Men­tal health and well­ness in HR are becom­ing top pri­or­i­ties for employ­ers. In fact, HR lead­ers named men­tal health and well­be­ing as their third biggest prob­lem, behind the labor short­age and retain­ing tal­ent, in the lat­est HR Exchange Net­work State of HR report. In addi­tion, those sur­veyed also said burnout was the top con­se­quence of the pan­dem­ic. “Blur­ring of work and per­son­al life” and “burnout” tied, with 28% of the vote each, as the biggest chal­lenges to employ­ee engage­ment. And 30%  of respon­dents said employ­ee engage­ment and expe­ri­ence was their top priority.

Clear­ly, men­tal health and well­ness is relat­ed to the employ­ee expe­ri­ence, and the expec­ta­tions in the new nor­mal require HR lead­ers to pro­vide sup­port, empa­thy, and guid­ance for help­ing those who need it. To begin, they need to under­stand the nuances of men­tal health and well­ness.

Defining Mental Health and Wellness

A first step for HR lead­ers is to break­down men­tal health and well­ness to under­stand the dif­fer­ences, so they can best address “men­tal health” and “well­ness.”

What Is Mental Health?

The U.S. gov­ern­ment defines men­tal health as the emo­tion­al, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and social well­be­ing of an indi­vid­ual. Obvi­ous­ly, one’s men­tal health con­tributes to how he thinks, feels, and acts, and it relates to his resilien­cy and rela­tion­ships with others.

Con­sid­er­ing this def­i­n­i­tion, HR lead­ers can focus on insur­ance that cov­ers men­tal health con­di­tions and con­nect­ing peo­ple to appro­pri­ate spe­cial­ists just as they would for employ­ees with phys­i­cal ail­ments, for exam­ple. Tend­ing to men­tal health needs is slight­ly dif­fer­ent than those of wellness.

What Is Wellness?

On the oth­er hand, well­ness refers to the total­i­ty of health – both men­tal and phys­i­cal – of an employ­ee, accord­ing to the Soci­ety for Human Resource Man­age­ment. When employ­ers focus on well­ness, they are aim­ing to pro­vide employ­ees with pre­ven­ta­tive solu­tions to avoid ill­ness­es and long-term health prob­lems. For exam­ple, gym mem­ber­ships, yoga class­es, and med­i­ta­tion ses­sions are among the ways HR lead­ers may sup­port the well­ness of workers.

Men­tal health refers to the con­di­tion of an employee’s state of mind, where­as well­ness refers to his or her gen­er­al health. Some­times, even those in HR use the word well­be­ing inter­change­ably with well­ness, but there is a dis­tinc­tion. Well­be­ing refers to job sat­is­fac­tion or one’s con­tent­ment at work. Cer­tain­ly, well­be­ing is relat­ed to men­tal health and well­ness. If employ­ees are expe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety, high stress, or burnout, which are asso­ci­at­ed with both men­tal health and well­ness, they may expe­ri­ence neg­a­tive feel­ings at work. There­fore, their well­be­ing also will be at risk.

HR’s Responsibility for Mental Health and Wellness

The pan­dem­ic revealed the need for men­tal health and well­ness pro­grams at work­places. Both mind and body need­ed sooth­ing, and HR pro­fes­sion­als took the lead in pro­vid­ing solu­tions to work­ers. More than two years after the start of the pan­dem­ic, they are con­tin­u­ing to enhance their offerings.

Here are some rel­e­vant ben­e­fits that employ­ers may pro­vide, and HR lead­ers can consider:

Medical Insurance that Covers Mental Health

This first ben­e­fit is the most obvi­ous one, and it refers to the employ­er choos­ing insur­ance options that cov­er men­tal health as robust­ly as they do phys­i­cal health.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

The U.S. gov­ern­ment defines an EAP as a “vol­un­tary, work-based pro­gram that offers free and con­fi­den­tial assess­ments, short-term coun­sel­ing, refer­rals, and fol­low-up ser­vices to employ­ees who have per­son­al and/or work-relat­ed prob­lems.” These pro­grams may address stress, sub­stance abuse, or fam­i­ly dis­cord, for example.

Mental Health First Aiders

This is a pro­fes­sion­al who works on staff or on call for a busi­ness, so employ­ees always have some­one to sup­port them with any men­tal health con­cerns, accord­ing to verywellhealth.

Training for Managers, Leaders, and Peers

Some com­pa­nies are train­ing their teams to rec­og­nize poten­tial men­tal health issues in their col­leagues and to devel­op empa­thy and emo­tion­al IQ.

Yoga, Meditation, Workshops, Zen Rooms, etc.

These are a few exam­ples of pro­grams designed to help employ­ees relieve stress and stay focused.

Mental Health Days

Some com­pa­nies are includ­ing men­tal health days in their paid time off menu. This allows peo­ple the chance to stay home as they would for a sick day.

Parameters around Work Hours/Flexibility/Respecting People’s Time

Many employ­ers are shar­ing guide­lines about allow­ing employ­ees flex­i­bil­i­ty around when and where they work or dur­ing what hours they can com­mu­ni­cate with them about work, etc. The idea is to help peo­ple bet­ter bal­ance work and life to give them the time and space nec­es­sary to recharge.

Why Should HR Leaders Care about Mental Health and Wellness?

The answer about why any leader should care about employ­ees’ well­ness seems obvi­ous. It’s the right thing to do. But it also relates to busi­ness out­comes. Poor men­tal health and well­ness among employ­ees can pose grave risks to an employ­er. These are the threats:

  • Decreased Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty – Peo­ple are not as inter­est­ed in get­ting the job done if their deal­ing with men­tal health issues.
  • Res­ig­na­tion – Men­tal health and well­ness is clear­ly con­nect­ed to job sat­is­fac­tion and well­be­ing. Peo­ple might quit if they are suffering.
  • Neg­a­tive Impact on the Bot­tom Line – If employ­ees are not pro­duc­tive or engaged, the com­pa­ny will not be as suc­cess­ful. If there is much turnover, the com­pa­ny will lose mon­ey in recruit­ing, hir­ing, train­ing, and patient­ly wait­ing for new hires to get up to speed. All these con­se­quences can influ­ence rev­enue and busi­ness outcomes.

How Work Can Affect Employee Wellness

Employ­ees spend a large amount of time work­ing. Tox­ic work­places obvi­ous­ly can dam­age one’s men­tal state, where­as a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly safe envi­ron­ment can moti­vate peo­ple. Any­one expe­ri­enc­ing bul­ly­ing or harass­ment at work may feel more anx­i­ety or stress. That’s undoubt­ed­ly true. But hav­ing heavy work­loads, tight dead­lines, and oth­er stress­ful per­son­al sit­u­a­tions can lead to burnout. Poten­tial­ly, these fac­tors cut into the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­tract between employ­ee and employ­er. This is con­cern­ing to HR leaders.

The Mayo Clin­ic says job burnout is a type of work-relat­ed stress that results in a state of phys­i­cal or emo­tion­al exhaus­tion that can influ­ence an employee’s self-worth and sense of iden­ti­ty. The pan­dem­ic and con­se­quen­tial labor short­age put burnout in the spot­light and forced employ­ers to con­front it. Now, HR lead­ers are work­ing to com­bat and pre­vent burnout as part of their over­all men­tal health and well­ness strategies.

Tak­ing steps to reduce hours and work­loads, man­ag­ing expec­ta­tions, and train­ing man­agers to be bet­ter, more empa­thet­ic lead­ers are among the ways they are address­ing the prob­lem. HR Exchange Net­work rec­og­nized this new oblig­a­tion of Human Resources in its recent tal­ent man­age­ment report:

Com­pa­nies that show they tru­ly care about the men­tal health and well­ness of their employ­ees will get noticed. Those who are flex­i­ble and under­stand­ing when peo­ple are hav­ing a tough time per­son­al­ly will win hearts. “Com­pa­nies need to switch their focus on engage­ment to expe­ri­ence. Maya Angelou said it the best, ‘Peo­ple for­get what you tell them. They don’t for­get how you make them feel,’ ” says Sebastien Girard, Chief Peo­ple Offi­cer at Cen­tu­ra Health.

HR lead­ers are helm­ing efforts to address men­tal health and well­ness of employ­ees. They are con­fronting these issues to improve employ­ee engage­ment and expe­ri­ence and the work cul­ture. Employ­ers rec­og­nize the link between the men­tal health and well­ness of their employ­ees and the suc­cess of their business.

In addi­tion, they real­ize this is the right thing to do, which is vital at a time when employ­er brand is of the utmost impor­tance, and every­one is try­ing to bet­ter main­tain work-life bal­ance. The pan­dem­ic was the spark for employ­ers giv­ing atten­tion to these issues, but the focus on help­ing employ­ees main­tain their men­tal health and well­ness will continue.

By Francesca Di Meglio

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on HR Exchange Network