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Heard at the Empower Forum: 5 Well-Being Challenges Our Clients Are Discussing Right Now

In September, we held the Empower Client Forum in the gorgeous Columbia River. We were so excited and grateful to be able to connect with clients for a few days to talk about all things well-being. Couldn’t attend but want to know what we discussed? Check out this week’s blog (and next week’s, too) for the highlights.

Supporting the health and well-being of employees has perhaps never been more important, and our clients echoed this sentiment again and again during the Empower Forum. They talked about the issues they’re facing as we collectively grapple with an ongoing pandemic; massive changes to how, when, and where we work; and a refocusing on what employees need to stay healthy, engaged, and productive.

Here are a few of the major themes we heard:

1. Employee mental health continues to be a huge focus.

Like so many organizations around the country, our attendees reported that their employees are struggling with their mental health. A shortage of mental health counselors is making it worse. Clients said it often takes weeks or months before employees can find a provider who has availability. The problem is even more difficult in rural locations where providers are really lacking; some are also reluctant to see counselors who are members of the same small community. They also feel people still don’t take as much advantage of EAPs as they should. Finally, finding time to engage with a counselor during the day is a big barrier to people getting help.

What our clients are doing to tackle this issue:

  • Adding an onsite behavioral health provider and charging a nominal fee so employees have some skin in the game.
  • Offering telehealth sessions – particularly helpful in a rural environment.
  • Trying to reach younger people through chat mental health platforms.
  • Offering monthly guided mindfulness sessions so employees can start a mindfulness habit.
  • Walking the talk as HR managers by putting mental health messages in their email signatures.
  • Conducting special outreach to parents via home mailers listing resources for children’s mental health, anxiety, etc.

2. Increasing resilience and creating boundaries is key.

One of the tools we have to prevent stress from turning into burnout is to tap into our resilience, or the ability to bounce back after a tough time. Clients shared that they recognize that employees need help increasing resilience and also creating better boundaries between home and work life so they can fully recharge.

What our clients are doing to tackle this issue:

  • A few clients said they are encouraging employees to set log off times. To quote one participant: “When the day is done, the day is done.” They’re also giving employees permission to not answer emails after 5pm, for example.
  • One client shared that her organization does not schedule any meetings during the lunch hour so employees can step away from their desks, get some exercise, and take time to eat.
  • Making the link for employees that exercise, good nutrition, and proper sleep can increase resilience.
  • Tapping into EAP resources, like webinars that teach resilience and self-care.

3. Adjusting to remote/hybrid work continues to be a challenge.

Enticing employees to return to the office is proving difficult for our clients, just as it is for so many organizations. Between extra family time gained to eliminating a long commute it’s been tough to make the case that employees should work in the office, especially when they’ve been productive at home. One client shared: “There’s no incentive to come in, sit in a cubicle, and do your work – you can do that from home.”

So, clients are leaning into ways to make spending time in the office meaningful by fostering social connections between coworkers and having some fun.

What our clients are doing to tackle this issue:

  • Tying in-office time to a particular event to draw people in, like a cornhole tournament (complete with brackets) or a scavenger hunt.
  • Shutting down the office to attend a play together or take a tour of the State Capitol.
  • Hosting events like bingo and trivia that both remote and in-office employees can participate in.
  • Making it easier for remote employees to feel like they’re actually in the meeting by using 360 degree cameras that continually adjust to focus on the speaker.

4. Managers need extra support.

As we’ve said before, middle managers are like the “sandwich generation” of the workplace. Our clients reported that their managers feel “squeezed from both sides” as they manage their own stress and the demands of leadership, and absorb their team’s stress as they work to support them. It’s no wonder managers are burning out and resigning at higher rates.1

What our clients are doing to tackle this issue:

  • Talking openly about how important it is for managers to engage in self-care – for themselves and so they can model the right behaviors for employees.
  • Embedding wellness goals into performance appraisals.
  • Ensuring that senior leadership also “walks the talk” in setting work and life boundaries so managers feel empowered to do so as well.
  • Equipping managers with the tools to be able to have mental health conversations with employees (talking points, infographics, lists of resources, tips, etc.).
  • Conducting manager training in leading with empathy.
  • Using morning huddle meetings to incorporate a “mental health minute” for managers.

5. You need to be creative to make sure well-being messages reach non-desk workers.

It’s easy to target well-being messages to employees who are sitting at a desk all day. But what about employees on the manufacturing floor, in health care, or in retail? Not so easy. Our clients discussed their strategies for making sure this audience receives important information about their well-being program.

What our clients are doing to tackle this issue:

  • Having well-being champions, who are trained in benefits and the EAP, walk the factory floor. Our client shared that champions have a good rapport with manufacturing employees and can talk openly about what they need help with and point them in the right direction.
  • Carving out times to step away and get some exercise – particularly important for call-center employees who are tied to the phone.
  • Using inspirational taglines, particularly in health care, that let people know that while they’re “heroes” for saving people’s lives, they also need to focus on themselves, too.
  • Ensuring that well-being messages come from the top, so employees feel they have permission to take time for well-being.
  • Sending well-being communication to home email addresses versus work email addresses. This can also help target family members.

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