, vice president of solution consulting and behavioral science at BetterUp, about the languishing phenomenon. Maya leads the team of behavioral scientists who serve as executive advisors to our partners. With over 15 years of experience working with Fortune 500 organizations to implement human-capital solutions, she’s an expert at maximizing human potential.

I asked Maya what she thinks the most overlooked employee issue is to date. Unequivocally, she said, it’s mental health and well-being. And that is due in part to a widespread misunderstanding of mental health issues.

This lack of understanding can hurt the company, Maya explained, because BetterUp research shows that 55 percent of employees are languishing.

“Those who are languishing experience heightened stress and physical and mental exhaustion,” Maya said. “Employees at work might feel overwhelmed, down on themselves, or uninspired … They might even put off what used to be a challenging or an exciting task. That turns into a snowball effect that then leads to stress and burnout and lack of innovation.”

How can everyone deal with the experience of languishing?

The first step to managing the experience is to admit that you’re languishing. 

“Simply asking yourself where you are mentally is actually a helpful diagnostic tool. And next you might want to think about, well, gosh, how do I get myself out of that?”

Maya suggests celebrating small wins and reminding yourself what you’re grateful for. Research shows that these practices help improve mental health. Of course, Maya says, it will take more than individual employee actions to help with organization-wide mental health issues.

“Moving yourself from stuck or languishing to truly flourishing is really hard to do. You don’t solve it by one walk or one talk with yourself. You really do need systemic intervention. And I think this is where HR can really be that thought partner for managers and for leaders,” Maya says.

“What it really comes down to is: Is the leadership at your organization being intentional? Are they really deeply thinking about aligning their words and their actions? So remember, we are humans first, we are employees second … Change is accelerated from the bottom up and we need to invest in the potential for every employee to really be at their best.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends sponsored by BetterUp. I think we could all benefit from imagining what our teams can do if they’re feeling their best, and how we can make that so. You can learn more about this topic by connecting with our guest, Maya Garza, on LinkedIn.

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh

Employee Mental Health Needs: Everyone Loses with A Reactive Approach

It’s now starkly obvious that the coronavirus pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives — not the least of which is the mental health of our employees. Rates of anxiety, stress, and depression are all up. The good news is that many companies have responded by increasing investments in their existing well-being programs.

A recent survey of 256 companies by the nonprofit National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions found that 53% now provide special emotional and mental health programs for their employees.

Some of these programs have garnered media attention:

  • Starbucks began providing access to 20 free counseling or coaching sessions, which can also be accessed by family members, at no cost.
  • Unilever launched a 14-day mental well-being resilience program for its employees.
  • Professional services firm EY now offers live daily workouts online to help reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Goldman Sachs now gives employees an extra ten days of family leave annually to take care of personal needs.

Missing the Mental Well-being Mark

Offered by four very employee-empathetic brands, those types of initiatives are valuable — as far as they go. But here’s the unfortunate reality: Most of today’s mental well-being solutions:

  • Have no underpinning in clinical psychology
  • Often focus solely on treatment
  • Fail to be proactive or treat the whole employee

In other words, the common wisdom around employee mental well-being is both backward and ineffective. In the end, these programs are band-aids. They don’t help sustain and nourish every employee’s total well-being — including their mental health. These programs also fail to help build your company culture and employer brand.

Why don’t they work?  Because they don’t empower employees to proactively identify and prevent mental distress and ill health. You see, it’s not enough to give employees the kinds of tools and programs that will support and potentially help them mend when the going gets tough, and their mental health suffers. You need to get ahead of the game.

Mental Health Needs: The Bigger Picture

Step back and consider this: Everyone has mental health all the time. Everyone, every day, is somewhere on the spectrum of mental health wellness.

Yet, our current mental health programs are nearly exclusively treatment-based. They’re designed and built to support the 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. who annually experience some form of mental health illness. Workplace mental health programs are no different.

The mental health of those 1 in 5 shouldn’t be the only ones considered during a pandemic — or at any other time.

After all, you don’t expect your employees to wait until their teeth are rotten to start brushing or getting regular cleanings, do you? To avoid developing severe problems down the road, they brush every day (you hope!). You also hope they see the dentist at least now and then.

It’s time to start treating your employees’ mental health the same as their dental health — proactively, holistically, and with tools and wisdom from trained professionals.

The Best Approach to Mental Health Needs

To fully support mental health, you, of course, first need an approach that mitigates the stress and anxiety we see today. But, going forward, you also need a proactive approach to supporting well-being. (By the way, only 6% of workers use the employee assistance programs provided to them, so there’s not much help there.)

Next, you must realize that employee health isn’t one-dimensional, and successful well-being programs can’t be one-size-fits-all. The answer is a whole-person, whole-organization approach that:

  • Applies preventive mental health strategies that affect change in any individual’s psychological, physical, and social well-being (the three spheres of the human condition)
  • Is individualized for each employee

The Wrong Approach to Mental Well-Being

Let’s face it: Perks like a limited number of coaching sessions, more flexible work schedules, and mindfulness apps can be helpful. But they assume your employees know precisely what they need at any given moment. They also believe employees understand where they are on their mental health journey.

Lastly, it’s essential to understand that most of today’s mental well-being solutions didn’t start from a clinically proven mindset. This means they don’t address the whole person — psychological, physical, social (maybe you’ve heard this as “mind, body, heart,” or similar). Neither do they address the seven aspects of daily life that nourish and support mental well-being:

  1. Happiness
  2. Sleep
  3. Coping
  4. Calmness
  5. Health
  6. Connection
  7. Fulfillment

You can take significant steps to prevent mental unwellness by nourishing those seven aspects of daily life. You’ll also improve your company culture and improve your employer brand. After all, employee mental health is out in front of everyone today.

Today’s Mental Health Reality

Compared to the start of the pandemic, a recent Qualtrics and SAP study of over 2,700 employees across more than ten industries found:

  • 75% feel more socially isolated
  • 67% report higher stress
  • 57% have greater anxiety
  • 53% feel more emotionally exhausted

The effects of 2020 will undoubtedly continue to impact the mental health of your employees. It’s cold comfort to note that the pandemic has opened employers’ eyes to what has been silently occurring below the surface for a long time: Their employees’ mental health, just like their physical health, is always in need of support. It can’t be ignored, and it certainly shouldn’t be. Unless, of course, you want to see the financial impacts of a workforce that’s left entirely to its own devices and is wholly unsupported.

Seek out a proactive, preventive, and clinically based mental health platform that addresses the whole employee. Don’t settle for one that can’t ensure the health and well-being of the whole person and your whole organization.

You can improve employee mental health. Start now by focusing on ways to help employees be healthier, more resilient, and more productive for whatever the uncertain future brings.