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Creating a Workplace Culture of Caring Post-Pandemic

Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D., is the director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation that develops resources, tools, and trainings to help address the mental health and well-being of those in the workforce and their families. She recently explained how employers can improve their practices and policies for addressing workplace wellness and mental health as employees return to the office.


Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D.

Director, Center for Workplace Mental Health

What are some workplace habits that affect an employee’s well-being?

First and foremost, you need to make sure you’re appropriately managing stress. A little bit of stress is good, a lot of stress is bad for our health and well-being.

The next thing I would say is to maintain balance. That hasn’t been easy during the pandemic, because people have worked more hours while working remotely. They’re rolling out of bed and the office is right there. Most people are not necessarily taking breaks like they would in commuting to work, going to lunch with colleagues, and wrapping up right when they need to get home.

A big part of maintaining that balance is asking for support when it’s needed. This isn’t easy. I think people are concerned that asking for support may be perceived as a sign of weakness, but I think that’s changing. The pandemic has really brought out the human side in so many of us. If you need support with your workload, or getting time away, or asking for support, you have to actually ask for it.

Another key is recognizing the importance of social connectedness. Social connectedness in the workplace is very important — it’s important in our lives in general. Make sure that you are staying connected with colleagues. If you’re working remotely, just check in with a colleague and say, “Hey, let’s schedule a cup of coffee together, and let’s just spend a little time catching up.” Social connectedness is very important for health and well-being.

Does internal communication play a role in employees’ well-being?​​

It absolutely does. I think what’s important is that employees really feel a sense that their organization cares about them. And the way that happens is both in communications that come out to employees — in emails and newsletters — and also ensuring employees feel valued and recognized. So when employees deserve credit for a job well done, communicating that helps them feel purpose and gives meaning to their work.

It’s also really important to show the organization cares through the policies that exist in the workplace. For example, we’ve been hearing about more and more organizations that recommend Zoom-free Fridays, so people just don’t have meetings on Fridays, and that acts as a little break. We’re also seeing companies arrange 45-minute meetings, instead of hour-long ones, to give people back that extra 15 minutes.

There are all kinds of things that can be done to communicate through action that an organization really cares about its employees’ well-being. Also, it can’t be said enough that organizations should not assume employees believe their employers care about their mental health and well-being — it’s important that it be communicated.

What is one action item managers should take to begin addressing employee well-being?

We are about to define a new normal in every workplace in this country — what we had before has been greatly disrupted. What’s really important is to find new and creative ways to check in.

We know a lot of employees have left the workforce. As a manager, you don’t want to learn that your top talent is leaving when it’s too late. Find creative ways to check in early. And what that might mean is having a one-on-one with someone, and before you get into the business matters, ask them, “How are you doing?” and then, “How are you really doing?”

As a manager, it’s important to share what you’re feeling and experiencing, so people feel like it’s safe psychologically to share what they’re really going through. As a manager, be willing to listen to what employees have to share, and really take into consideration their ideas as you’re checking in. This needs to happen as we begin to define this new normal in the workplace when it comes to well-being and our wellness.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about well-being and wellness in the workplace?

I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that we have seen a tripling and quadrupling of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mental health is a real concern.

There’s also the fact that people are just languishing; they’re not feeling motivated and engaged. It’s really important that employers find new ways to connect with employees, so they can really engage them. That will affect retaining top talent, productivity, loyalty, and performance.

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