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Dr. Carr's Corner

Return to work with mental wellbeing in mind

Mental health disorders are among the most complex health concerns for businesses and have only worsened during the extraordinary challenges of the last 18 months.

Employees at all levels have experienced moments of anxiety, emotional ups and downs, exhaustion, and witnessed friends and colleagues struggle with mental wellbeing. And many don’t know where to turn.

graph showing how mental health is rising in concerns

The resilience of organizations has been truly tested, and as they look for solutions, HR leaders face increasingly difficult challenges:

  • How to navigate the variety of mental wellbeing strategies to best support their people?
  • How best to provide these during this transition back to the office?
  • How to position these as a business strategy priority to improve resilience, manage productivity, and optimize business performance?

Reimagining an employee wellbeing program, or improving an existing one, requires understanding your employee’s unique needs. Meet them where they are with tools that enable them to manage issues better and strengthen their resilience as they develop and achieve new wellbeing goals.

It also begins with knowing where you are today and asking the tough questions:

  • What’s working and what’s not?
  • What are the barriers that get in the way of people showing up as their ‘best selves’ and creating a ‘best team’ result?
  • How good are we at bouncing back from difficulties and challenges?
  • Are the current HR programs, benefits, and policies still relevant and are they best positioned to support wellbeing in this evolving landscape?

With a few key strategies, HR leaders can change how their organizations, leaders, and employees think about mental wellbeing while fortifying their teams and overall business success.

Some ideas to consider


The use of storytelling

few of our clients have used the power of storytelling to catalyze conversations that support greater awareness of their team’s mental wellbeing issues, acknowledge areas of concern and support each other through a reigniting of their individual, team, and organization’s purpose.

Seeing coworkers and leaders openly discuss life challenges and their mental wellbeing during these times helps dissolve stigma while building trust. Can you imagine the power of a CEO sharing their experience seeking counseling? And the benefit they received from it — or a team leader sharing their vulnerability — the impact could be monumental.

Enabling connection around a shared sense of purpose builds trust and strengthens bonds in ways that endures through stressful times.


Go beyond ‘awareness’

Often, organizations focus on mental health treatment and underemphasize prevention and small steps to build stronger emotional control, resilience, and wellbeing. Maintaining and strengthening employees’ inner resources through daily reflections, activating motivation and life purpose, intentional action setting, and emotional regulation is proven to lead to a more engaged, fulfilled, and healthy workforce.


Using Technology To Support Employee Mental Health 24/7

As every employee is unique and has specific issues and concerns, a one size fits all approach may fall short of supporting these unmet needs. Technology can engage employees across a range of different topics, when they most need it, and when they are motivated to seek support. And technology solutions add scale and efficiency to improve access and provide better equity across the in-office and remote workforce. 

It also enables workforce analytics that reveal what’s dynamically impacting people so leaders can make more informed decisions about their people and their business.


Repurpose your message for multiple channels

  • Mobile application/platforms, pulse surveys, virtual workshops, machine learning directed modules, daily tips, linking unmet needs to the community and organizational resources, etc.
  • Consider repurposing PTO days off as self-care. Central messaging that mental wellbeing takes time and that disconnecting from work is essential. If employees struggle to find the time to seek help, encourage them to use their PTO as a vital part of self-care. Also, consider empowering team leaders to grant additional self-care days for extraordinarily demanding events/projects etc.
  • Changing the way employees think about mental health is no small task. By actively marketing your mental well-being strategy and health benefits, you can help employees see more value and less risk in seeking available/offered resources.

Given the ongoing uncertainty around COVID and the future of work, HR leaders have a pivotal role in strengthening areas that support resilience and wellbeing to prepare for future shocks and help people transition to the “next normal.” And while the pandemic continues to be a significant challenge, amid its volatility and uncertainty lie hidden opportunities for learning, reinvention, and adaptation.

About the Author

Bob Carr Leadership Photo

Robert Carr, MD, MPH, FACPM

Chief Medical Officer

Robert Carr was most recently Senior Vice President & Corporate Medical Director at GlaxoSmithKline and on the faculty at Georgetown University. He received his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Miami School of Medicine and his Masters of Public Health and Preventive Medicine Residency from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health. Bob also served as the President of the American College of Preventive Medicine.

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