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Mental Health: Investing in Your People

by Julie Tuggle-Nguyen

The name of the game this year for HR professionals is retention. You have worked hard to rebuild your team. Now the task is to engage and retain them.

In previous columns, we’ve explored retention and engagement through the lens of total compensation packages as well as culture and organizational purpose. In this month’s column, I want to talk about something that many are afraid to discuss openly in the workplace: mental health.

Mental health conditions cost employers more than $100 billion and 217 million lost workdays each year. By addressing mental health issues in the workplace and the top factors that negatively affect employees’ mental health, you can increase both retention and productivity.

The starting place is to ensure that what you offer aligns with the needs of your people. Who works for you and what are their highest priorities? Within your team, what are the biggest stressors? To what extent is childcare a top factor that is creating stress and adversely affecting your employees? Is your work structured around shift work that can create challenges with family life? Are overtime and long hours normal for your industry? Are your employees regularly required to travel? Each of these scenarios can create unique stressors and needs for your employees. Understanding these factors for your teams can help you learn where you can have the biggest impact as a business leader.

An important and related conversation this year across industries is burnout. Burnout may emerge from the inability to separate work and everything else, and to turn things off and walk away versus being ‘on’ 24 hours a day. Associated with burnout is general fatigue—and the feeling that nothing is easy; everything is difficult and new; and so many things have changed that we cannot ground ourselves. These feelings can be depressing, and the isolation that existed during the pandemic didn’t magically go away just because we can go out without wearing a mask. We can’t simply say, “Well this is over now; time to get back to ‘normal.’” It just doesn’t work that way.

We can see the impacts of burnout—and residuals of the pandemic—in the forms of a dramatic increase in turnover, disengagement, and even employees exiting the labor market entirely. Our workforce is in transition. As an employer, being able to partner and provide services to support our people, including confidential mental health services, can make the difference.

Lyra Health, a leading provider of mental health benefits, conducted a survey of 1,000 workers and 250 health benefit providers across the country to assess the mental health of the 2022 workforce. Results of the study showed that 59 percent of workers felt that mental health issues had a negative impact on their ability to do their jobs.

How are you addressing these issues in your organization? The answer will be unique to each company, but here are some ways to get started.

- If you read these articles regularly, you know I almost always start with talking to your people. This concept is basic, but it’s the best way to know what’s happening. Doing so doesn’t necessarily mean asking how someone’s mental health is. It’s more about understanding what’s happening in their lives and listening to understand. Questions might include how their work is going; how well they are achieving work-life balance; and what they would they like to see in terms of support around physical, mental and financial wellness. What you learn can help you determine the direction in developing programs.

- You can’t be everywhere at once, so make sure the lines of communication are open. This could mean one-on-one discussions, pulse surveys, or focus groups.

- Explore the use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can reduce barriers to getting confidential care. Adding basic EAP services doesn’t have to mean a big financial burden, and doing so can be very beneficial to your people.

- When designing a benefits package, think about your employees holistically. Are you addressing their financial, physical and mental well-being?

- Mental health challenges can still carry a stigma. Before discussing them with your team, take time to understand your own opinions in this space so that you can keep biases in check.

- Remember: We have multiple generations in our workforce, and just like everything else, different people and generations view mental health differently. For some, even discussing this topic is taboo, while many Gen Z and millennials grew up with a much higher level of comfort talking about these topics. Make space for everyone.

Employee engagement is a key to successful business. If an employee cannot engage, concentrate or focus, he or she won’t be productive. Addressing mental health can have a significant impact on your business and could be a critical differentiator when building and retaining your teams.

Julie Tuggle-Nguyen is EVP of Human Resources, Midwest BankCentre.

Submitted 100 days ago
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