With the growing importance around advocacy for mental health and well being in the workplace, it is crucial for Human Resources teams to take a pulse of their organization’s perception to understand if they are regarded as a safe place for employees to come forward to discuss their struggles and ask for help.
The old stereotype that Human Resources is a Big Brother in their organization may prevent some from feeling like they can be open and honest about their challenges and concerns for fear that their jobs are at stake or being labeled as unfit. The truth is that over 20% of adults are dealing with some level of anxiety or depression which means that organizations can’t keep their heads in the sand.
How does a Human Resources team become known as a safe place for employees?
1. Be visible. It’s important that your Human Resource team is seen and heard intentionally interacting with other people within the organization outside of conveying change or having to deliver difficult news. This is the first step in creating a reputation of being approachable. Find positive opportunities to check in with teams and show people you care about them and their success in the company. Having an authentic HR leader and authentic people on the team is critical.
2. Educate employees. Ensure you have effective marketing campaigns that help employees understand their benefits, policies and company programs beyond annual enrollment periods. Sometimes people forget what they have access to things like an Employee Assistance Program. Have information easily accessible for employees. Don’t bury information in low-traffic areas of the office or on an Intranet page that you know only a small percentage of people access. People don’t know what they don’t know, so play an active role in educating the workforce. Looking at utilization data can be informative about how to more effectively communicate available benefits to employees.
3. Create a culture of acceptance. Be champions and examples of a workplace culture that accepts people for who they are. The language we use in the office and out of the office all matters. Words influence actions. One of the best things we can do for our employees is demonstrate compassion and understanding. It is not easy for people to admit they need help, but if we build organizations that lead with this value it will create a ripple effect of acceptance and trust. Creating a culture where people feel trust is critical. This means more than traditional diversity and inclusion programs, this means looking under the surface for the cultural norms and making sure that there is zero tolerance of even jokes or side comments that would undermine a culture of acceptance.
4. Try new programs. Explore bringing in activities that promote health, mindfulness, and well-being such as in-office yoga or meditation. Hosting social activities around hobbies that help relieve stress such as creative writing workshops or cooking and painting classes. Consider creating a Gratitude Box in where people can stop by Human Resources to drop off handwritten notes for fellow employees to share with them why they are grateful – this can help boost morale and let employees know they are valuable to the organization. There are great app based tools now for mindfulness, consider creating a program around one that will work for your organization.
One thing I love about all organizations is that they all are comprised of people. The “human” in human resources – reminds us that being human means that we aren’t perfect. Our employees are all individuals with unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Human Resources leaders can help their organizations lead with attraction and retention of key talent by ensuring that the cultural systems within their organization provides programs, policies and the environment to bring their best self to the organization every day. This may even mean helping employees know it’s okay to take a leave of absence to reconnect with themselves and get help and reassuring them that when they are healthy and able to come back to work they will be accepted.
While there will certainly be times of challenge in dealing with mental health issues and its complexities in the workplace, we can become the best stewards of information and provide our organizations with a solid foundation to support and succeed.