Complex Made Simple

How to support the mental health and well-being of your employees

Marvin Opperman, People Director, Sage Africa & Middle East, discusses how employers can support the mental health and well-being of their employees during the pandemic.

COVID-19 dominated 2020, with little respite on the horizon. Businesses were locked into survival mode and had greater expectations of their employees With the challenges set to continue well into this year, business owners find themselves facing low employee morale and more tough decision making In the context of lockdowns, quarantines, job losses and uncertainty looming large against the backdrop of winter, mental health support must become a bigger priority in conversations around recovery

Author: Marvin Opperman, People Director, Sage Africa & Middle East

COVID-19 dominated 2020, with little respite on the horizon. Businesses were locked into survival mode and had greater expectations of their employees. With the challenges set to continue well into this year, business owners find themselves facing low employee morale and more tough decision making. Companies need to ensure that they are taking care of the emotional, financial, and motivational needs of their employees.

In the context of lockdowns, quarantines, job losses and uncertainty looming large against the backdrop of winter, mental health support must become a bigger priority in conversations around recovery. The UAE classifies mental health as a vital component of a balanced care system. Mental health disorders are also well recognised as the cause of great human suffering, threatening social and economic development, and cutting lives short. Yet, how can HR professionals create a new formula that helps employees feel more hopeful in the early part of the year?

Personalized pastoral care

The responsibility to create a productive and happy employee experience shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of HR. But clearly, people professionals need to play the starring role. HR’s task is to listen to employees, monitor their sentiments and share both insights and solutions with the company’s leadership to ensure the best possible workplace experiences, productivity, and output. This in itself is no small task!

Every employee is an individual, with different needs, priorities, and personal objectives. A broad-brush approach – where everyone receives the same baseline of pastoral care – simply won’t suffice. Such tunnel vision could lead to dissatisfaction in the workplace, and result in a loss of the best talent as companies scramble to get on board with ensuring a more tailored package.  One size doesn’t fit all. HR teams need an unprecedented understanding of each and every employee as well as a close, consultative relationship with company management to ensure mental wellness is addressed as it should be.

In addition, that understanding today also must be real time. Employees are not static, what they want changes with the seasons. People teams need to be sensitive to factors such as mental health and its link to money concerns. Some staff may request their pay earlier in the month, for example, and this is where the business should be flexible and understanding.

Read: Why workplace mental health, and why now: 1 in 5 employees suffer from it

Data is at the heart

However, attaining this level of real-time employee insight requires easy and comprehensive access to data from across the business. A HR professional should have access to an employee’s emergency contact details, employment record and most recent appraisal at their fingertips. This can pose a challenge if that information is siloed in different parts of the business. So, a core priority is to ensure that all employee and business information are available in a single environment.

Once HR teams have access to comprehensive employee data, they need the capabilities to process and understand this data quickly. The employees experience a constant, always switched-on culture that has only been amplified by the flexible nature of remote working. Staff could be online and working at any point of the day, generating masses of data that HR teams will need to analyse, if they want an accurate picture of the employee experience. There’s simply too much information for any person to process, so teams need tools to help them analyse large amounts of complex data quickly.

Processing and understanding this data is vitally important to the employee experience. One of the most insidious aspects of stress or depression is that its victims often suffer in silence. Individual employees are less likely to come forward – especially when isolated and working from home – and will quickly find themselves on a slippery slope as they hurtle headlong towards low job satisfaction and reduced productivity. That’s why HR has to make the first move, ensuring employees know they are always around to listen to and support them at any time of day. A proactive approach can only be achieved if the HR team is aware of employee concerns – and that awareness can only come from data.  

The right tools for the job

The challenge is knowing which employees are struggling more than others and in need of individual attention. This requires a level and speed of data analysis that many HR teams alone cannot attain. Fortunately, AI and machine learning tools can lend a helping hand when it comes to analyzing data quickly.

The power of AI lies in detecting trends and patterns that are imperceptible to humans amid masses of data. Through advanced analytics, AI tools can deliver predictions and offer business recommendations. In doing so, they offer better lead indicators that help managers proactively prevent – rather than just react to – employee issues. For example, HR leaders can identify when a staff member is struggling from their workload and is likely to burn out. Armed with this insight, they can intervene to make sure the employee has the necessary support available.

Through implementing AI into their technology stacks, HR teams can achieve accurate sentiment and behavioural analytics. Assessing a range of factors, from the tone of their voice to what time they start work in the morning, a business can tell when an employee is struggling and under pressure. However, the human element is key. The machine detects the problem, but it’s the People professionals who solve it with empathy.

Getting to know you

Businesses must understand that employees are their most precious asset. Going the extra mile to ensure they are healthy and happy at work boosts resilience, productivity, and retention. An approach that combines cloud integration and analytics will help People teams to gain a real-time, accurate view of each employee’s experience. In order to help them, People teams first need to truly understand them.

Read: The effects of social isolation: Mental health under quarantine