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News Article

Supporting Employee Mental Health in the Post COVID-19 Era

By Miriam Bello | Wed, 06/09/2021 - 15:47

Employees’ mental health had been increasingly recognized as a critical success factor for companies and the pandemic further redefined its prominence in the workplace. The complete overhaul of work modalities is forcing companies to revolutionize their approach to employee mental health. In this new environment, HR leaders met during the webinar “Supportive Mental Health: Workplaces Prior and Post COVID-19” to identify the key challenges employees face. The webinar, organized by Mexico Business News and sponsored by The Hidden Kitchen, also allowed the discussion of best practices to support mental health in the workplace.

“The pandemic’s disruption to working environments was abrupt,” said Maite Delgadillo, HR Director of Scania, “generating anxiety and uncertainty for the present and future.” Scania’s employee survey discovered that the sudden change to the employee’s personal and professional life also generated stress, added Delgadillo. Within this new reality, work time management became challenging. “We realized that the fear of contagion, losing their job and Mexico’s macroeconomic environment were the general concerns of our collaborators.” Within this scenario, leaders responded to these novel anxiety levels in two different ways: “some leaders reacted by being present by mail, calls and messages to remain and feel in contact with everyone else. Other leaders did not make decisions, they were paralyzed,” said Delgadillo.

Addressing a company’s sudden anxiety is more important than many would imagine, as these severe impacts on mental and physical health can impact productivity and generate corporate losses of US$1-6 billion, said Gabriela Garcia, SVP Human Resources at PepsiCo. Therefore, she said companies have to play a more integral role in understanding that collaborators deal with stress and fatigue accumulation trying to balance the mix of personal and professional life. To approach its collaborators, PepsiCo opened communication forums with company leadership. During this time, promoting integrity as a fundamental value was also key, according to Garcia, because alcoholism, depression and violence increased during the outbreak. Also, as intrafamily violence increased, PepsiCo offered advice on legal issues and healthy finances. PepsiCo also generated an integral approach to its employees’ wellbeing. To address the concerns that collaborators had expressed via its support line, the company offered approaches that included (employees’) families, as we are aware that the family environment became part of the company too. Garcia shared that through PepsicoKids, the company introduced a series of activities for employees’ children, which would also give them some time off.

Collaborators are finding themselves on completely different roles than they had prior to the pandemic, stressed Marina Armendares, Co-Founder of 1up Coaching and Head Coach of Limitless High-Performance Coaching. But while every person finds themselves on a completely different reality, companies have to use personalized approaches to understand their situation. Some collaborators cope better than others, explained Mitzi Fernández, HR Business Partner & Wellness Senior Manager at Nestlé. For that reason, it is necessary to “provide a diversity of resources to them, which respond to the diversity of needs,” said Fernández. Nestlé provided a different approach options to allow its collaborators to choose, she explained, “but we had to bring them the options because they do not come seeking for support themselves.” To Fernández, generating environments of trust helps companies identify the red flags that can be developed during the pandemic. “Being at a distance does not mean being disconnected; we must encourage connection and interaction to generate bonds and coexistence, which makes us feel part of the organization.”

New working modalities have brought both positive and negative results, said Alma Rosa García Puig, Director General of Great Place to Work Mexico. “There has been a rebound in productivity because there is no mobility during isolation. This could have generated more quality time with the family, while simultaneously allowing employees to accomplish their professional goals.” In some cases, the change to work environments allowed for even more closeness among teams and even allowed some collaborators to dedicate time to physical health, said García Piug. On the other hand, “for some people the lack of mobility brough weight gain. There is also more stress because there is more work. Employees also face burn out, fatigue and deterioration of their physical health and are more exposed to domestic violence, alcoholism and other problems.”

Great Place to Work identified five areas to impact employee wellbeing: coexistence and socialization, conscious health (diet, physical activity and medicine), new ways of working, trust in the company through communication and leadership.

Delgadillo also suggested five pillars that companies should consider in the incoming “new normal”:

  1. Stablish a strong a leadership team: leaders must be close to the teams they manage since they are responsible for them. Companies must provide training to leaders in this area.
  2. Communication: recurrent meetings where companies listen and respond proactively to their collaborators’ concerns.
  3. Hear: listen to needs and requests.
  4. Diversity: have it and recognize it because it adds to innovation.
  5. Congruence: generates trust in the company and later clients can perceive it.

Delgadillo also stresses that companies must provide employees freedom in their time management as long as collaborators meet their objectives. This has worked out “perfectly” for Scania, she added, but highlighted that companies should look for what is best for them.

To close the webinar, Carolina Morillo, Director General of The Hidden Kitchen, suggested a service called “Cook & Coach” to break down the digital barriers of social contact. This service provides professional coaching that can significantly strengthen and improve work relationships. “It is the perfect virtual experience for work reintegration dynamics, because through cooking and professional coaching we reconnect with people; a single session can revitalize the relationship between the company and your team,” shared Morillo.

Photo by:   MBN
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst