HR leaders share their best practices on how their organisations are supporting employees holistically.
By Simon Kent
As the pandemic subsides, the emphasis on supporting a healthy and happy workforce continues. As fallout from the past few years is felt, together with new challenges such as global warming, the war in Europe, and the cost-of-living crisis, HR leaders understand that health and well-being is more challenging now.
Maureen Calabrese, chief people officer of global mental health platform Modern Health, believes HR is now the most critical voice in the room when it comes to employee well-being. According to their research, more than 74% of employees say that they want their employer to care about their mental health, but only half (53%) feel that they actually do. “HR leaders cannot afford not to support employees’ mental health,” she says. “Over the course of a year, workers with fair or poor mental health are estimated to have nearly 12 days of unplanned absences annually, which is estimated to cost the economy $47.6 billion annually in lost productivity.”
Calabrese has seen firsthand how HR has expanded its support to employees beyond the usual scope of health plans and the traditional EAP. She also cites a Kaiser survey that said this extension is occurring at one in three organisations.
According to Lucy Kuri, vice president, people and organisation, global emerging markets, at Mars Wrigley, taking care of employees’ well-being at her company is handled in a way that means provision constantly reflects and changes according to employee needs. “Well-being is a broad term and can mean many things to different people,” she says. “Our goal is to approach health and well-being holistically – providing a comprehensive set of support catering from physical to mental well-being and everything in between.”
To meet this challenge, the company has enlisted a comprehensive set of support initiatives. As a global company, Mars Wrigley has diverse initiatives occurring at different locations. This means it can learn from its own practice and experience around the world with the most effective initiatives being shared throughout the organisation.
In the Middle East and Africa region, for example, a campaign called “Made by You” came directly from a Mars Wrigley frontline associate. This resource works by enabling employees to use social media to share details of how development opportunities, flexible working, and benefits help them deliver what they need to do at work. In addition to providing a way of sharing ideas among staff, Kuri says this dialogue also raises awareness of the type of company Mars Wrigley is and can even help create a dialogue in the wider snacking industry about improving the future of work.
Further initiatives originating in other parts of the world are also being rolled out globally. Mars Wrigley’s Australian arm recently commissioned research that found seven in 10 respondents currently rely on their partner’s or spouse’s opinion when they’re deciding whether to move jobs. “As a result, we began a pioneering initiative allowing individuals to bring a loved one to their job interview to ensure the potential new associate and their friends and family felt positive about how the role would align with their personal life and alleviate any concerns,” explains Kuri. This idea offers a more holistic approach to making decisions on jobs and careers.
The campaign has already generated positive feedback among candidates – one employee saying it had really made them consider what the job meant to their family and the kind of benefits and offerings they truly value from
“We actively encourage associates to seek support where needed,” concludes Kuri. “We have provided more avenues to allow them to anonymously access counselling and worked with leadership to break down communication barriers to normalise conversations around mental health.”
Kate Hesk, co-founder and CPO at mental fitness coaching company Cognomie, says well-being cannot be considered in isolation but always in relation to performance. “The facts are that unless your people feel engaged, fulfilled, and like they’re thriving, they won’t perform as well,” she says.
She notes that if well-being policies are going to address the difficulties and worries that employees are facing, especially when that support needs to be aligned with the patterns of hybrid working, companies have to go way beyond the idea that one-size-fits-all. “Personalisation is essential here,” she says. “So, we need that insight and awareness in the way we work with individuals to personalise support, ensuring we bring consistency and flexibility to our approach and work within specific competency and well-being frameworks,” she says.
What this means in practice, argues Hesk, is that organisations should be offering guidelines to hybrid working, rather than strict policies. Such an approach means personal choice is retained by employees – and that extends beyond working arrangements to how everyone can access well-being resources.
Hesk also highlights the importance of “psychological safety” for employees – something that was heightened during the pandemic as organisations and teams experienced rapid change. “It really brought how essential creating an environment of psychological safety is to employers’ attention,” says Hesk. “Psychological safety is experienced when employees feel trusted and trusting. “So much about psychological safety is rooted in trust and trust building,” adds Hesk. “When people aren’t together, trust is weakened which is why this was so amplified during the pandemic. When we don’t feel trust, we tend to shut down emotionally and intellectually – it’s fight or flight. This in turn impacts how we perform and connect so it’s an integral piece of well-being.”
Psychological safety is something which Hesk believes all organisations can reach towards, through policy and through ensuring HR understands and implements this within their everyday work. “It requires sponsorship and ambassadorship to ensure its effectively woven into organisational culture,” she concludes.
What emerges, then, is an evolving approach to well-being that is built on general provision that addresses the whole individual rather than trying to identify specific individual initiatives that might help in specific circumstances. In other words, build the environment where the employee feels safe, content, and supportive rather than wait for them to raise a specific need that then needs to be addressed.