There’s a link between mental health offerings and keeping workers from quitting


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If there’s one thing that organizations have learned throughout the pandemic, it’s that the mental health and wellness of their employees is not something to be addressed one month or one week out of the year.

The nation may mark October as Mental Health Awareness Month, but it’s an issue that needs ongoing attention, resources, and commitment, experts say.

And with good reason. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll earlier this year found that nearly half of Americans report that the pandemic is harming their mental health. They report fear of becoming ill and anxiety over what it will be like to re-enter the workplace. For those who have already returned to the office, burnout is on the rise, with feelings of emotional exhaustion and lethargy taking hold.

Over the past year and a half, companies have stepped up. Many are offering employees a plethora of behavioral health options including access to therapists, coaching, wellness and meditation apps, mental health breaks, paid time off and flexible schedules. While these offerings can be helpful, they stop short of addressing the problem if managers are not involved with how they’re working.

“It’s not enough to simply offer programs,” says Jimmy Etheredge, CEO of North America at professional services firm Accenture. “The onus is on leaders to lead by example to show people it’s okay to be their authentic selves.”

As employees recalibrate the role that work plays in their lives, they’re coming to realize that the pre-pandemic definitions of success, engagement, and commitment may no longer ring true. The wave of resignations taking place is being driven in large part by workers who want more out of their lives and their jobs after experiencing the toll that Covid-19 has had.

Companies that offer employees the resources to take care of their emotional health while putting in place the guardrails that prevent burnout from happening in the first place, are the ones that are going to fare the best.

It’s not enough to simply offer programs. The onus is on leaders to lead by example to show people it’s okay to be their authentic selves.

Jimmy Etheredge, CEO of North America, Accenture

Jennifer Moss, author of the book, “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It,” says leaders don’t need to be healthcare experts. But they do need to know where those mental health experts exist in their companies and how employees can access them. At a recent CNBC Workforce Executive Council event, Moss said that managers are “conduits.” They need “to be able to point people in the right direction.”

Identify the issues

The ability to do just that requires that companies first understand the different behavioral health issues they’re dealing with. Dr. Robert Quigley, global medical director at International SOS, a health services firm, says there are three “prongs” to consider. The first is the cause and effect between a Covid-19 infection and behavioral health issues.

He points to recent Lancet research that shows a correlation between the virus and neurological symptoms including PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia, which can affect work performance. Companies must also address how people are coping with fear and misinformation. Having a platform that provides accurate, current information about the virus is crucial, he says.

Finally, companies need to realize that many employees have been dealing with behavioral health issues for years. The pandemic may have exacerbated them, but it’s also allowing organizations to de-stigmatize these conditions and help employees access the care they need.

“This is why I like to call it emotional health rather than mental health,” Dr. Quigley says. “It makes it easier for people to discuss, yet still encompasses things like stress, anxiety, and depression that so many people are facing right now.”

Helping employees understand that right now it’s okay not to be okay is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of this focus on emotional health. Etheredge says he became a mental health ally through a training program with the company’s mental health & wellness employee resource group. He asked his entire leadership team to do the same.

The program teaches how to identify and have open conversations about mental health to connect those in need with the right support. Since the pandemic began, Etheredge says the company has expanded the program to every country where it operates and now has over 8,500 trained allies across the company.

“The one silver lining of the pandemic is that mental health is finally moving out of the shadows and into public discourse,” he says. “Companies have realized that neglecting mental health is simply not an option anymore and that the attention and resources given to address it are here to stay.”

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