Employee Wellbeing & Mental Health: 5 Strategies From Top CHROs

From furloughs to stay-at-home orders to caring for sick family members, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the world’s workers under immense stress. Even for those who are healthy, the stress of disrupted business processes and social isolation have continued for far longer than many hoped.

Recently, Gallup met with more than 200 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) from some of the world’s largest organizations. We asked them what they are doing when it comes to COVID-19, mental health, and wellbeing. Here are some cornerstones of their approaches that other leaders should consider including as part of their strategies.

1. Expand Employee Assistance Program offerings.

Most organizations already had Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) prior to the pandemic. Nevertheless, many CHROs of large organizations report that they have expanded their EAP benefits since the pandemic began. These expansions include:

  • increasing access to medical services under EAP
  • increasing legal and other types of services
  • increasing the number of counseling or therapy sessions covered by EAP
  • adding virtual sessions
  • expanding EAP resources globally

Organizations have also increased their corporate communications about these benefits — sometimes scheduling or even mandating virtual EAP screenings to make sure all employees are aware of the services that are available to them at no additional cost.

We are surely entering a new era in which corporate wellbeing and mental health support are no longer perks or status symbols. They are simply the requirements for doing business.

2. Use surveys to identify high-risk groups, target communication, and show you care.

Although many organizations already offer wellness or mental health benefits, many employees are simply unaware of the benefits their employers offer. Or, if they are aware, they may not remember them in a moment of crisis.

For this reason, some organizations have been using regular pulse surveys to identify teams, departments, or locations that are seeing increased levels of stress, anxiety, or burnout. These data help leaders target interventions where they are most needed. In addition, pulse surveys can be designed to communicate personalized benefits information to survey takers in an anonymous and timely manner.

Beyond these benefits, surveys are a way for an organization to prove that they care about employees’ wellbeing, that they are measuring it, and factoring it into their decision-making. Communicating results back to employees — and making a commitment to take action on those results — underscores this message.

3. Use the strengths of individual employees to share resources internally.

Many organizations have realized during the current crisis that some of their best resources have come from people inside the organization. Employees may be able to lead virtual yoga or mindfulness sessions. Other employees may want to form groups on internal social platforms, such as Facebook Workplace or Microsoft Teams, to share parenting tips or offer social support for anxiety.

Employers can certainly encourage and share these internal resources, but they can also take action by identifying employee volunteers who would like to be trained as “wellbeing advocates,” who can connect employees with local community resources.

4. Upskill managers to have caring conversations.

Managers play a vital role in the well-being of their team members. And yet, many managers struggle to have conversations about personal, non-work-related subjects. But as the pandemic has made clear, personal life impacts work performance. Gallup analytics show that people want managers who know and care about them as people, and they want to have conversations about life outside of work.

Leaders can’t expect the typical manager to have wellbeing-related conversations without some support. It likely will require:

  • soft skills training in empathy and communication
  • conversation guides related to mental health
  • adding “wellbeing check-ins” to quarterly reviews or other formal meetings

Merely asking, “What support do you need?” can go a long way in making employees feel supported and giving them an outlet to discuss their wellbeing. But if managers aren’t used to talking this way, they likely need encouragement and guidance from leadership.

5. As a leader, be vulnerable about your struggles.

COVID-19 has affected everyone in your organization. It has also affected everyone differently. Front-line workers are exposing themselves to health risks, while work-from-home parents are trying to juggle their kids’ remote learning while participating in Zoom meetings. And then there are people who live alone, who are at risk of social isolation. All the while, leaders have been trying to hold together their own lives and their families.

The CHROs we spoke with agreed that leaders play an important role in showing solidarity and vulnerability. Many employees are anxious about maintaining their professional persona. As a result, it may be time for leaders to be candid about how tough things are. Leaders who share that they are using mental health services or other wellbeing resources can create a more authentic culture around self-care.

Leaders can also cut people some slack by setting new expectations. For example, leaders can communicate that it’s OK to go off-screen during a meeting and that seeing children on a video call is not a business faux pas. In fact, having a humanizing moment from time to time can make everyone feel more at ease with the new ways of working.

Gone are the days of work-life balance.

“Life” has crashed its way into daily business operations around the world. We are surely entering a new era in which corporate wellbeing and mental health support are no longer perks or status symbols. They are simply the requirements for doing business.