For all of COVID’s tragic and well-documented impact on the physical health of so many, one of the most profound, underappreciated, and still lingering effects of the pandemic has been the consequences on employee well-being and mental health.
The pandemic, in conjunction with some high-profile tragedies and perspective-altering social unrest, has prompted growing numbers of people to shift their perspectives on what’s truly important to them. At a time when so many have been disconnected from others, they’ve perhaps never been more connected with themselves.
Inevitably, this shift in perspectives has filtered into the workplace. Coming at a time when so many employees are burnt out and disengaged, this refocusing on personal and professional priorities has led to a reevaluation of organizations and career paths. Some people have headed for what they hope are greener pastures in what’s been dubbed the Great Resignation, the Big Quit, or the Big Reshuffle. Others have taken on entirely new job roles after realizing the path they were on was broken.
The pandemic clarified for many that stressful conditions and work environments that hurt their mental health weren’t necessarily something they had to accept or power through—but something they could change. In other words: work doesn’t have to be a necessary evil or a means to an end, but something that should be fulfilling and rewarding.
At the same time, discussion of the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace has been more prevalent. An issue that was all-too-often stigmatized in the past is no longer taboo to talk about. And, that’s a great thing. None of this started during COVID, but pandemic pressures have poured gasoline on fires that were already burning—and growing numbers of employees and employers alike are feeling the heat.
For employers, the twin challenges of a workforce under stress and employees more willing to take action and prioritize their mental health and well-being are creating challenges. Solving that problem requires addressing both substantive operational and managerial issues that contribute to employee mental health challenges, and implementing programs that support employee mental health and wellness.
Here’s how to make that happen:
If you don’t acknowledge the problem, how can you fix it? This starts with leadership. It can be difficult for high-performing individuals to put ego aside and have the insight and self-reflection to admit that something is wrong. That you, as a leader, might be contributing to a harmful dynamic. This acknowledgement is not about blame. It’s about recognizing that even the most well-intentioned and supportive managers can be part of the problem if they don’t have the tools to recognize and address issues that can adversely affect mental health.
Dig into your data. Is your turnover higher than normal? Are you seeing a rise in absenteeism and callouts? What do employee complaints look like? Examine these trends over time and break the data down by demographics, type of work (remote, hybrid, or in-office), and department. Exit surveys and stay interviews can also be extremely valuable, so make sure you have a system in place to secure honest and anonymous employee feedback.
“The pandemic brought out this desire to have meaning and purpose at work, and to see work as a way to live out that meaning and purpose. What we’re seeing now is this transition from a transactional relationship to a relationship where employees expect work to contribute to their happiness, joy and well-being.”
Debra Samuel, Consultant
Previously, mental health issues were often mistaken for or conflated with performance issues—inefficiency or absenteeism that costs companies billions of dollars annually. Making that connection and understanding the genesis of poor performance is a pivotal prerequisite to motivating companies to invest in measures that will have a positive impact on their employees’ mental health.
When it comes to mental health and wellness, don’t task your HR teams to “fix it.” HR issues and mental health and well-being are two different things. HR professionals can, and should, provide resources for employees; but, they are not trained counselors or psychologists. Few (if any) HR professionals are equipped with the tools and training to substantively address the root causes of employee mental health challenges. Assign a dedicated, experienced individual to focus specifically on mental health and consider working with a mental health expert to help identify your challenges, design your strategy, and potentially oversee your program.
Many organizations have addressed physical wellness and combatted burnout with in-house programs, reward packages and incentives, compensation, time off, and other measures. These programs look good on the surface, but frequently miss the mark because they aren’t looking closer at what is happening systemically. Until you fix the policies, procedures, cultural, and managerial issues that are contributing to stress and mental health difficulties, you’ll just be treating the symptoms, instead of the disease.
A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10x more important than compensation in predicting turnover. Take a close, comprehensive, and holistic look at your culture and your leadership. Identify areas of strength and opportunity. Prioritize emotional intelligence and empathy training for those in leadership positions and lean into diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging. Bolster your management toolkit with specialized training and education that can help leadership recognize mental health difficulties and understand what role they can play in working to address them.
Employees can’t succeed at a company until and unless they’re stable, satisfied, and fulfilled. But you also can’t succeed as a company until and unless your employees are stable, satisfied, and fulfilled. Workplace trauma doesn’t often get talked about, so the first step is awareness: bringing these issues into the light and acknowledging them. The next is investment: formalizing those conversations, hosting mental health classes at work, and reaching out for outside help. The final step is committing to making meaningful ongoing investments and implementing comprehensive programs and support for mental health and well-being.
“For an effective well-being and mental health program to come to life, the conversation around mental health has to start and awareness needs to be created around the issues impacting an organization. It’s an important first step in a long journey.”
Crystal Fulwood, Consultant
Lack of execution and follow-through is a common pain point, so make sure you engage in thoughtful strategic planning and utilize sustainable solutions. Don’t flail. Identify the issue and approach it thoughtfully and with the assistance of expert counsel. Secure the guidance and insight of a professional partner with special expertise in employee mental health and wellness.
The right partner will listen to you and your team and will dig deep to find and address issues—capitalizing on strengths and constructively addressing weaknesses. The result can be a game-changer for employee mental health and wellness, bolstering productivity, reducing turnover, and potentially becoming one of the very best investments you can make in the future success of your people and business.
From management training to culture transformation, Blue Beyond has the expertise and insights needed to help companies identify and address issues negatively impacting employee mental health and well-being. We help organizations gain clarity on how their people and processes help build thriving cultures, and provide the roadmap needed to implement positive change.