Creating Workplaces Where Employees Can Thrive

In early November, I spoke at the Reuters Workforce Health USA 2023 event in Chicago. This really cool event took a fast-paced, TED-like approach to various issues impacting employee health. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from HR leaders about what they’re doing around workforce wellness and learn a lot about a lot in a short period of time. Overall, the conference agenda looked at the relationship between people strategies and employee well-being and highlighted holistic solutions to nurture culture and maximize retention.

For my part, I participated in a panel discussion titled “Put Mental Health First – Creating a Workplace Where Employees Can Thrive.” Moderated by Mo Fathelbab, President, Forum Resources Network, my co-presenters included Michael Anzalone, Senior Director, Total Rewards, Ally; Maya Lunnemann, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Talent Strategy, Edward Jones; and Theresa Monti, Vice President, Total Rewards at The Kroger Co.

Despite a frequently quoted stat that found two-thirds of workers are experiencing burnout, the connection between mental health and work remains a timely and relevant topic – and one that still doesn’t get enough attention. This was evidenced by the informal poll Mo took at the start of the session, asking the room if they or someone they knew had been touched by mental health issues or depression. No surprise, nearly every hand went up. Knowing how prevalent the matter is, our panel sought to understand what employers can do to support their teams and create workplaces where employees can thrive. Here is some of what we explored: 

  • Opening a dialogue: Maya from Edward Jones talked about how the company ramped up its “courageous conversations” around mental health. Offering facilitated conversations with licensed social workers allowed employees to participate at will and find a sounding board. This speaks to that connection I mentioned earlier, helping employees put together the pieces they need.
  • Focusing on all aspects: Michael from Ally shared that the company has built emotional well-being into the pillars of its overall well-being strategy, able to provide employees with different plans and programs to meet their needs. Theresa at Kroger echoed this sentiment with her company, identifying the need for a holistic approach that also accounted for behavioral health and financial well-being.
  • Meeting employees where they are: From my own work at HRCI and HRSI, I brought up the need for personalization and customization in the workplace. While one employee might need access to an EAP, another might need more time off or flexibility in their schedule. Understanding individual needs makes it possible to support the mental health of each employee.
  • Leading by example: Recognizing everyone has their own story to tell, we also looked at the role leaders play in building open, transparent cultures. Michael from Ally talked through some of what the company provided in response to the pandemic, which they wanted to be less reactionary and more progressive.
  • Getting together: Our team recently did what we call a “3D Day,” which brought everyone together in a three-dimensional way. Initially, I saw this as a way to share knowledge, but my team had another idea to use this face-to-face time to have fun and get to know one another outside Zoom.
  • Innovating the EAP: Every one of us on the panel brought up the role of the EAP at some point in our conversation, pointing out ways to modernize the model and promote higher engagement. Updating the EAP gives companies the chance to offer employees additional benefits through a familiar resource.

I could go on and on about the other strategies we covered in this session, but ultimately, much of what we discussed was how organizations can destigmatize mental health issues. That starts by recognizing employees are human, both in and out of the workplace. As HR leaders, we must build spaces that allow for vulnerability and provide access to support and resources, from creating cultures of care to forging connections across the organization to embracing holistic well-being. It’s all about finding the approach that’s right for your organization – and right for your employees.

Visit the HRCI Learning Center for courses exploring mental health and well-being.