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Transforming Workplaces: The CHRO’s Role in Mental Health Advocacy

In the realm of HR leadership, particularly for the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), Mental Health Month in May serves as a timely reminder of the year-round importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. Amidst the complexities and stresses of modern life, employees are increasingly prioritizing organizations that provide comprehensive support systems for their whole selves, including their mental health needs.

 

This isn’t simple altruism; it’s also a strategic advantage for employers. Cultivating a workplace culture that values well-being and fosters positivity serves as a powerful magnet for top-tier talent. Moreover, it contributes significantly to achieving key organizational objectives such as talent retention, reducing turnover rates, and enhancing both employee engagement and productivity.

 

CHROs play a pivotal role in spearheading initiatives that address these imperatives. They are responsible for translating the overarching need for mental health support into actionable programs and strategies within the HR domain.

 

The Importance of Mental Health in Today’s Workplace

We live in a stressful world, to put it simply. In 2022, Gallup found that people were more stressed and worried than they had been in 16 years, with 42% experiencing significant worry, 41% experiencing stress, and 28% experiencing sadness.

 

The root causes for those increased stress levels vary, and can include:

Work-Related Factors Personal/Home-Related Factors
·         Workload

·         Job Insecurity

·         Work Relationships (or Lack of Them)

·         Lack of Control

·         Work Environment

·         Job Demands

·         Unclear Expectations

·         Career Development

·         Work-Life Balance

·         Family Issues

·         Financial Concerns

·         Health Issues

·         Life Events

·         Social Support

·         Personal Habits

·         Mental Health

·         Commute

·         Time Management

 

As you scan the list, you can probably identify co-workers, friends, or family members who are affected by one or more factors on this list. Those concerns can trickle down into their work, impacting things like productivity, satisfaction, and turnover. In this context, it’s no wonder that addressing mental health concerns is becoming a key priority for CHROs and other HR leaders.

 

Research from Glassdoor found that, after pay considerations, the leading reasons that employees look for new opportunities are stress, lack of satisfaction, and overall happiness. In fact, employees who rate their companies at two “stars” out of five are twice as likely to begin a new job application on Glassdoor than those who rate their companies at five stars. 46% of people say their expectation around happiness at work has increased, while 86% say that how they feel at work impacts how they feel at home. More importantly: 90% of people say they believe that how we feel at work matters, yet only 49% say that their company is actually measuring happiness and wellbeing.

 

As a result, more people are looking for workplaces that prioritize mental health support in some way. According to the American Psychological Association:

  • 81% of employees said they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health when seeking new job opportunities.
  • 71% of employees admit to being worried that their pay has not kept up with inflation.
  • 60% of employees who are aware of some form of workplace monitoring or tracking say they feel stressed out or tense during the workday, and 51% say they are uncomfortable with how the monitoring is used.
  • 18% of employees describe their workplaces as “toxic,” and 30% report personally experiencing some form of harassment.

 

These numbers make clear what CHROs already know: a strong commitment to mental health can be a key differentiator for your organization. Promoting a culture to support this perspective can give you a significant edge in terms of attracting and retaining top talent, avoiding burnout, and maintaining productivity and engagement.

 

What Can HR Leaders Do?

 Forward-thinking HR leaders are already realizing the importance of mental health benefits, and it’s important to keep that moving forward. Goldman Sachs Ayco’s 2023 Benefits & Compensation Trends in Corporate America Report found that mental health benefits are currently the most common voluntary and ancillary benefit, with 95% of respondents offering these benefits (up from 90% in 2022). Mental health benefits can be incorporated as part of actual health benefits, of course, but it’s also important to address deeper issues of culture, burnout, engagement, and even community-building.

 

To that end, the 2024 KPMG U.S. CEO Outlook Pulse Survey reveals a few of the most common approaches that today’s CEOs and other top leaders are taking to ensure the well-being of their workforce:

  • 74% of CEOs are implementing initiatives focused on mental well-being, including as digital wellness solutions, mindfulness seminars, resilience workshops, and coaching sessions.
  • 61% are encouraging employees to use GenAI to automate basic tasks at work, helping them to better manage their workload and relieve stress from having “too much to do.”
  • 60% are facilitating more opportunities for employees to strengthen their personal relationships with their coworkers, such as employee volunteering and in-person training and development.
  • 56% are implementing trainings for managers, so they are better equipped to more effectively address well-being concerns and burnout among their teams.

 

The struggles of the past few years exacerbated the existing struggles of many working professionals to balance their work with their personal lives and their mental well-being. New fears, from health-related concerns to changes in childcare availability and an uncertain economic outlook, have added more stress and anxiety to many people’s lives. This is particularly true for Millennials and Gen Z, who are comprising an increasingly large share of the workforce – and who are more likely to ask for these benefits.

 

Each team will likely focus on a few specific benefits, and your team can perform a competitive analysis to determine which will be the most helpful to your employees (and the most likely to help your team stand out from your competitors). These benefits may include:

  • Counseling or access to psychiatrists or mental health professionals
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • Paid time off for mental health days
  • Accommodations for employees with mental health conditions
  • Mental health training and education
  • Wellness programs incorporating mental health components
  • Awareness campaigns
  • Leadership commitment and advocacy
  • Crisis response protocols, including suicide prevention support
  • Immediate support for employees in distress
  • Integration with overall health and wellness strategy

 

To remain attractive to top talent in a competitive marketplace, it’s essential for HR leaders to look for more creative and flexible ways to support employees’ complete well-being. This includes direct access to mental health support, but there’s more than that. It also involves creating a culture (and leading by example) where people can feel comfortable being themselves, taking advantage of the benefits offered, and achieving a work-life balance that avoids burnout and maintains satisfaction.

 

May might be the official Mental Health Month, but we at Blue Rock Search understand the importance of complete well-being every month of the year. The CHRO might not be able to fix the issues of the world at large, but CHROs who tackle mental health head-on can rest assured that they are making a difference with every decision they make to support their teams.

 

About the Author

After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben Moreno and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.”  Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR & Diversity Executive Search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of Chief HR Officers and Chief Diversity Officers and their respective teams — inclusive of leaders in Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, HRBP’s, Learning & OD, HR Technology, HR Operations, and HR Analytics. Ruben has helped place hundreds of HR Executives and built deep relationships within the CHRO community across multiple industry verticals. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their business and add value beyond executive search.

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