By Gigi Acevedo-Parker and Wendy King
It’s been a tough year for our mental health. The pandemic and its fallout have created a buildup of pressures that have left many of us anxious and depressed. Employers recognize that this is their problem, too. If their workers can’t find the resilience it takes to get through times like these, employers must step up to put systems in place that will support them and maintain productivity during times of stress.
Today’s circumstances have placed organizational well-being and personal well-being at an intersection. This represents a challenge and an opportunity. Ultimately, an effective strategy to strengthen your mental health support system will include these aspects in its framework:
- Guiding leadership principles. You can’t go wrong by challenging conventional thinking as you look for solutions to relieve stressors and build resilience. Lead with a whole person and family “family first” mindset. Now might be the time to repurpose budgets and re-evaluate traditional voluntary benefit offerings to invest in programs and products that provide more intensive service and coverage.
- Recognize psychosocial stress reactions. Pay close attention to changes in your employees’ moods or behavior. Training your managers and supervisors on signs of distress, appropriate ways to outreach, and the support resources available will help transition these employees to the appropriate coping strategies. Common signs of mental health issues might include tardiness and absence from work, difficulty sleeping or feeling overwhelmed, agitation or even abruptness/aggression. Being attuned to potential issues enables you intervene in a timely manner thereby maintaining organizational health and productivity over the long term.
- Create a supportive environment. It’s key for organizations to proactively affirm, through actions and words, their support for employees who are finding it difficult to cope with the psychosocial pressures of the times. It starts with putting systems in place that remove barriers to receiving mental health treatment and building a stigma-free culture through training and awareness campaigns. Also, important: Emphasize the value of compassion. These are extraordinary times. Remind employees that it’s human to feel anxiety or fear, not a sign of weakness or incompetence.
- Physical and financial well-being programs count. There’s a well-documented correlation between mental and physical health, so it’s important to keep up with your current physical well-being programs – and even step up outreach. For example, look into an educational campaign on work-from-home issues like ergonomics, stretches and exercises, and break routines. Additionally, financial pressures were a big contributor to employee stress and anxiety before the pandemic. This has been further exacerbated by the uncertainty around the pandemic. Top financial wellness programs to promote include: EAPs for their financial counseling services and other resources like investment advisors, financial well-being webinars and financial coaching.
- How “family first” focus can lead to support. If you’ve adopted this sort of holistic thinking, you’ll want to devise a separate support and care strategy to ensure these needs are met and stressors relieved. What resources have you identified and promoted regarding homeschooling and childcare? What options are out there to help with eldercare? Also think about being flexible on the time people may need away from work to destress. Many employers are adding a new name or bucket of time for this and calling it “mental health days”.
- How to think about mental health resources. It’s important to inventory your current offerings. Do get help from your broker or other consultants as needed in evaluating the options. At the low-risk end of the intensity spectrum are mindfulness practices, mobile apps and campaigns to reduce stress. Coaching and coping support may be the right approach for medium-risk needs. These are often delivered through digital or telephonic channels, EAPs, stand-alone resources or within wellness or embedded carrier programs. More intensive therapy should be offered for high-risk conditions, including short-term counseling and referrals to behavioral health professional services. Therapy could be provided through digital means, teletherapy or in person.
The need for resilience among our people, our communities and our institutions, has perhaps never been more urgent than it is today. Helping your employees with a mental health support system to find a way to deal with the disruptions this time is creating will serve everyone better in the long run.