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How companies can prioritize employees' mental well-being

Your people are hurting. 

Many of us are struggling with what’s happening in society morally, politically and socio-economically. There is a heightened awareness of systemic challenges around the world. And there’s the added challenge of employees who are managing work, family and caregiver responsibilities.

With COVID-19 straining the health care system, resources and outlets to support mental health and well-being have decreased tremendously as the burden increases steadily.

For years now, companies have made the call for their employees to bring their whole and authentic selves to work. This invitation creates a greater responsibility for organizations to support all aspects of the individual, including feelings of stress, overwhelm and frustration. Employees are looking more to their employers to provide solutions.

The business case for supporting emotional wellness

Many executives need to see the business case for any new initiative. Our advice is to lead with the data where possible, including: 

  • Understanding employee sentiment and measuring engagement
  • Looking at the case count for mental health support requests
  • Determining mental health benefits utilization and claims for prescription medication supporting mental health
  • Assessing the use of employee assistance programs
  • Examining unplanned employee absences and requests for paid time off
  • Checking attrition from burnout or for health reasons
  • Noting changes in productivity

Most organizations have this data, but few aggregate it to create a view of employee mental health and emotional well-being. So, create a research project to access, analyze and report on the data. One person may be able to complete the task, or you can form a small group to distribute the tasks and create the report.

Cost is a barrier, or at least a perceived one. Overcome that by running a cost analysis on decreases in productivity or increases in absences and PTO. Contrast that with the cost of putting interventions or preventive programs in place.

5 ways businesses can support employee mental health

Once you have the data, begin to explore programs and services you can offer to meet your workforce's specific needs. Here are five popular options:

 

1. Offer digital solutions

Everyone’s wellness journey is different, especially in global organizations. You have to provide resources to reach people where they are, and the best, scalable option is through the use of technology. 

Use in-house or external experts to deliver live and on-demand webinars and group and individual training on resilience and well-being. Provide stipends for similar programming offered by other organizations. These virtual solutions provide additional resources and can be made available to anyone whenever they need them.

2. Promote your employee assistance program

If you have an EAP, let employees know that there are resources available to help them navigate their challenges privately and safely. Remind your staff about this option and review the services available, then encourage them to reach out confidentially to HR for more information.

If you don’t have an EAP, collect and share information on mental and emotional support programs in your community. Employee resource groups may also ease some of the burdens for employees.

3. Advocate for PTO

Even during work-from-home -- virtual fatigue is a thing -- employees benefit from taking official PTO. Encourage your team to use their vacation days even if they don’t go anywhere. We need that time to unplug and recharge even within the comfort of our own homes.

4. Create flexibility

Consider flex time to help employees who are also caregivers spread their commitments more sustainably. Allow for flex Fridays. This can be a pre-approved day off (that doesn’t count against vacation or sick leave) to unplug from work and recharge or a workday without meetings and deadlines to focus on skills building, social-emotional wellness or catching up on work.

5. Encourage professional support

Encourage employees to look to coaching and counseling. An unbiased person who can listen and help you talk through any and everything unfiltered, whether personally or professionally, is  invaluable. Offer to help employees understand the mental health benefits in their health insurance plans and determine whether you can provide full or partial financial support for coaching services.

Organizational leaders have a unique opportunity right now to begin supporting mental health in the workplace. The issue isn’t new, but when we layer in the effects of COVID-19, social unrest and racial tensions, the need increases exponentially.

When employees are healthy and engaged, they are more satisfied and productive at work. Focusing on and supporting the mental health of employees is not only the right and moral thing to do, it's a business imperative. 

 

Demetris W. Cheatham, JD, MBA, is the global diversity and inclusion lead for Red Hat and a lecturer at North Carolina State University. Allison McMurray is the senior director of Red Hat’s Global Talent Center of Excellence.