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Do you know how your employees and their families are doing? If they’re stressed out or burned out, do they know where to get the mental health support they need? The past two years have been rough—no way around it. While many office workers made the switch to remote work, seemingly overnight, essential and frontline workers were faced with overtime and the added risk of contracting COVID. Stress, anxiety, and depression are at record highs, and children are facing a mental health crisis. The CDC found that one in five children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder—including anxiety, depression, and ADHD—but only 20% are receiving care from a mental health provider. When someone is hurting, their whole family feels it. And when the entire family is mentally healthy, their personal and professional lives are often better, too.
Here’s why the future of work must prioritize family wellbeing, and the steps HR leaders can start taking today to make this a reality at your organization.
Why it’s critical to prioritize employee mental health
Creates a supportive culture
When an employee or a member of their family is struggling with anxiety, depression, burnout, or substance abuse, it impacts everyone around them, at work and at home. Mental health challenges can also prevent people from showing up at their best, and can cause a dip in productivity, creativity, and performance. Even typically high performers may miss deadlines, and the quality of their work could be compromised as well.
When you discover that any of your employees are struggling with their mental health, create a safe space for them to talk about it if they want to, and be sure to acknowledge and validate their feelings. Ask what they need and how you can support them. These kinds of conversations encourage transparency and can help normalize mental health within your organization.
Attracts and retains top talent
As more and more Olympians have been speaking out about the importance of prioritizing their own mental health, employees are taking notice. In fact, mental health is now considered to be “the gold medal of talent retention.” If providing the mental health support your employees and their families want and need is not part of your talent strategy—perhaps it should be. We’re in the middle of the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, and The Hidden Resignation. Top talent will be attracted to a company culture where mental health is talked about and normalized, every department feels psychologically safe, and employees know how to get the support they need, for themselves and their family members. This will also help keep your employees and equip them to be at their best.
Mental health concerns can be costly for your organization if family wellbeing is not prioritized. Research has shown that, on average, an employee experiencing mental distress uses nearly $3k more on health care than their peers. The increase in repeat absences costs the organization an average of $4,783 per year, and related turnover typically costs $5,733 per employee. And this doesn’t take into account the internal burden of redoing work and rebuilding lost client confidence. Preventative measures like creating awareness, encouraging routine mental health screenings, and providing fast access to clinically validated, evidence-based treatment through solutions like Spring Health can help reduce long-term costs.
How HR Leaders Can Promote Family Wellbeing at Work
Encourage open communication
Starting the conversation about mental health is the first step toward normalizing and encouraging your employees to ask for help. Lead with empathy, and check in regularly to see how team members are doing. Ask how their family is doing, to show that you care about their wellbeing, too. This will also make you aware of employees who have family members experiencing mental health or other challenges, and better understand the impact. Listen carefully to everything they share to create a safe space where they know they can return and feel heard. This can help identify any mental health problems employees may be having before they escalate.
Enable work/life balance
Organizations and teams are at their best when employees are energized and feel like they are able to balance work and home. This is also one of the most effective ways to combat burnout and achieve retention. Take a close look at the workloads and expectations across all departments in your organization. Determine whether they accommodate the needs of all your employees—especially those with families and young kids at home—and whether they allow for a healthy balance of work and life. If you identify changes that need to be made, design an action plan with achievable steps that you can put in motion right away. Then, encourage your leaders to set healthy boundaries to give their team members permission to do the same.
Create a flexible return to work plan
After over two years of working remotely, returning to the office is not an easy transition. As you may have already discovered, your employees all have different preferences and much of these are the result of different personality types and home office situations. For the first time, so many introverts have had the opportunity to work from home, uninterrupted, away from the open concept offices that drained their energy. Extroverts have missed how those same office environments energize them, and ambiverts, along with many others, would thrive in a hybrid model. That said, if an employee has been switching gears between remote work, helping kids with remote school, or caring for older family members, they will likely have entirely different needs and benefit from a flexible working schedule. Life continues to change and shift at an unpredictable pace, especially for families, and it’s so important to listen carefully to what your employees need first, and then create a flexible strategy that accommodates what they need.
Encourage vacation and mental health days
When you begin noticing that a number of your employees are experiencing burnout, continual stress, and a decline in their overall wellbeing, it’s likely that they need to take some time off—and soon. This can allow them to reconnect and spend quality time with their families as they recharge.
Whether or not employees take vacations is often influenced from the top down, and at Spring Health, this is modeled from the very top down. April Koh, our Co-Founder and CEO, lets the entire organization know when she is going on vacation weeks ahead of time. She also communicates the fact that she not only won’t be checking her email, but any emails that come into her inbox while she’s out of office will be automatically deleted.
April also takes mental health days when she knows she’s nearing burnout, and regularly tells the leadership team to make sure their people do the same. Having backup in place is also critical for employees to feel like they can take time off, without returning to a mountain of work that will stress them out even more.
Offer mental health screenings
As part of a larger campaign to increase individual knowledge around the range of mental health issues, employers can offer regular mental health screenings to team members. In the same way we regularly go to the dentist to prevent cavities, HR professionals can normalize the idea that having your mental health checked regularly is a great way to stay in optimal mental and emotional shape. This encourages conversations about mental health and can identify any warning signs.
Ensure these screening materials are in an easily accessible location in the workplace, such as a nearby room or an online portal, and on your company intranet.
Sponsor social events
Putting social events on the calendar for your employees can deepen relationships and increase team cohesion. After a long period of isolation, curating in-person events like a game night or happy hour will likely be welcomed by many. Virtual experiences like a coffee masterclass or living room scavenger hunt can bring together employees from across the globe, and when possible, invite family members to join in the fun. This can build trust, a deeper sense of belonging, and an improved understanding of temperaments and personal support systems.
Offer a comprehensive mental health benefit
If your employees are asking for mental health support beyond what your traditional EAP can provide for themselves and their families, it’s critical to start looking for a more comprehensive mental health solution. While organizations have relied on EAPs for decades, employees are often faced with long wait times for appointments, inflexible treatment plans, no providers who understand their life experience and culture, and a complete lack of guidance. Innovative EAPs are eliminating the barriers to effective treatment, driving clinical outcomes, and helping employees and their family members create positive change. Spring Health offers a comprehensive mental health solution for employees and their family members, ages six and up, with the ability to schedule an appointment with a therapist within two days.
The future of work
The benefits you offer are what hold people’s hearts, show them you care about their wellbeing, and feel like the company is taking care of them. At a time when employee wellbeing is at an all-time low, it’s become more important than ever to offer mental health benefits that provide fast access to the right care.
This is the future of work: putting family wellbeing at the heart of everything you do.
Read this blog next to learn how anxiety disorders, increased substance abuse, and elevated depression are impacting families, and ways HR leaders can provide support in each of these areas.