The whole person approach: Designing programs for employee mental health

May 27th, 2021
Andy Valenzuela
Employer Branding
Canoer on lake

HR leaders have always been in charge of programs designed to care for employee mental and physical well-being, and to state the obvious, that stewardship intensified as COVID-19 turned into a global crisis. For many professional roles, the physical health part came with more obvious solutions like moving to remote work and halting business travel. For frontline workers the solutions weren't so cut and dried, but PPE supplies stabilized, social distancing started to make sense and guidelines from public health organizations were successfully implemented.

As the pandemic continued on, mental health considerations required more focus, and oftentimes this felt like a more complicated need. This month is Mental Health Awareness Month in the states, and I thought it would be beneficial to share some of what has worked for us as we continue trying to meet the varied needs of our team members and their families.

HireVue has employees all around the world, from the U.S. to India, which means we've had to be flexible in our responses to employee needs. We also have hourly and salaried employees, so some of our benefits and programs have asterisks and alternatives for those distinct work groups.

I hope that you feel inspired and empowered by the changes we've made to meet the unique needs of your employees and culture:

Changes to support mental health at HireVue

  1. Lead with empathy, acknowledge the situation: First and foremost, we made sure that all of our remote town halls included explicit acknowledgment that productivity, office hours, and overall participation might look different during the pandemic. We asked everyone to approach each other with empathy. And it wasn't just lip service, we meant it. Kids pop into Zoom backgrounds, team members move meetings when they need to, and goals were adjusted with the world's circumstances in mind.
  2. Audit and augment benefits, then make access easy: Our teams already had access to great benefits, but in many cases, there were untapped mental health services available. To ensure that the programs we already offered were used, our people leaders consolidated all existing programs with plan options and contact info in one place. From there we added optional workshops on mental health and updated our health insurance plans to ensure that no one would ever have to pay for coronavirus-related diagnostics or treatment. Once this information was solidified, we communicated through every available channel to our teams - our goal was that no one ever had to wonder what to do if they needed help.
  3. Half day Fridays and added holidays: In May, before I joined the organization, our CEO, Kevin Parker sent an email to the team implementing paid half day Fridays every other week. The original email called it a, “temporary work schedule change,” but half day Fridays are permanent now because employee feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Employees talked about the time off with family, resting after a week of pandemic-despair, and the overall relief of having extra time off when they knew no one was expecting a response. We've also added a global MLK paid holiday and an extra four day weekend in the summer.
  4. Company-wide vacation in August 2021: Seeing the positive impact of Half Day Fridays made it clear just how powerful it is to have everyone sign off at the same time, so we decided to add a one week summer shutdown to the company schedule this August. Taking time off to recharge, be with family, and do the things you love makes all of us better when we show up to work. That being said, most of us relate to the anxiety of thinking work is piling up while you're out - this company-wide holiday eliminates that tension.
  5. Increased monthly stipend for remote work accommodations: When we sent everyone home in March, we thought it would be for a few months (if we only knew), and many of our employees left behind efficiencies like second monitors and foot rests. But as time dragged on, we knew we had to get employees a better setup at home. So, in addition to having our IT team box up cables and monitors for shipping (all while following safety protocols), we added a monthly work from home stipend to employee checks so they can make their space, whatever it may be, just a bit more comfortable for them.
  6. A reimagined future for the office: We surveyed employees who used to work in HQ and found that a small number wanted to return in-person as soon as possible. And while most prefer to keep up the WFH life a majority of the time, it has become clear that as it becomes safe, teams want to meet up once in a while for camaraderie and collaboration. With that in mind, we've sublet a large portion of the space that we don't need, and we're revamping the space we do have with our new reality in mind.

I wouldn't be giving the full picture if I didn't mention that making changes work for hourly workers and international teams can have its hurdles. For instance, time off for employees on our 24/7 customer support team takes some extra wrangling, and we had to make sure we picked a week in the summer didn't coincide with a UK bank holiday - but we've worked these details out on a department-by-department basis

The whole person approach

I sat down with Leapgen's Jason Averbook a few weeks ago to talk about rebuilding hiring, and I can't stop thinking about his suggestion to use a whole-person approach when designing employee programs. Meeting the needs of whole people requires thinking of employees as complex beings with physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional needs that should be considered at work.

We have a stellar team of innovators who show up with a growth mindset and positive attitudes, and we want to make sure that we're supporting them from that whole person perspective. We're not out of this pandemic yet, and the needs of our workforce will undoubtedly change. We're still doing our best to prioritize mental and physical health. We're designing solutions with childcare constraints in mind and recognizing the loss of loved ones to covid-19, and by keeping all of those circumstances in mind, we've made some changes that have been incredibly well-received by employees.

For more observations and insights about the changing world of work, check out my recent discussion with Jason Averbook.

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