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A Gartner survey shows how the COVID-19 pandemic may be a catalyst for a large emerging threat facing organizations: the mental health of employees. Gartner surveyed more than 5,000 employees in the fourth quarter of 2020 and found that more than one-quarter of the workforce (29 percent) described itself as depressed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same survey revealed that nearly half (49 percent) of employees who reported their organization offers a mental well-being program participated in it in 2020.

“The need for well-being support has skyrocketed since the pandemic struck, giving organizations a new mandate to offer more and better programs,” said Carolina Valencia, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “Organizations, more than ever, must respond to all facets of the individual, from the physical to the emotional, and address some of the new stressors that have emerged over the past year.”

When evaluating their organization’s enterprise-wide well-being initiatives, HR leaders should consider the following:

Commit to help employees cope with stress factors, even post-pandemic

In response to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, most organizations took emergency measures to support their staff. Gartner research found that 87 percent of businesses provided flexible work hours to employees acting as care givers for family members. Additionally, 26 percent gave employees paid time off (PTO) for childcare and 21 percent gave PTO for eldercare.

Additionally, a Gartner survey of 50 HR leaders revealed that 64 percent of companies provided a new well-being offering to support their staff, while 34 percent of companies expanded access to their existing offerings.

Yet, only one-quarter of organizations report that they plan to maintain the programs introduced during the pandemic for the foreseeable future. HR leaders should consider sustaining programs beyond the pandemic due to the financial difficulties and lingering stress that will persist even after the outbreak subsides.

Personalize support to meet diverse employee needs

To address the varying needs of employees, organizations must ensure there is alignment between the support they offer and the demand from employees. However, according to the Gartner research less than half of employees (46 percent) feel that their organization’s well-being programs are personalized. To mitigate this, organizations can take specific steps to achieve alignment between support and demand – such as offering more choices. Currently, only 19 percent of employees working for organizations with mental well-being programs report having access to five or more offerings.

In addition, HR leaders should give employees tools to navigate challenging moments on their own at the right moment. One tactic successful organizations are utilizing is encouraging employees to self-assess their well-being. Doing so facilitates employees to easily benchmark themselves, map out a development plan to enhance their well-being and hold themselves accountable for their wellness. More importantly, it encourages employees to seek out offerings the organization already provides.

Establish programs, processes and guidance to enable discussions

While the COVID-19 pandemic was an anomaly, disruptions are increasingly common and organizations must be equipped to support the well-being of employees.

HR leaders need to establish programs, processes, and guidance in advance of whatever unexpected event comes next. These efforts should empower – but not force – employees to discuss subjects they may otherwise be nervous to bring up, including mental health challenges, resolving tension between employees and emotional health issues.

Gartner’s research reveals only about half of employees (49 percent) agree that their manager understands their problems and needs. To address this, HR leaders can provide easy-to-understand information that define the level of involvement managers are expected to have when supporting their employees with mental and emotional health issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear to employers and employees that work and life cannot be treated as two separate constructs,” said Ms. Valencia. “If employers help support employees with all aspects of their health during turbulent times more effectively, not only do they have better lives, but they perform at a higher level. In fact, organizations that provide holistic well-being support can boost employee discretionary effort by 21 percent, twice as much as companies that provide only traditional (physical and financial) programs.”

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