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Adapting and Advancing: Navigating the Ever-Changing Landscape of Mental Health

Daily life has gotten harder to navigate. From shifting expectations around how we work, to the pressures of family life, to an increasing number of traumatic incidents that touch too many lives, our collective wellbeing is struggling. And for too long, talking about our mental wellbeing in the workplace—where we spend hundreds of hours of our lives, earn our living, and support the business objectives of our employers­—was taboo.

But times are finally changing. There are signs that the stigma around mental health discussions in the workplace is slowly lifting. In fact, with 92% of employees indicating they want to work for an organization that values wellbeing, mental wellness has become a central focus for HR and benefits leaders looking to not only recruit and retain talent, but to develop an engaged, productive, and resilient workforce.

Yet, even as this becomes a priority, developing or honing wellbeing program offerings remains a common, shared challenge across industries. For organizations still building programs, starting from scratch can feel like a daunting proposition. For those building onto an existing program, it can be hard to know which areas need improvement, and how to effectively tailor offerings to match the needs of an increasingly diverse employee population.

As a mental health professional with experience partnering with HR leaders to build resilient workplaces by supporting employee mental wellbeing, I know how overwhelming it can feel to “build the plane while flying it,” so-to-speak, and to serve the holistic wellness needs of a team while simultaneously adapting support to match evolving best practices. An assessment of today’s workforce wellbeing landscape can offer a roadmap to leveraging emerging models and adapting them to best serve your employees. Here are several key considerations in assessing the needs of your workplace culture.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Employee expectations of workplace wellness support are changing. As more millennials and young generations enter the workforce, they expect mental wellbeing benefits alongside health, dental and other traditional benefits, meaning that wellbeing has shifted to the “necessity column” among employers.

This means that employers must shift from a reactive to a more proactive approach in deploying mental wellness programs. This shift requires establishing wellbeing initiatives, having support processes in place, and doing the legwork to create an open and inclusive culture. With just 31% of employees reporting that they are “very satisfied” with their current workplace culture, there is a clear opportunity for employers to differentiate themselves and foster an environment that supports employee satisfaction and retention.  

Take a Multi-Faceted Approach

Human wellbeing is complex, and any effective workplace wellness program needs to mirror that reality. Every employee brings a different background, experiences, and set of beliefs to the table when they clock in to work every day. Naturally, this means that every individual is going to have different needs—and a unique definition—when it comes to wellbeing. As a result, wellbeing programs must be comprehensive, adaptable and flexible to account for personalization, and able to adjust over time.

An effective wellbeing program must also be cognizant of real-world, global events and the impact they may have on individual circumstances. This type of interconnectedness should not be overlooked. When employees are bombarded through social media or the daily news with what can feel like never-ending tragedies, disruptive global events, or the overall feeling of an uncertain future, it’s understandable that it impacts how they show up at work. It’s important that employees can access resources and solutions both on the clock and away from it, giving them a feeling of support that sticks with them wherever they may be.

Measure, Measure, Measure

In my years consulting with a myriad of companies, I’ve often encountered an interesting conundrum: even among organizations that recognize the need for a wellbeing program, the reality of a harsh and competitive business environment can lead them to forego it. I’ve come across many business leaders who are all about numbers and data, and if a wellbeing initiative can’t deliver clear efficacy results, it’s simply not going to work.

Fortunately, it’s becoming easier to scale wellbeing programs, measure effectiveness and deliver real-time insights of impact. Value of investment (VOI) and return on investment (ROI) are becoming must-haves for any wellbeing program, establishing standards that can showcase results and identify potential areas for improvement. This data can measure (anonymous, aggregated) symptom improvement, but also key areas of functional improvement, such as an increase in employee engagement and productivity.

For business leaders, this can showcase a true ROI and provide a full picture that helps highlight areas in which they are succeeding, and areas where they need to improve. This type of measurement gives the HR team a powerful weapon at its disposal, backing up the hard work done daily to support employees and ensure they are in the best position to succeed.

Compare Against Industry Benchmarks

As important as measurement is to any effective wellbeing program, so too is the power to compare outcomes against reliable and comprehensive indices. The Mental Health at Work Index and Blueprint Quality Index are two of the most popular that HR teams should become acquainted with, enabling the ability to compare their program findings against the most robust and up-to-date data in the workplace.

This information not only aids leaders in understanding the mental health landscape but provides a more well-rounded view into findings. This type of hard data is crucial to innovating and improving programs, and organizations would be wise to work with providers that proactively partner with industry experts and wellbeing organizations that produce reliable, provable indices.

Tap into AI and Digital Tools as Supplements, Not Stand-Alone Resources

Artificial intelligence (AI) is all the rage these days, and we continue to see its impact more in the realm of behavioral health. Chatbots and wearables are two of the areas where AI is making an immediate impact, opening another line of communication, and providing alerts that can proactively step in to offer help where it’s needed.

Just as important, AI has shown real promise in helping compile and process large amounts of data, aiding in the diagnosis and prediction of patient outcomes. Machine learning can also help flag potential warning signs before they progress to an acute stage.

However, digital interventions can never replace the clinical expertise, emotional nuance, or lived experience captured in human-to-human interactions within the therapeutic space. I would add that we are still in the early stages of AI adoption and implementation. And as exciting as the possibilities may seem, exercising caution remains a smart practice. With this technology quickly outpacing industry oversight, we should expect continued regulatory and ethical challenges, meaning a wait-and-see approach is a smart call for business and HR leaders.

Given the complexities of wellbeing, it’s no surprise that many HR and benefits teams have faced difficulties in crafting and honing their respective wellbeing programs. It may feel like a daunting challenge to come up with a strategy that effectively equips the workforce, but as challenging as this can feel, it’s important to recognize it also comes with opportunity. Understanding the ever-changing landscape of mental health and identifying areas where you can strengthen your organization’s offerings will keep your workforce engaged, productive, and resilient for whatever the future holds.

George L. Vergolias, PsyD, CTM, chief clinical officer at R3 Continuum, oversees all of R3’s clinical service areas. He leads R3’s Leadership Support, Clinical Risk, and Workplace Violence programs, and has directly assessed or managed more than 1,000 cases related to threat of violence or self-harm, sexual assault, stalking, and communicated threats. He brings over 20 years of experience as a forensic psychologist, certified threat manager and executive coach to bear in an effort to help leaders, organizations, employees and communities heal, optimize and ultimately thrive before, during, and after disruption. 

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