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By Ammara Naeem, Head of Client Success, Top Employers Institute
By Ammara Naeem, Head of Client Success, Top Employers Institute

Covid-19 revisited: Mental health and well-being

Mental health and well-being have been front of mind for so many employers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Among our Top Employers, employee well-being moved sharply up the business and HR priority list in 2020. Whatever the further progress made in fighting the virus in the weeks and months ahead, it looks set to remain there for a long time to come.

Even before Covid-19, the cost of poor mental health and well-being for business was already clear. What the pandemic did hasten, however, was a massive and positive step change in the commitment to action. Almost all our certified Top Employers, for example, have seen their senior management become more actively involved in well-being programmes, while many others have appointed dedicated champions for mental health within their organisation.

The pre-pandemic practices of Top Employers put them in good shape to scale up and improve their offering as the crisis took hold.  This article looks at what they did, what they learnt, and how they adapted to remote working. We asked them the following questions:

Which well-being and mental health initiatives worked well for you over the past year?

At JTI there has been a strong emphasis on creating solidarity among team members. Everyone in the organisation has been encouraged to connect on a regular basis, because all employees who are supported and appreciated perform at their best.

JTI’s programmes provided this support, with employees able to access well-being resources. The many initiatives rolled out globally last year included:

  • A LifeWorks EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) and well-being app, for employees and up to 5 of their family members.
  • A “Wellness Thursdays” programme, dedicated to well-being, with tips and advice shared along with webinars facilitated by subject experts.
  • A 2021 well-being calendar, with a new subject theme assigned to every month.
  • “Mental Health First Aider” training for employees and awareness seminars for line managers.

Saint-Gobain in China enjoyed considerable success in developing virtual meetings, group chats and surveys to manage and measure well-being. It also encouraged sporting and outdoor team-building activities, wherever local rules allowed. The Saint Gobain approach strongly encouraged flexible working hours, rather than all hours. The latter is easy to do when working from home and the business, like many others, believes it could make even more progress in this area in future.

The focus of ING Bank in France has been on getting the right balance between work and personal life. Amongst other initiatives, it pioneered a “No Meeting” challenge, which meant no scheduling of meetings between 12.30 and 13.30 every day + no meeting after 4 pm on both Wednesdays and Fridays.

What have you done to improve your programmes? And how did you apply learnings?

Deloitte’s business in Brazil focused on making sure that those working from home had accurate information about the outbreak. The purpose was to minimise anxiety levels and it encouraged everyone to share their experiences to encourage mutual support and reduce any feelings of isolation.

As the pandemic developed, active listening by Deloitte’s teams helped the business to ready itself for a greater demand for emotional health support. This allowed it to redesign the well-being strategy to focus more on this area and introduce a new app to reinforce services from its health partners.

Another key initiative has been the partnership of the well-being team with Deloitte's Corporate University to provide a new kind of Leadership Academy. The objective was to empower managers to care for the emotional health of team members, and to understand and address key topics, such as emotional intelligence and corporate happiness.

Saint-Gobain in China not only promoted more online activities and interactions to assess mental health and wellbeing, but also committed to a systematic follow up to gauge their effectiveness. They found that the quality was more important than quantity in communication. Even so, there has been a clear emphasis on the need to keep on talking. The speed of change necessitates regular peer-to-peer conversations to keep pace with events. Even so, Saint-Gobain believes that its people are social and, within the limits of legality, benefit from meeting face-to-face wherever possible.

How have your HR policies and practices been adapted to suit a remote working world?

To adapt to remote working, DHL Global Forwarding set up an online well-being initiative. It has courses and key information on Covid-19, while its learning platform provides guidance and reassurance on mental health and stress management.

Many employees were mobilised to work from home in a matter of days. This tested the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of teams. The business kept up this spirit, with campaigns like ‘#DGFWorksFromHome’ and ‘Our People, Our Family’, which sought to share the message of support for each employee and the realities of their working environment (whether working from home, commuting to offices safely or taking care of their loved ones).

ING Bank in France, meanwhile, has adjusted to the remote workplace by creating a hybrid model of working that will be applicable as soon as employees can go back on site. This new model combines home office working for at least 50% of the time, with collaborative “on site” meetings a few days a week.

Is there anything else you would like to mention regarding the development of your well-being practices since the beginning of 2020?

JTI believes that the pandemic has accelerated the global roll out of its mental health and well-being programmes. As a result, it now has in place a very inclusive set of well-being tools and benefits that its employees can access globally.

Well-being programmes should be about producing long-lasting benefits, as well as mitigating risk. Through its well-being programme Deloitte in Brazil, believes that one major benefit has been higher levels of agility in its workforce, following the many challenges faced.

Finally, little gestures in the middle of a crisis can go a long way. For the outstanding efforts of employees during the pandemic, DHL Global Forwarding’s parent business, Deutsche Post DHL Group, gave all full-time employees a bonus of €300 in September 2020, with part-time employees getting a bonus proportionate to their working hours.

Conclusion

In revisiting the Covid-19 pandemic, we can see that many of the mental health and well-being initiatives of our Top Employers were built on the strong foundations of existing best practice. What the pandemic has done is to accelerate and scale-up both those existing and new activities.

Some simple initiatives, such as the discouragement of overtime and emailing outside of regular hours, or the responsibility of a manager to encourage the team to use vacation time, cost little to implement but send strong signals to all employees. Other initiatives require more investment and what is clear is that the challenges are far from over, even as some employees return to the workplace.

HR leaders will need to keep ahead of the challenges. The many employees who have experienced high levels of stress and anxiety will need longer-term HR support, perhaps including outplacement, career transitioning, or counselling initiatives.

The Top Employers Institute Certification recognises leading organisations around the world for their commitment to their employees and people practices.