It’s no secret companies and their employees are living through turbulent times. A once-in-a-century pandemic, supply chain chaos, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and 40-year high inflation rates are transforming our lives and our workplaces. The accumulating challenges of our day make it critical for employers to take actions that will create workplaces where their employees can thrive – professionally, emotionally, and mentally.
COVID-19 rang the alarm to employers about the mental health struggles of their workers.
The warning signs were already apparent. But the pandemic accelerated the need for a response. A recent survey by Lyra Health found that employee mental health is at an all-time low. A stunning 84% of workers reported at least one mental health challenge over the last year, with issues including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder all prevalent.
To help companies navigate these times, and understand how to better protect, promote, and provide services that support the mental well-being of their employees, last week One Mind at Work convened a group of CEOs, CHROs, academic experts, individuals with lived experience and healthcare organization leaders to discuss the most effective strategies for creating a workplace environment that meets employee’s needs. Based on these discussions, four key priorities were identified:
First, companies need to regularly measure progress on workplace mental health.
Successful leaders understand the importance of tracking improvements on dozens of business milestones. They do it every day. That same rigorous analysis and demonstrable metrics should be applied to mental health programs. Through clear benchmarks, clear definitions, and clear conceptions of what wellness in the workplace looks like, employers can continuously assess improvement, utilization, and awareness of company policies and resources. Evidence-based data should guide leadership in measuring progress on workplace mental health over time. And CEOs and Boards should be accountable for achieving results.
For companies struggling in this area, The Mental Health + Work Design Lab at Columbia, Ethisphere, and One Mind, developed a standardized assessment tool that allows organizations to benchmark their programs and services. The Mental Health at Work IndexTM is currently in beta testing and will launch to the public in early 2023.
Second, companies should focus on implementing a re-onboarding strategy to help navigate the new normal.
The pandemic overturned many of the certainties we once held about what is normal and what is needed in the workplace. Navigating this environment requires helping employees adjust to changing policies and attitudes about work. Re-onboarding supports psychologically safe workplaces by offering clear guidance on expectations and communicating openly and transparently to reduce stress and confusion. Re-onboarding also demonstrates a commitment to supporting mental health and gives organizations a chance to recalibrate how they engage with mental health support.
Third, companies and senior executives must lead by example in mental health.
Employers that prioritize mental health and executives who lead by example are catalysts for culture change. That means modeling healthy behavior, sharing mental health challenges, and creating space for open conversations – all of which create a culture of workplace wellness. Showing vulnerability is important, especially in times of crisis. This kind of empathetic leadership requires leaders who both endorse and embrace mental health initiatives.
Fourth, companies must support the workplace well-being of the next generation.
The future of work depends on supporting Gen Z. This group is entering the workforce with new expectations about the social contract between employers and employees. Business leaders need to create a healthy, empathetic workplace culture to attract, retain and satisfy this rising generation of talent. This includes meaningful impact and empathetic engagement in workplace mental health efforts through organizational policies, initiatives, and resources as well as strategies for prevention and mental health awareness.
No single company has a monopoly on what the “new normal” will ultimately look like. But companies that emphasize employee mental health through these four priorities will take the lead when it comes to successfully sustaining, supporting, and measuring the wellbeing of their people.