Today’s post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

Here in the United States, May is Mental Health Month. Since 1949, Mental Health America (MHA) and affiliates across the country have used Mental Health Month to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans' lives, and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. As part of this month-long observance, MHA reaches out to millions of people through the media, local events, screenings and via their annual toolkit.

I don’t personally ever remember a time when there was more of a focus on mental health than there is right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of people of all ages, causing increased anxiety, stress, substance abuse, and isolation. It has been an incredibly difficult time. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles, because that stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help.

Employers bear some responsibility here. A good employer knows that it can’t function optimally without its people being healthy and happy. That is why the focus on mental and physical wellness programs has grown over the years. It’s a topic we’ve been paying attention to at The Workforce Institute for some time now, and in recognition of Mental Health Month, we’re sharing five of our favorite articles on the topic.

Why Companies Must Embrace Technology to Support Workplace Mental Health

This October 2020 post from board member Dan Schawbel points out that three out of every four workers have struggled with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and 80 percent would consider quitting their current job for one that focused more on employee mental health. Dan’s article goes on to cite research showing that most people are more comfortable using technology to assist with mental health because it provides a judgment-free zone (34%), is an unbiased outlet to share their problems (30%), and provides quick answers to their health-related questions (29%).

Gen Z Mental Health During Quarantine

In April of 2020, board member Dennis Miller was already perceiving the mental health challenges emerging. This article focuses on the need for managers and organizations to pay special attention to the emotional and mental health impact the COVID-19 crisis has had at all levels of the organization, particularly among young millennials and Gen Zers who may not have experienced a national or world crisis before.

Our 2020 Global Workforce Predictions

Just before the pandemic struck, we issued our 2020 workplace predictions and top of the list was “Wholistic employee wellness takes center stage as total rewards strategies drive recruitment and retention in a tight economy.” We noted that competition to attract and retain top talent – both for office and frontline workers – would further compel employers to expand and innovate total rewards packages that support employees in and outside the workplace. “Ever-increasing natural disasters and crises will challenge employers to prepare and respond with efficiency and compassion” – wish that last part hadn’t turned out to be quite so prescient.

5 Ways to Improve Your Physical and Emotional Wellbeing While Working from Home

This post from board member Natalie Bickford focuses on five actionable steps anyone can take to improve their physical and mental health while working from home during the pandemic – as so many of us were and still are. At the close, Natalie notes, “My final thought on this topic is don’t feel the need to try to be a superhero! This is a really challenging moment in our history, and we should cut ourselves some slack (and maybe an extra slice of chocolate cake), while also trying to find our own personal way of getting through it.” Good advice then and now!

Compassionate and Inclusive Management in 2021

I wrote this piece at the start of the year focusing on the idea that the organizations that will excel in 2021 will be led by compassionate and inclusive management that emphasizes empathy, wellness, and belonging. In it, I quote from a great piece by Nika White in Entrepreneur magazine that revealed that 53% of adults are experiencing higher levels of stress and worry because of current events; Issues of stress and anxiety in the workplace are nothing new — especially among women, people of color and other marginalized groups; and the more your staff feels supported, acknowledged and understood, the more they can positively contribute to your business.

I hope you find these articles helpful to your work and your life. I think if anything, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great opportunity for all of us to spend some time thinking about how we can be better to ourselves and those around us. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all in this together, and the better we take care of ourselves and each other, the more successful we will be as individuals and organizations.

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Natalie Bickford, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Sanofi.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought us many and varied challenges over the last year. At around this moment in 2020 we believed the Coronavirus would be a short, sharp shock – terrible in its’ health and economic impact, but likely to be over by the summer. But as this global pandemic took hold, bringing us a seemingly never ending series of lockdowns and challenging variants, it has become clear that this virus is the equivalent of a chronic disease – whose symptoms we can at times manage, but that isn't going away anytime soon.

With this has come tremendous stress for us as workers. Whether that be the financial worries of furlough, the challenge of home schooling our children while doing full time jobs from our kitchen tables (which, by the way, I have come to realize is almost impossible), pretending that we can run our teams fully virtually at all times, or worrying about our aging parents who we can’t visit, we are truly testing the depths of our resilience.

For a while we enjoyed the novelty of homeworking, taking advantage of warm weather and the opportunity to be with our families, then we moved into “dig deep” mode, using up our energy reserves to see us through the early winter months. As we moved into 2021, however, for many of us the reserves are depleted, the news headlines are deeply wearying, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

And so, we need to take control of our physical and emotional wellbeing right now, and I believe that there are many small things we can do to make a real difference. Here are some tips that I have found particularly useful and easy to implement over the last few months to improve my work energy:

Keep ten minutes in every hour for yourself

Multiple research studies show that we are far more productive and focused at work if we take regular short breaks. I have started scheduling Zoom meetings for 50 minutes instead of an hour, and use the ten-minute break to get up, stretch, move around and refocus. These ten minutes can be used for anything that revitalizes you, like a breath of fresh air, or a cuddle with the dog. Headspace is an excellent app for short moments of meditation.

Maintain good sleep hygiene

The current context is messing with our sleep, and when we don’t sleep well, our work anxieties grow. Some of the most effective advice is simple. Turn off your screens at least an hour before bed, remove all digital tech from your bedroom (buy an alarm clock if you usually use your phone to wake you up, so as to remove all temptation), and maintain a fixed bed and wake up time – even during the weekend.

Invest in a light box

I have found it very helpful during this winter to have a “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)” lamp in my workspace to maintain my mood and relieve stress levels. They come in all shapes and prices, and provide a warm and energizing light backdrop for virtual working.

Find your end-of-day stress reliever

To maintain our work energy, we need to find ways to recover at the end of every day, rather than waiting for the weekend or a vacation. This is truer than ever right now. For me, this tends to be a 30- minute evening walk before cooking family dinner, but it could encompass a whole range of activities from running, through yoga, to your favorite indoor hobby. The idea here is to decompress and take some personal time after switching off the laptop and before starting your evening routine.

Stay connected with colleagues

And finally, we should try and stay connected to colleagues outside the confines of structured meetings. With my colleagues, we have introduced a 30-minute drop-in virtual coffee break a couple of times a week, to recreate our informal communication that is so lacking in the virtual workplace. This relieves some of the work tension and allows us short moments to relax and laugh together. 

So, there are certainly small things that we can do to manage our work stress and energy during the ongoing pandemic. Many companies also provide employee assistance programs, which can be of great benefit.    

My final thought on this topic is don’t feel the need to try to be a superhero! This is a really challenging moment in our history, and we should cut ourselves some slack (and maybe an extra slice of chocolate cake), while also trying to find our own personal way of getting through it.

Do you have your own strategies for maintaining your mental and physical health during this difficult time? Tell us about them in the comments section!

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member and HR Bartender, Sharlyn Lauby.

My colleague at The Workforce Institute, Dan Schawbel just penned a great piece on why employers must embrace technology to support employee mental health and wellness. Indeed, half of U.S. workplaces offer health and wellness programs according to a 2019 survey from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The survey indicated that workplace programs included a focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. We know their value for the employee experience, so it’s good to see that health and wellness programs are being offered and promoted in the workplace.

However, in light of COVID-19, organizations will want and need to expand their definition of wellness to include various aspects of wellbeing. The Workforce Institute has studied wellbeing over the years and its role in organizational wellness programs. There’s never been a more perfect time to review some of those thoughts to see how they can be incorporated into existing wellness programs.

How Resilient are You?

meQuilibrium evaluates physical, mental, and attitudinal elements to create a truly 360-degree evaluation of each individual’s current resilience, then tailors content and exercises to help individuals strengthen their resilience. In this podcast, meQuilibrium CEO Jan Bruce and VP of Research and Development Lucy English discuss what they mean by resilience, how they measure it, why it’s important in the workplace and what solutions they have to help organizations become more resilient.

Subjects like resilience can help leaders understand how resilient their teams and organizations are and how to develop greater resilience where needed.

Finding a Cure for The Summer Scaries

Now more than ever, employers must prioritize self-care and open communication to reduce the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that everyone is facing in order to reduce the likelihood of burnout.

If you are a manager, encourage your team to make a “stop doing” goal, suggest classes your team can take or apps they can use for stress management and mindfulness. Encourage employees to grab their phone, head out for a walk wherever they may be, and conduct meetings this way. Perhaps most of all, don’t forget to recognize your team for their work and accomplishments during this time. Make time to celebrate your employees’ wins and get creative about how you do it. Practice gratitude and see how it transforms your working life. Recognize the magic in saying “thank you.” People need appreciation and simple kindness perhaps most of all right now.

Financial Wellness: An Important Component of Employer Wellness Programs

A 2020 survey titled Mind Over Money, released by Capital One and The Decision Lab, found that 77% of Americans report anxiety over their financial situation, with 58% believing that finances control their lives. More than 40% stated that their financial stress makes it difficult for them to concentrate at work. Similarly, the 2020 Workplace Benefits Report issued by Bank of America found that less than half of employees are feeling financially well, which is a 12% drop from two years ago and almost 60% of employees say they do not have control over their debt. 

In a year like this one, we find ourselves in  a global pandemic and with widespread unemployment and economic hardship, helping employees feel more in control of their finances is something all employers should be striving to do. Recognizing that financial well-being is a critical component of overall employee health will help employers better serve their employees and keep them happier and more loyal.

Embracing Flexibility

For years now, human resources leaders have been selling the benefits of flexible, dynamic working and indeed, most organizations now have policies in place – flexible work programs, job shares, working from home, and so on, supported by engaging communications and earnest senior sponsorship. Yet, culturally, these programs have not always landed in a systematic way and have certainly not become the operational norm.

Let’s create a level playing field for our employees, and celebrate flexibility, rather than begrudgingly allowing it. Let’s reduce our costs and help our planet by halving our office spaces, abandoning unnecessary commuting and travel, and putting our newly acquired lounge wear to long term good use. Let’s rejoice in having our families around us at times when we work, and recognize that we are all more creative, innovative and effective when we are less tired and weighed down by the administrative burden of juggling.

These articles from Workforce Institute board members show that employee wellness and wellbeing programs are the right thing to do for individuals. In turn, employees who are able to practice wellness and wellbeing are more productive and engaged with the organization. As organizations spend more time managing a hybrid workforce – one with both onsite and remote workers – it will be even more essential to support employees through these programs.

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Neil Reichenberg.

A survey titled Mind Over Money, released in January 2020 by Capital One and The Decision Lab, found that 77% of Americans report anxiety over their financial situation, with 58% believing that finances control their lives. More than 40% stated that their financial stress makes it difficult for them to concentrate at work. Similarly, the 2020 Workplace Benefits Report issued by Bank of America found that less than half of employees are feeling financially well, which is a 12% drop from two years ago. Almost 60% of employees say they do not have control over their debt.  

The Bank of America study also found that 62% of employers feel extreme responsibility for their employees’ financial wellness, which is up from 13% in 2013, while more than 80% of employers believe financial wellness leads to greater productivity, more loyal employees, and more engaged and satisfied employees. Employees cite lack of access to guidance as the greatest barrier preventing them from making progress towards their financial goals.  

Given these facts - which echo our own December 2019 survey - on a similar topic - it was with great interest that I read a recent report by The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) titled Financial Literacy Programs for Local Government Employees which highlights the financial well-being programs of two local governments. A previous SLGE survey found that while only 26% of state and local governments offer a financial literacy or education program, 68% of state and local government employees said they would be likely to participate if one was offered.  

The City and County of Denver, CO was one of the local governments discussed in the report.  Denver restructured its employee well-being program to be data-driven and allow targeting of those wellness areas that are employee priorities. The well-being initiative had the support of Denver’s top leadership. The program is based on four wellness pillars: financial, mental, physical, and professional. Data was collected and aggregated based on different metrics. The data was provided to the 32 governmental agencies on the four pillars and how each agency compares to the rest of the city.

To address financial well-being, Denver identified several potential interventions:

Areas that may be targeted include low retirement savings by providing more education so that employees understand how a deferred compensation retirement plan can supplement the city’s pension plan and how to take advantage of the pre-tax benefits when participating in the flexible spending accounts for health care, dependent care, and parking. Denver provides annual financial incentives to employees who participate in its wellness program that can include earning a $600 health spending account deposit or health insurance premium reduction for 2021. Denver provides employees with short, interactive, financial-focused learning experiences online.  

Each agency has a wellness champion who coordinates the agency’s activities, communicates activities and incentive details, and works with the HR office to ensure access to programs and resources. Wellness champions network with each other to share ideas on ways to keep employees engaged with this initiative. Agency leaders determine which leading and lagging measures they can use to determine progress and when they may need to change the course of action. By returning a portion of annual premium payments, the city’s healthcare providers are an ongoing source of funding that keeps the program operating.

The Bank of America report noted the business reasons for expanding financial wellness programs. The report stated, “Employees now want to see education and support that will help them not just save for retirement, but also help with everyday financial decision – from making retirement savings last to managing healthcare costs, managing debt more effectively, using budgeting and saving techniques and balancing competing financial goals.”

In a year like the one we find ourselves in with a global pandemic and widespread unemployment and economic hardship, helping employees feel more in control of their finances is something all employers should be striving to do. Recognizing that financial well-being is a critical component of overall employee health will help employers better serve their employees and keep them happier and more loyal.

Last Thursday, Kronos held its second annual 5K walk/run in Chelmsford, Massachusetts (home to our headquarters). Participation was complimentary and open to all Kronos employees and their families.

Kronos5K3

Our now-annual 5K is a great way to get Kronites outside and active together - whether you're an experienced runner or you'd just prefer to walk the 3.1-mile loop.

Kronos5K2

Leading up to the event, we held a Desk to 5K program for anyone who wanted to get fully prepared for the race. (It's Kronos' version of the popular Couch to 5K program). In addition to engaging employees, this program also successfully increased participants' endurance for race day.

Kronos5K1

Although the 5K is a great incentive to get Kronites active and engaged, we're lucky that it's only one element to Kronos' breadth of healthy living benefits. From our on-site, fully-equipped gyms to the Quit for Life program to Weight Watchers discounts (to name a few), Kronites throughout the world are constantly encouraged to live healthy, happy lives - inside and outside of work. (To see all the photos from this year's 5K, visit Kronos' Facebook page).

What are your tips for staying healthy - and active - inside and outside of work?

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