The pandemic’s impact – How are HR professionals prioritizing employee mental health for employee retention

The pandemic has set in motion many changes that will shape the future of work. One key change that is here to stay, is the focus on employee well-being–mental and physical health. The last two years brought about unwarranted challenges. As organizations reacted to the pandemic and lockdown by making their workforce remote and in many cases, lay-offs; isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty plagued employees. Fortunately, the situation has improved and the post-pandemic era promises to do better than before. HR and business leaders have, without a doubt, realized the importance of prioritizing mental health at work. The case for increasing focus on mental well-being is straightforward: It drives better business RoI. Investing in employees’ mental health aids employee retention and boosts productivity. The faster HR leaders learn this, the better it is for their organization. 

According to the 2021 Mental Health at Work Report by Mind Share Partners, 50% of employees in the US have left their job due to mental health reasons. The percentage is even higher when we look at millennials and the younger generation of workers. As mental health awareness rises, employees, across the world, are demanding quality mental health benefits from their workplace. Employers who can offer this and create a safe, inclusive, and supportive space for their workforce, can expect to increase employee engagement and retention. It is important to note that when it comes to mental well-being, there is no one size that fits all. Depending on the needs of the employees, HR teams must tailor their approach and provide solutions that truly benefit their workforce, and therefore, the organization.

Here are 3 ways in which HR professionals can address and enhance employee mental health at the workplace:

  1. Sensitization

It is one thing to talk about mental health and another to understand it. The first step towards prioritizing mental health is to increase awareness across the organization. It is not an HR professional’s place to diagnose mental health issues, instead, it is important that they find ways to sensitize people managers and HR teams to the varying psychological safety needs of their colleagues. How? Offer resources and training, especially for managers. Help them understand what burnout can look like, how to spot mental health red flags, and look out for non-verbal signs. A sensitized workplace puts a premium on people. Instead of focusing on outputs, the focus is on outcomes. Sensitized managers do not assess an employee’s performance based on factors like their place of work (remote or in-office), the number of hours they put in, etc. Instead, they center their attention on the value an individual adds, tangible and non-tangible, to the organization.

  1. Setting boundaries

One of the biggest challenges faced by employees working from home during the pandemic, and after, was the lack of clear boundaries between professional and personal lives. As organizations invite their employees to return to work-from-office, at least once a week, HR teams must strive to create and respect work boundaries. This could translate into different things for different organizations. For instance, many companies have a strict ‘No work calls after 6 pm’ policy, there are many teams that observe a ‘no meeting/no calls’ day. What is important is for HR and people managers to spend time understanding the unique needs of their employees. Understand that a workplace is filled with individuals from diverse backgrounds, and their challenges cannot be homogenous. A new parent would have very different needs compared to someone who is also doubling up as a caregiver at home. In both cases, setting boundaries goes a long way in making them feel heard and valued. This could mean increased flexibility, reduced workload during challenging times, and a healthy work-life balance.

  1. Clear communication

The value of communication has only risen in the post-pandemic era. 4 words to live by: Ambiguity is not welcome. In an environment filled with uncertainty, one’s mental health is bound to take a toll. Empathetic, consistent, and clear communication is absolutely vital to help build a work culture that prioritizes mental health. Provide first-level emotional support by increasing one-on-one candid meetings between employees and their managers. Demonstrate the organization’s commitment to employee well-being by providing access to resources, helplines, and counselling subscriptions designed to help employees in times of need. Consistency is of prime importance. Managers, HR associates, and team leaders should follow up with their team members, checking-in regularly, and set aside time for regular activities/workshops. Doing so not only helps strengthen teams but can also help employees relax, refresh, and return to work feeling better.

Organizations must do better

Employee well-being has a direct impact on business well-being. However, showing concern and empathy is not a business strategy; it is the only way for companies to create a culture of mutual trust.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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