In the post-pandemic world, mental well-being in the workplace should be more than a safety net or medical benefit. It is a driver of shareholder value and productivity, and critical in the war for talent. Organizations that crack the code of well-being in this new paradigm of hybrid work—banishing the outdated stigma around mental health and enabling everyone to show up as their best selves—will have a competitive edge in this season of the Great Resignation, as workers quit their jobs in record numbers.
The mental health crisis among workers is real and growing: In mid-March 2020, when most U.S. companies sent employees home, three out of four prescriptions for anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-insomnia medications were new rather than refills. Supporting employee mental wellness is good for company culture and for productivity; for every $1 we invest in supporting mental health in the workplace, there is a $4 payback. As leaders who have been studying this topic for years, we strongly believe that workplace mental health needs to become a management and board-level priority in the same way executives have embraced environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. We know that physically healthier associates make for stronger businesses. The same is true for associates who have mental wellness resources.
We have convened a faculty of business leaders to help us crowdsource the best actionable ideas for workplace well-being. The Go Forward to Work Initiative, a major research project launched in 2020 in partnership with Dell Technologies and in conjunction with Harvard Business School, has created a framework of four core themes and begun to crowdsource best practices and tools for mental health and well-being.
RESET TEAM POLICIES AND PRACTICES
The way our teams are working has a direct effect on their well-being and resilience. This article with associates from LHH describes seven strategies—including candor breaks, energy checks, and story sharing—as ways to boost resilience. High performing teams have also begun to question a bedrock of corporate productivity: Why is calling a meeting the universal solution to whatever needs to be accomplished? They have started to prioritize asynchronous collaboration—taking pressure out of people’s overcrowded schedules. Nutanix, a cloud platform company, has adopted a policy of “calendar cleansing,” setting rules about when meetings can be set, most notably avoiding scheduling sessions during lunch.
ENCOURAGE NEW ROUTINES
To support its employees’ well-being, Headspace launched MINDays: Every other Friday is a company-wide day off, and on alternate Fridays, meetings are discouraged. The company also provides group daily morning guided meditations and mindful breaks twice a day to encourage self-care and community building. They also start off each global all-hands meeting with a meditation led by one of their popular meditation and mindfulness teachers. Tech giant Salesforce starts off meetings with grounding exercises, to “bring people into the present, make them mindful of our objectives and what we want to achieve and act as a signal to leave things outside the room that we don’t need.” Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, suggested that wider lessons can be drawn from the behavioral science that underpins the WW program: food, activity, mindset, and sleep. “Mindset—the way that you think about the journey and yourself—is the foundation for developing healthy behaviors that can become healthy habits,” he said.
DEVELOP NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES
Data show employers must overcome two root issues in their quest to create cultures where employees can seek assistance on mental health challenges: stigma and awareness. Pre-pandemic research by Unum Group showed: Only one in four U.S. managers were trained how to refer employees to mental health resources. That’s not training to deal with mental health issues—that’s just training to signpost to the right resources. More than half of employees said their employer did not have, or they were unsure if their employer had, a specific program, initiative, or policy in place to address mental health. And 61% of employees felt there was a social stigma in the workplace towards colleagues with mental health issues.
Leadership training can help organizations overcome outdated attitudes. Human resources experts such as Mercer, Mind Share Partners and ID360 can coach teams or individuals to cultivate open and honest cultures that can take the stigma out of talking about mental health at work. Of course, all the training in the world won’t help if senior leadership isn’t walking the walk. As managers and executives, how do you handle stress and pressure? Do you speak openly about your stressors with your team?
MAKE NEW RESOURCES AVAILABLE
Current mental health solutions depend heavily on clinically trained mental health professionals, and there just aren’t enough to meet the demand. But the rise of digital technologies has helped to put employee assistance programs (EAP) in associates’ pockets through apps, self-care tools, on-demand coaching and personalized services. A survey by Mercer suggests that a third of organizations are looking to expand virtual or telehealth as part of their employee assistance offerings in 2021 and beyond.
JPMorgan Chase already offers “mHealth” services through its meQuilibrium program which is focused on educating its teams on healthy lifestyle choices. Adobe, WW, Unilever, and Starbucks are among the organizations to offer Headspace to its members as a part of its effort to offer a more holistic approach to health. As part of its employee assistance program, Starbucks also offers its associates Lyra Health, with a range of in-person and digital mental health solutions, including 20 free in-person or video sessions a year. (The proliferation of well-being apps has prompted some organizations, like the American Psychiatric Association, to issue guidance to help distinguish between app-store star reviews and more credible evidence of effectiveness.)
Major digital platforms like Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global—used by companies as varied as Walmart, Microsoft, and Bank of America—can point to peer-reviewed international academic research to support their model of habit-forming “micro-steps.” (Disclosure: to date, in some of the leading mindfulness peer-reviewed journals, more than 25 published studies have looked at the effectiveness of Headspace.)
Our aim is to create a resource site of bold ideas and best practices—and invite leaders to share their stories via the Go Forward to Work website. These tips may not only help employees who are hurting, they may help create an enduring culture that inspires all employees.