Mental Health//

“We Should Do More Than Ask Employees To Practice Self-care – We Should Enable Them To Do So.” How To Walk The Walk With Mental Health

Mental health is more important than ever. Here's how you can help your team achieve personal and professional balance in today's environment.

Jelena Zelen/ Shutterstock
Jelena Zelen/ Shutterstock

Achieving personal and professional balance can often feel like an overwhelming goal; and these days, it is only amplified by the current environment as many are juggling working, care-giving and/or and schooling responsibilities from home.

This month, in recognition of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, one could argue that focusing on emotional wellness is more important than ever, with the coronavirus causing added stress on even those who may not have previously identified as struggling with mental health. While greater awareness and coping mechanisms are invaluable impacts of the month’s increased attention on wellness, for employers, it can’t stop there.

We should do more than ask employees to practice self-care; we should enable them to do so. It’s one thing to prescribe breathing exercises and another to create the space that allows employees to breathe. At the core, it comes down to not only talking the talk, but walking the walk.

As the head of global benefits for Bank of America – a company that operates with teammates’ wellness as its number one priority – my job is to reimagine benefits to make healthy, emotional balance achievable for each of our ~212,000 employees, and their families. Caring for our teammates on a personal level improves their professional performance, and vice versa.

Here are some ways to ensure employees are set up for success:

  • Benefits as a means to emotional wellness: This isn’t just about medical care, or even guided mindfulness sessions (although those are a widely-known favorite). We have a diverse set of teammates with diverse needs contributing to their emotional wellness – many of which have evolved as a result of the coronavirus. For example, at Bank of America many of our teammates have families at home and are under pressure to juggle childcare while working remotely. To help ease the strain and actively “make space,” we enhanced our child care benefits for eligible teammates to include daily reimbursements of up to $100 with no limit to the amount of days employees can claim, while working from home or in the office through year-end. Supporting our employees’ holistic wellbeing can often mean identifying their common stressors and sharing creative benefits and resources that help to address them.
  • Turning support into true action: It’s important to create an environment where teammates feel comfortable sharing honest responses to the question, “How are you?” When checking in, I emphasize the importance of not just asking the question, but being prepared for the response. Having courageous conversations is a great first step, but managers need to follow it up by providing clear direction about what resources, and benefits, are available, and where employees can go to seek help. Doing this effectively is largely about supporting managers with communications that provide awareness about what’s available to them and their teams. This is something that has served our teammates well as we continue to provide our leaders with resources and centralized places they can go to feel confident in supporting their teams.
  • Get buy-in from the top: If senior leadership doesn’t see the value in investing in a positive, healthy workforce, employees will feel it. At Bank of America, when the coronavirus began, our CEO – who, for years, has championed employee wellness at the bank – committed to no layoffs or job reductions in 2020 as a result of coronavirus impacts, and, working in partnership with Global Human Resources leadership, began ramping up benefits rather than stripping them away. During a time when mental health support is needed more than ever, retaining an authentic culture of caring for your people hinges on top-down leadership.

Right now, we are all managing seismic shifts in our daily lives, emphasizing a need to embrace emotional wellness as a top priority. If you are an employer, maybe it’s time to reassess the tangible impact your efforts are having on supporting the wellness of your teams. If you are an employee, use this time to refocus on mental health to determine what you need to best support yourself during this time. Balance is possible even in today’s environment.

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