Working from home throughout the pandemic created a physical distance for many of us, but also brought us closer together through technology. In fact, some believe a remote work environment allowed our humanity to shine through more than ever.
We invited each other into our homes, saw a glimpse into personal environments and sometimes unexpectedly met family members and pets. Removing ourselves from the professional atmosphere, while simultaneously experiencing a global uncertainty and increased anxiety together, helped us connect on a deeper level.
With the uncertainty and constantly changing impact of Covid-19 on employees, the role of the human resources professional requires expansion into an even broader collection of responsibilities, including an increased focus on behavioral health. In the past, we referred employees to resources to help improve their mental health, yet never really followed up with each to see whether they took advantage of them or benefited from the experience.
With new fears and stressors compounded by a disruption of not only work routines, but also social interactions and home life, 51% of employees reported worse mental health at work since the pandemic began, according to one survey. The same survey showed 30% of employees were scared to disclose mental health issues for fear of being fired or furloughed.
As human resource professionals, we must guide our organizations to be transparent, flexible and resilient in meeting all employees’ needs. Our comfort level includes optimizing operations for better workflow and performance, but we must also maintain focus on the implications of behavioral health and the gamut of feelings affecting employees at all levels of the organization.
Acknowledging and normalizing these feelings as a genuine and authentic leader helps move the responsibility of HR from simply sharing the phone number for the employee assistance program to actually helping employees better navigate the organization and business differently.
Set The Right Tone At The Top
Historically, company leaders worked with human resources departments to effectively communicate with employees about workplace topics such as performance and training, while shying away from behavioral health. Training leaders to conduct productive conversations about behavioral health requires re-education to help them understand where the line between privacy and empathy falls.
In a recent national employer health survey conducted by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, approximately three-quarters of employers reported designating a mental health leader, with a subset of about 40% appointing them to executive roles. Their responsibilities include assessing benefits, ensuring access to treatment, monitoring employee well-being and mental health needs, and managing workplace programs related to behavioral health.
Leverage Available Resources
At Marathon Health, we recognize and value the leadership provided by Denise Myers, our National Director of Behavioral Health Services. Businesses unable to support a full-time mental health leader should leverage available resources and creatively find solutions to help employees cope.
In addition to mental health and wellness programs available through employee health benefits, companies that offer onsite health center options may increase engagement and create an environment that normalizes behavioral healthcare. As evidenced through a significant uptick in telehealth, virtual options improve access and offer convenience. Employees may benefit from flexible schedules, continued flexibility for working remotely or more paid time off.
To achieve a deeper understanding of what resources your employees need to manage change and uncertainty requires listening, providing a constant feedback loop and demonstrating an ongoing willingness to continually improve the environment. Assuaging employees’ anxiety may even be as simple as affirming their job security.
Listen, Understand And Acknowledge
We encourage our managers, supervisors and leadership to reach out on a personal level to each employee. This may include a phone call or a personal note for no other reason than to check in on the employee and recognize the recent uncertainty.
Utilize a continuous feedback loop, not only for customers but also for employees. Through surveys, we listened to and accepted the sadness and despair brought on by Covid-19 and started to proactively reach out and implement mental health seminars and self-care programs.
Understanding the everyday experiences of employees and their behavioral health needs will continue to evolve as we move beyond the pandemic. Organizations unwilling to embrace change or provide flexibility will lose long-term employees to other companies more willing to work differently and address employees’ physical and behavioral health needs.
Balancing the needs of the organization, while adhering to important CDC and state guidelines, and discussing the impact on behavioral health keeps employees healthy. For example, we gave our employees an opportunity to dedicate 30 minutes for three weeks in a row to discuss self-care, mindfulness and education in a workshop, and many took us up on our offer.
Our experience demonstrates that it’s okay to talk about behavioral health needs in the workplace, because we all experience them. When we give employees the ability to speak with someone about mental health in a safe work environment, it helps us all connect on a personal level, build trust for a stronger team and ultimately run a more productive organization.