The pandemic has wreaked havoc on individuals and families trying to acclimate to a new normal. With so much focus on the preservation of physical health, mental health has taken a backseat.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP
President and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management
The impact of the global pandemic has been felt by business at large, as well as in the personal lives of workers. The stress and economic strife have forced many organizations to redesign operations to meet fluctuating demands.
Economic uncertainty has exerted immense financial pressure on people and organizations. With career life invading home life seemingly overnight, the lines between work and life have become nonexistent. Additionally, access to recreational activities were limited during the lockdown, depriving people of much-needed stress relief outlets. Ongoing social upheaval and inflamed political discord has added another layer of anxiety to combat.
Prior to the pandemic, workplace mental health was garnering increased attention. As many as 80 percent of people can be expected to be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lives. As the United States workforce wrestles with mental health challenges, workplace performance suffers.
A key to change
More businesses are understanding that it is in their best interest to deploy mental health initiatives to support workers. Workforce mental health and organization performance are clearly intertwined. With an emphasis on wellbeing, employers report seeing lower absenteeism, improved retention of talent, and improved employee morale.
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While the expansion of mental health programs and benefits are important, workplace culture is also a key component in the advancement of mental health. Having a culture that advocates for and supports the preservation of mental health requires eschewing the stigma of mental illness that pressures people to conceal their struggles. It means encouraging employees to monitor and preserve their mental health by prioritizing work breaks, vacation time, and mental health days.
When workers are healthy both mentally and physically, the work environment is more productive and positive. And organizational healthcare costs go down. Designing the right workplace wellness programs is essential. Having an employee assistance program can fill some of the gaps in mental health support and be a resource for employees navigating personal life issues.
Empathy is key to truly understanding employees’ challenges and opening a space to process negative experiences. Validating workers experiences helps build trust and establish connections.
Business needs to see workers as whole people, not simply talent in a body. Putting the “human” back into human resources means understanding the physical, emotional, and mental needs of the people who do the work. It takes both mental and physical health for workers to perform to their potential. Humans carry a ton of responsibility. If we can help them be their best, everyone benefits.