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Mental Health

How HR Leaders Can Improve Wellbeing Across Their Organization

November 15, 2021

Employee wellbeing is at the center of how HR departments make decisions. We dive into how to incorporate wellbeing into your OKRs in 2022 and become an organization that notably puts its people first.

Sarah Archer
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7 min
Employee wellbeing is at the center of how HR departments make decisions. We dive into how to incorporate wellbeing into your OKRs in 2022 and become an organization that notably puts its people first.

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On average, employees invest one-third of their lives at work.

Yet historically, negative corporate culture has occupied the possibility for work-life balance. 

In 2020, that came to a head. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for organizations to be more people-centric. If employee wellbeing and mental health policies were ignored, organizations were faced with being part of the Great Resignation, an avalanche of two-week notices that began in April 2021. 

Employee wellbeing is at the center of how human resource departments make decisions. We dive into how HR leaders can incorporate wellbeing into their OKRs in 2022 and become an organization that notably puts its people first.

Get your questions answered.

Why is employee well-being important?

Where would your company be without your people? 

We can speculate that it wouldn’t be where it is today. That’s because your people are the backbone of your organization. 

Employee wellbeing is important because it’s proven to improve productivity, retention, morale, and the health of your staff. 

As an HR leader, it’s important to consider wellbeing as a part of every aspect of what you do. From hiring and benefits to performance reviews and promotions, understanding and supporting employees’ wellbeing is what will drive your organization’s success. 

Get your questions answered.

1. Destigmatize Mental Health

When people don’t fear repercussions for taking time off to focus on their mental health, they’ll be empowered to do their best work.

It’s up to an organization’s leadership team and HR department to work together in assembling a benefits package and training program that supports the mental health of their staff. 

Consider offering paid therapy and counseling sessions to support your staff in getting the help they need without worrying about the cost. In addition, offer paid mental health days so employees never feel like they have to suffer in silence or be afraid to take a day for themselves. Be clear that these benefits are at their disposal at any time, no questions asked. 

For example, Starbucks offers all of their U.S. employees and eligible family members access to 20 free sessions a year with a mental health therapist or coach through Lyra Health. 


It’s also invaluable to offer management training so your managers can create a psychologically safe environment for their team. You can either invest in custom employee training courses, or adopt an online training course offered by vendors like Traliant, LeaderFactor, and more. 

Progressive remote companies are setting the bar for what’s possible when it comes to destigmatizing mental health. 

Take Spotify for example. They launched a global mental health initiative called Heart & Soul, which raises awareness, removes stigma, and provides practice self-care and professional support around mental health. 

2. Invest in employee stipends 


Offering employee stipends as a part of your benefits package is not only attractive in the recruiting process, but will help employees feel supported throughout their employment. 

HR departments can justify a wellness category as a way to boost employee engagement and job satisfaction. For example, the marketing agency, We Are Rosie, offers their employees a personal enrichment stipend to use on whatever they want. 


Other wellness stipend ideas include:

Fitness stipend


According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.

Organizations can encourage that employees to be active through fitness stipends, which can cover fitness classes, gym memberships, or events such as road and bike races.

For example, Calm, a software company that produces meditation products, covers their staff’s monthly fitness and wellness stipends on top of their 100% coverage of health, dental, and vision plans. 

Meditation stipend

A study conducted at the Southern Management Association shows evidence that there is a link between meditation and positive workplace outcomes, including performance, relationships, and wellbeing. 

Organizations can encourage mindfulness by offering free access to meditation sessions through apps like Headspace, Calm, or Plum Village.

Remote work stipend

If you’re a remote organization, consider offering a remote work stipend to support your employee’s home office or help them get out of the house. 

For example, you could cover the cost of a standing desk, second monitor, and ergonomic chair to ensure a comfortable and productive workspace. Employees could also use that stipend to cover the cost of a coworking space or coffee shop purchases to encourage their staff to work in their local community. 

Buffer
, a social media tool, is known to offer their staff a “working smarter stipend,” which offers extra cash for a coworking space or coffee shop. 


If include wellbeing stipends in your benefits package, you’ll not only attract candidates but keep your employees happy. 

3. Recognize your employees

While it might seem like common sense to recognize achievements, it’s not always natural for some managers. That’s why it’s up to HR leaders to instill a culture of support and recognition across the organization. 

Encourage managers to look out for victories and value wins. Consider hierarchies and create a system where executives shout out. If an entry-level employee is noticed by a director for their hard work, they’ll realize that their hard work can make a big impact. 

Take Siege Media, a content marketing agency, for example. Their team calls out wins on their Instagram to showcase the hard work for their staff. 

However, remember that call-outs like these shouldn’t support heavy workloads and a poor work-life balance. Be cognizant that in celebrations, you’re supporting strong output, not long hours. 

4. Send a care package


Whether an employee is going through a tough moment or you want to show your appreciation “just because,” sending a care package is a great way to support their wellbeing. 

Provide your managers with a monthly stipend that they can spend on their employees to boost morale. They can make it as personalized as they want, but provide some fun ideas for them to consider such as a gift card to a local juice shop, indoor plants, or a self-care kit with items like candles and lotion.


5. Practice gratitude at work 


Let’s face it: it feels nice to be appreciated for your hard work. 

That’s no different in the workplace. 

Practicing gratitude at work is proven to improve mental health outcomes and decrease toxic emotions. Foster a culture of gratitude in a sincere way through internal and external practices. 

Internally, you can encourage employees to write down what they appreciate every day, write thank you notes to someone you appreciate, and keep a running list of what you appreciate. 

Externally, remote teams can set up an appreciation Slack channel that encourages employees to share their gratitude with one another. Another common practice is to hold gratitude meetings at the end of each week. This allows employees to share what they appreciate about work or in their personal lives. 

6. Encourage personal connections at work


When you’r team works remotely, establishing personal relationships at work must be purposeful. As an HR team, you can encourage employees to establish connections through initiatives. 

Meetup stipend


It can be rare for remote employees to see each other in person. But you can encourage colleagues to grab coffee or lunch together when they’re in the same area through a meetup stipend. 


Offsite


There’s something special about spending time together as a remote team when being in person is not a given. 

As a remote company ourselves, we’ve reaped the benefits of an offsite, which helped us bond, get excited about the future of the company, and discuss our mission and values. 


However, realize that not everyone might be comfortable with meeting up. That means that trust exercises can be anxiety-ridden. Connect with employees privately about their comfort zone and allow for alone time during the day so everyone has time to 

Launch unique Slack channels


Encourage natural banter for employees with similar interests by launching optional Slack channels. For example, use #dogspotting for random pictures of dogs or #cooking for recipe chatter.


7. Inspire personal and professional development 

To reach your employee engagement OKR, provide resources that support employees’ personal and career development. 


For example, you can provide a personal and professional development stipend that can be used on educational courses and conferences or personal endeavors like signing up for a road race or new surf gear. 


Another benefit you could offer to employee wellbeing is a stipend for a life coach to help employees set goals and reach fulfillment in their careers.


8. Deeply consider your PTO policy


While unlimited PTO might seem like a benefit you can’t beat, it can be a red flag to prospective and current employees. Instead, it can be taken as a deceptive benefit that discourages employees from taking time off, introduces resentment amongst teams, and pushes employees to always be on. 



That's why leadership and HR teams should think very carefully about what kind of paid time off they’re offering to their employees. Some companies are continuing to push for unlimited PTO, but with a mandatory minimum to encourage employees to take their well-earned vacation without fear. 


Consider your paid time off policy to include various life circumstances such as paid parental leave for new mothers, fathers, and non-binary parents.

In addition, some companies notably reward their dedicated employees with a sabbatical for their tenure and dedication to the company. 


9. Launch a volunteer program

Studies show that volunteering can reduce feelings of loneliness and help people feel a sense of purpose in their community.

As a remote company, it’s a no-brainer to support your employees’ wellbeing by encouraging them to lend a hand in their local area. 

One way to include volunteering in your benefits package is to offer paid volunteer days where employees can spend their workdays volunteering for a benefit they believe in. 


Another option is to offer a volunteering opportunity where your team gets together to offer their time at a shared cause. 


10. Invest tools that support employee wellbeing


One aspect of including wellbeing as a part of your OKRs is that their impact can be difficult to track. But HR tools can help you track, report, and improve on wellbeing initiatives. 

We use our own tool, Kona, to check in with employees every day. It allows managers and HR teams to track trends, so you know exactly how employees are feeling and can tackle any negative trends head-on. 


Another tool we love is Headspace for work, which offers meditations and an employer dashboard to track impact. 


Whatever initiative you decide to implement across your organization, remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health and wellbeing. Regularly survey your staff to understand how they’re feeling and what you could improve.

More tips for HR departments:

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Meet the Author(s)

Sarah Archer

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Sarah is Head of Content Strategy at Kona and MBA candidate at Boston University. She helps leaders prevent burnout and build culture in remote organizations.

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