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Wellness in the Workplace: What we’ve learned

Employers Share Their Wellness Strategies to Retain and Recruit Talent

Jane Howze

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During the pandemic The Alexander Group has spoken to and, in some cases, advised clients who were adjusting to the new normal: working from home, vaccination policies, and creating procedures for returning in some form to the office. As mental health became more openly discussed as both a retention and talent acquisition tool, we wanted to learn more.

We spoke to clients across the globe and conducted in-depth interviews with human resource executives from energy, legal, and not for profit sectors. Each one we spoke to highlighted the current mental health issues that their employees are dealing with, and the expected “great resignation” as things return to normal and employers address their mental health challenges in returning to work.

The world is quite different now from what it was 18 months ago. Nowhere is this more evident than in the working world, as companies deal with employees who are reluctant to return to the office and want to work partially or wholly from home, and face a myriad of vaccination/covid challenges. Employees are focused on health risks for their family, uncertain workplace conditions, isolation, changing relationship dynamics caused by working from home, and fear of job loss.

The CDC’s recent Household Pulse Survey showed that from April 2020 to June 2021, 23.5% of US adults had symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders, which is twice the result of a similar study conducted in 2019. Clearly, we are in a mental health crisis.

As a result, employees are resigning at record levels, many citing stress, depression, and burnout. Employers are listening and are developing mental wellness programs to reduce turnover and serve as a talent acquisition tools. It is fairly routine for potential recruits to inquire about a company’s programs and commitment to mental wellness.

Here are some strategies that many of the employers whom we interviewed are adopting:

1. Candid Conversations about

Mental Wellness

Employers acknowledge the mental health crisis and are encouraging an open dialog about depression, burnout, and anxiety. It is more than just talk. Executives are openly discussing stress, anxiety, and wellness with employees in a more intimate and personal manner. Managers are being trained to identify symptoms of emotional distress among their team members, and to offer counsel on stress management and resilience.

2. Flexible Work Schedules

Employers must adapt to changing work patterns to successfully compete for and retain talent. Some organizations have moved to a 100 % virtual office, while others are transitioning to a hybrid model with limited days in the office or flexible working hours. Flexibility within the constraints of the position is key. Organizations refusing to provide flexibility for employees are experiencing a much higher turnover.

3. Encourage PTO and Participation in

Mental Wellness Programs

Employers who offer competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits are finding that may not enough to attract and retain talent. Employers cite motiving employees to participate in their mental health and PTO plans as critical to overall employee productivity and wellbeing. Employers must both advocate and encourage employees to plan for and take personal time off. At one time, it was part of many industries’ culture to encourage and reward working long hours—nights and weekends—and some still do. But employers who emphasize work-life balance as essential to mental health and wellbeing are gaining an advantage over competitors that don’t.

4. Offer Career Development Plans

Employees’ uncertainty about their career paths, opportunities, and expectations is a significant cause of workplace stress and burnout. This stress is exacerbated by employees working remotely because they do not have the face-to-face time with managers and mentors. Employers are responding by offering career development plans tailored to individual employees with engaging and innovative tools.

Companies should adopt a short and long-term career development program understanding that it will, of course, need to be tweaked. The plan should involve executive leadership, Human Resources and staff and be aligned with the company’s business goals and culture. Employers should identify gaps in learning and implement cross training where possible. This shows that an organization is investing in its people and allows employees to engage with team members from different areas. Many of our clients are utilizing technology in a way (think fun side contests and actual bells and whistles) that makes the training enjoyable and even fun.

5. Tools and Resources for Employees

The following programs have been beneficial in reducing employee stress and promoting retention:

  • A mindfulness program in which a coach virtually provides weekly mindfulness exercises;

  • A caregiver alliance program that provides support to parents through programming, coaching, and resources;

  • Monthly talks from industry consultants to address wellness topics, including healthy eating, nutrition, and coping skills to relieve stress and anxiety;

  • Mentorship programs that connect employees;

  • An intranet that allows employees with similar hobbies and interests to connect;

  • Resources for childcare;

  • The Calm app and other meditation and relaxation applications;

  • Regular Town Halls to keep employees up to date and allow them to address their concerns;

  • Small, informal group coffee chats with executives.

6. Cultivating Community and

Employee Engagement

Employees feel better and are more productive when they are part of a workplace community. A culture of respect and care for one another is a powerful antidote for burnout, isolation, and anxiety.

The following are programs that some companies are utilizing to support their workplace communities:

  • Virtual games like scavenger hunts;

  • Watch Parties for Oscars, sporting events;

  • Yammer - A social networking service for businesses;

  • Virtual Talent Shows;

  • Peer to Peer Discussions;

  • Peer-to-Peer Pods for parenting, those with aging parents, and specific challenges;

  • Intranet book clubs and social events;

  • Wellness Wednesdays - each week is a different discussion on mental health. (Partnered with Psych Hub);

  • Virtual Workout Groups;

  • Mr. Rogers Calls - match people up with coworkers they wouldn’t usually communicate with in the organization; and

  • "Coffee Shop" on Zoom
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