Wellbeing and performance are intrinsically connected, and in today’s competitive labor market, companies can’t afford to neglect their employees’ mental health.

Josh Bersin, president and founder of Bersin & Associates, delivered that message in a keynote address that was part of a mental health summit, “Addressing Your Employees’ Professional, Personal & Parenting Needs: Bringing Visibility to the Invisible,” presented by Rethink Benefits and Whil.

Rethink Benefits and Whil are part of Rethink First, which offers the most comprehensive platform of solutions to help employers support the behavioral health of their workforce. The summit brought together experts from the fields of corporate HR, behavioral health and psychology to discuss how supporting employees’ overall wellbeing will be a necessary piece of any benefits offering moving forward.

Bersin, a recognized expert in corporate HR, said that making adaptability part of company culture is a strength, not a weakness, and taking care of employees starts with making sure their families are happy and healthy. He also emphasized that while the pandemic has heightened discussions about mental health, the issue isn’t new.

“We were talking about burnout and too many emails a long time ago. … This problem has been brewing for a while,” Bersin said. “Then the pandemic hit and most companies came to the realization that if they weren’t able to take care of their people, they weren’t going to have a company at all.”

Industry experts at the summit offered a wealth of advice, culminating in five practical steps employers can take now to promote company-wide wellbeing:

  1. Understand wellness isn’t restricted to office culture—it extends to home life. Sandra Kuhn, partner and national leader for behavioral health consulting at Mercer, told participants the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a marked increase in anxiety and mental health disorders among American adults, and employers have a big role to play in better supporting their workers’ mental health needs. To ensure employee wellness, employers first need to understand what wellness is. Stress has been a longstanding epidemic, but one that has become far more apparent in the workfoce as employees’ work and home lives melded during COVID-19. During the pandemic, those outside of the behavioral health field became more aware of how personal and parenting issues affect professional life.
  2. Now is the time to assess company strategy for emotional and mental wellbeing, Kuhn recommends. Ask: What does my health plan offer, and is it flexible enough to meet every employee’s needs? Forty-one percent of adults reported anxiety and depression in January 2021, and 49% of adults fear COVID-19 will continue to affect their families.
  3. Set the example: Managers should engage in self-care and make mindfulness a part of their office culture. Training managers to incorporate wellbeing into daily practice influences all employees. This was the focus of a panel discussion featuring Dr. Tara Cousineau, founder of BodiMojo, which supports teen mental health, Sarah Lecuna, senior global benefits manager for Intuit, and Christine Wenger, national manager for enterprise change management for Toyota Financial Services. Remember, Wenger reminded the group, on a plane you must put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others. A stressed-out manager helps no one be well.
  4. Listen to employees’ concerns about what is going well—and what isn’t. Wenger, Lecuna and Cousineau also discussed the importance of creating a company culture of openness and wellbeing. Any model of getting back into a physical office after the pandemic will have pros and cons for every employee, depending on their specific needs. More than half of workers now report experiencing burnout. Actively listening to their concerns will help avoid this in the future.
  5. Ensure your wellness plan is flexible and adaptable. In a participant panel moderated by Rethink’s Chief Business Development Officer Mike Civello and Dr. Darren Sush, a child psychologist and board certified behavior analyst, Rethink participants explained how their experiences raising neurodiverse children required specialized guidance outside of the general employee healthcare plan.

Whil founder Joe Burton said the pandemic has highlighted the need for employers to offer more support for behavioral and mental health for employees to address the stressors they face professionally, personally and as parents.

“We are all waking up to what’s really going on,” Burton said. “The soft skills around emotional intelligence, stress management and parenting are the things of survival” for employees and companies.

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