The COVID-19 pandemic challenged our mental wellness in a myriad of ways. It also challenged employers to better support mental health at work. As a result, companies are embracing progressive new benefits supporting employee mental wellness.
These wellness practices change the game on when, where, and how team members work. Companies are using what they learned these past two years, when those perimeters were dictated by the pandemic. While some companies have implemented firm post-COVID return to work plans, others are slowing the transition back to physical offices or experimenting with how to define a work week. They’re trying new programs for the well-being of their people.
Many of these initiatives are already impacting individual corporate cultures, as well as changing the way we think about work at-large.
And, employees supported by their companies are expressing their thanks publicly and amplifying company values. Ultimately, the companies that best support their employees and guard against burnout are best positioned to keep those people in a global climate of turnover.
Here are some of the innovative ways companies are supporting employee mental wellness, with examples of employees sharing stories that show their appreciation, as well as the policy’s impact on them personally.
Offering remote work options with employee choice
Airbnb has made it easy for people to work from anywhere, and they’re experiencing a boom in remotely-working consumers using their platform. Once the pandemic took hold, Airbnb closed its offices to protect employees’ physical health. Now, offices have reopened, but employees can choose where ever they’d like to work! Since COVID, Airbnb has set a cultural precedent as the largest tech company to offer employee choice … and what a breadth of choices its team members have!
“You can live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location. Everyone will still need a permanent address for tax and payroll purposes, but we’re excited to give you this level of flexibility. Most companies don’t do this because of the mountain of complexities with taxes, payroll, and time zone availability, but I hope we can open-source a solution so other companies can offer this flexibility as well … we’re actively partnering with local governments to make it easier for more people to travel and work around the world … While working from different locations isn’t possible for everyone, I hope everyone can benefit from this flexibility when the time is right.”— Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO
Airbnb is far from alone in this thinking. PriceWaterhouseCooper chairman Kevin Ellis says he wants employees to have control of their schedules through flexible working “the norm rather than the exception…we want our people to feel trusted and empowered.” To that end, the global accountancy firm is allowing employees to work remotely as often as they like … and start as early or as late as they like!
And, they’re closing offices early on summer Fridays.
Extending leave for life circumstances
One day our society will wonder why we didn’t have this type of support for always. But for now, it’s a new idea to extend leave to women who are mourning a miscarriage, or dads so they can bond with their babies. Some companies like Kendra Scott are also giving off the Monday after Mother’s Day.
Bumble offers 15 days of Compassionate Leave, which includes taking leave after a miscarriage. The company also offers a minimum of 20 days paid leave for those who are victims of domestic violence or other violent crime.
Van Metre Companies offers Bonding Leave for new parents, and we were honored to help bring this story to life:
Letting employees know they can take time to process traumatic news
When racially traumatic events occur, or other hate crimes against a particular group are front page news, it’s essential to show care and support to team members. The co-authors of the insightful Harvard Business Review article “Give Black Employees Time to Rest and Recover” say, “… employees may need to ‘call in Black’ instead of showing up to work when racially traumatic events occur.” Today, more and more organizations are providing trauma counseling or other support services to employees impacted by disturbing events. And all organizations, no matter the company size resources, can let their employees know that they can take the time off that they need. Stories Inc. team member Brettany shared her own story of a situation like this.
Choose-your-own-adventure framework for mental wellness
Hubspot, famous for its progressive culture practices and policies, has been creative for Mental Health Awareness Month. In 2021, they provided employees with a variety of mental wellness options with the expectation they would implement their favorite for the month. The HubSpot Unplugged Initiative options all involved taking time away from work to recharge and strengthen personal well-being.
The program was named as one of FastCompany’s 2022 World Changing Ideas, received great employee feedback, and so it’s happening again this year! New for 2022: A Global Week of Rest for all employees to take time off and recharge. July 4-8 the entire company will be OOO. Additionally, HubSpot has instituted a “no internal meetings on Fridays” policy to help combat Zoom fatigue and made more adjustments to combat employee burnout.
Rethinking the traditional work week
Swiggy, the leader in on-demand delivery of food, groceries, and more in India, is also becoming a leader in prioritizing employee mental health. They’ve rolled out a whole suite of services and initiatives in 2021 for team member wellness. Like many companies, they are experimenting with a four day work week, but what’s unusual is they are giving employees the option to pick which four days of the week they work.
We know from several major work studies published recently that employees want the freedom to choose above all. Whenever you can add freedom and flexibility of choice to policies, you’re scoring points with your workforce (and potential candidates).
As a result, lots of Swiggsters have shared their gratitude on social.
After experimenting with four day work weeks in the summer, Stories Inc. knows first-hand that they can work. Service levels and productivity stayed the same, even with less time at work. Most importantly, we heard from our team members that this modification to the work week enhances their wellness.
Additionally, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and to thank the team for all their hard work during the pandemic and our economic recovery, Stories Inc. is closing the office the Thursday before Memorial Day to extend the long weekend.
Closing the office
The best way to know what programs and policies work best for your workforce is to ask them.
When IT marketplace platform Thumbtack surveyed its employees during the pandemic for mental wellness feedback, they expressed that it’s hard to truly unplug when everyone else is still working and that office closures work more effectively than floating days off.
To prevent employee burnout, closed the office for a few days during the “first summer of COVID.” And in 2021, they added an official one-week Summer Holiday Closure to their company calendar.
The best way for team members to recharge is to know all their colleagues are off, too. If you think you’re missing something, or someone is waiting on you for something, you can’t totally disconnect.
Capture the stories
There’s definite mental health value in creating these initiatives supporting employee mental wellness. There’s employer branding and recruitment marketing power in the announcement. But don’t stop there. When you offer team members tangible, innovative and real mental health support, you’ll also have team members who want to share their stories. This not only further promotes your innovative policy over time, beyond the big splash, but candidates can see exactly how the program is improving the lives of its people.
Those are the stories that their colleagues want to hear as they recommit to your company post-pandemic, and they’re the stories candidates are looking for as they look for cultures that will support them.
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