Strategies to promote emotional well-being in the workplace

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Employers are taking a greater interest in their employees’ well-being by promoting emotional wellness at work.

Wellness programs are offered by 58% of employers, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. There are mutual benefits to be reaped by the employer and employees when an organization looks to support its workers’ emotional wellness.

About 90% of employees perform better when they address mental health, but only 41% feel comfortable bringing it up during a check-in, according to data from 15Five, a software company that specializes in gathering employee feedback.

One in five American adults experience some form of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Additionally, one in every 25 adults is living with a serious mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or long-term recurrent major depression.

Employees are demanding better mental health benefits from their employers and some of them are listening. In September, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it is taking steps to improve its employees’ mental health with a new long-term initiative that includes an enhanced employee assistance program and mental health training for store managers.

Only 25% of U.S.-based managers, across a variety of industries, have been trained to refer employees to mental health resources, according to SHRM. Employers including PNC and Ocean Spray are also investing in benefits to address mental health.

By investing in emotional and mental wellness benefits, employers are creating a human-centric workforce that drives retention, productivity and engagement, says Heidi Collins, vice president of people operations at 15Five. A key part in achieving this to create a culture that normalizes conversations about mental health.

Collins spoke with Employee Benefit News about how organizations can provide management with stronger training and more open check-ins that enable them to build trusting relationships with their employees to promote productivity.

How is 15Five creating a culture that is more understanding of employees’ mental health needs?

In so many different practices with our employees, both in our manager and direct report programs, but also as a company as a whole. We are normalizing emotions and emotional wellness in the workplace. What it all has to begin with is the strategy behind it and your company’s values. It can’t just be a program that HR is sponsoring and promoting but that’s not really attached to the overall company values.

How can an employer create a more mental-health and wellness focused workplace?

We do automated weekly check-ins between managers and their direct reports. We have a recognition feature called High5, so that people throughout the organization can highlight their peers, express gratitude and also highlight someone for how they may have impacted their day or a project that went really well. There’s a recognition feature, there’s a review feature, there’s a weekly check-in feature. In the weekly check in we have a poll rating and every week we ask our employees: on a scale of one to five, how did you feel at work this week? So we build into our product the practice of managers checking in with their employees about their feelings and about their emotional and mental well-being. We attempt to create enough psychological safety, trust and openness to vulnerability that employees feel comfortable that if they are having a two out of five week, it can be okay to share that with a manager and be able to back it up with the reason why. So for example, an employee might say: This week was a two out of five for me because three projects blew up in our faces and at home my kid is sick and I didn’t get any sleep. The employee can just lay it all out there.

How can employers and employees become more comfortable normalizing the conversation around mental health?

It has to be very intentional, deliberate and explicit. It’s the kind of stuff employers may talk about or advertise or promote on their employer branding website...it should be very clear that promoting emotional well-being and mental wellness is part of the employer’s culture and something they value. The executive team and all of the leadership needs to be totally brought into that and that’s challenging because there are many people out there in the world who aren’t comfortable yet with talking about or bringing up those kinds of things at work. That’s the big challenge we’re facing right now, yet so many employees are coming to expect [support for mental health issues].

Is there a generational disconnect when it comes to promoting emotional wellness in the workplace?

I would say that those of us who don’t have our heads stuck in the sand, we get it. We realize that there’s a reason this mindset of addressing employees’ mental health is so popular. It’s because it’s way more effective. This is how we want to work. I’m generation X and I have a lot of friends who work in big corporate environments who still think you leave your emotions at the door. But I would say those of us who want to have a more progressive approach are so on board with it. HR professionals and potential employees who follow those old school ways, they won’t even get hired at a company like ours and I bet a lot of our customer’s companies. That’s because we know that doesn’t work anymore.

What specifically has 15Five done to promote this initiative among its employees?

It all starts from our hiring process and what we communicate about our values and what it’s like to work at 15Five. Not only are we assessing candidates on their skills, but we’re also assessing them on their willingness to go to that very vulnerable place in their day to day with their manager or direct report. We have question in our interviews that ask “would you be comfortable talking about emotions at work?” and “if you were a two out of five on the emotion poll for the week, would you be able to share that with your manager and how would you go about doing that?” We will ask questions to make sure candidates we are bringing in are okay with this way of doing things. If somebody is going into a manager position internally, we have just implemented a manager assessment interview to make sure this person really has the skills to be a 15Five manager. A manager in our eyes is not just a task master or somebody who approves your time off. They need to be employees’ coach, cheerleader and champion and they need to be comfortable supporting employees when things aren’t going well. It’s almost like having the skillset of a therapist.

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