Employers have never been more aware of the need to protect the mental health of their people, with COVID-19 pushing many workers to the brink. Ahead of R U OK? Day on 9 September, INTHEBLACK speaks to two organisations about how they provide wellbeing support to their employees.
Feelings of isolation and burnout have become common products of the current environment of prolonged lockdowns and remote working.
Demonstrating care for employees need not be expensive to be effective, and organisations are putting more thought into practical ways of supporting workplace mental health.
At Deloitte Australia, one of the main areas of focus has been flexibility in terms of work hours, break times and leave, to suit the needs of its 10,000 employees.
“Trusting and empowering our employees to work in a way that works for them, their clients and their team, is key to staff’s mental health and wellbeing,” says Tina McCreery, chief human resources officer for Deloitte Australia.
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“It’s also critical to engagement and productivity, recruiting top talent, and supporting work–life balance.”
For linking platform Linktree, a similar, customised approach to wellbeing has meant that its global base of 120 employees has a range of wellbeing benefits to choose from.
Isa Notermans, Linktree’s global head of people and culture, explains that the organisation put in place its wellbeing measures earlier this year to help staff cope with the double demands of the pandemic, as well as the start-up’s recent growth spurt.
“We knew we couldn’t fulfil every person’s individual needs, so we decided to offer a range of benefits people could pick and choose from,” Notermans says.
Here are nine practical mental health support measures implemented by Deloitte and Linktree:
1. Share personal stories
Deloitte’s “This is Me” storytelling campaign involves employees and business leaders sharing personal stories of their mental wellbeing challenges by video.
“It’s been very impactful in conveying the message that mental health challenges can affect anyone, any time,” says McCreery.
2. Provide meals
For staff who don’t have the time to plan meals and shop for groceries, Linktree offers a meal kit service for up to three days per week. The family meal kits include recipes and all the ingredients needed to prepare them.
Smaller households, or those who don’t have the time or inclination to cook, can opt for Uber vouchers instead. Unsurprisingly, this meal support is one of the most popular offerings, Notermans says.
3. Connect staff through a walking map
To help create face-to-face connection during the lockdowns, Linktree employees have been encouraged to plot their usual exercise routes onto a shared map, so they could reach out to someone else within their lockdown limit to arrange a walk, depending on outdoor gathering restrictions.
With close to 80 employees in Australia, the mapping helped bring together staff living in nearby suburbs, Notermans says.
4. Surprise with care packages
Linktree has surprised staff with a lockdown care package, which includes a wheat heat pack, a selection of teas and crossword puzzles.
“Staff loved the wheat bags, as they help alleviate the aches and pains that can come from a lot of sedentary work,” says Notermans.
“Creating unexpected moments when you delight your employees reinforces that you care about them.”
5. Embed and normalise conversations about wellbeing
Six wellbeing conversations per year are embedded into Deloitte’s performance management framework.
To help ensure these conversations go smoothly, Deloitte trains managers and surveys staff regularly to make sure they feel comfortable talking about their wellbeing, including their mental health, with their manager.
6. Super-charge flexible work options
Earlier this year, Deloitte took flexible work to a new level, offering staff 12 different “flex” options.
Some of these include:
TimeFlex – choice about when the working day begins and ends.
MicroFlex – short breaks during the day to meet health or personal needs, with no prescribed limits.
CommunityFlex – paid leave for staff to support their local community, by volunteering with firm-approved not-for-profit organisations or government-recognised volunteer emergency services.
CulturalFlex – ability to swap general public holidays for days of cultural or religious significance.
CareerFlex – 12 weeks of unpaid leave to pursue personal goals.
LeaveFlex – purchasing additional annual leave to extend holidays, with pay deducted to the amount of extra time taken off.
“You can either design for the minority, who may take advantage of benefits, or design for the majority, so they have a great experience,” says McCreery.
“We have chosen the latter, and our employees are excited about that.”
7. Promote a props channel
Linktree has created a special channel on Slack for colleagues to say thank you to each other.
“Staff use this a lot,” says Notermans. “It’s been instrumental to remaining buoyant.”
8. Establish meeting-free times
Stopping for lunch and getting outside has been made much easier by a company-wide, meeting-free timeslot between 12 pm and 2 pm daily for all Linktree staff, with no exceptions.
9. Mental health leave
Linktree offers two additional days of paid mental health leave to encourage employees to attend to their health.
Deloitte Australia also provides employees one paid wellbeing day per year.
“It’s not enough to offer these kinds of benefits. You also need to normalise their use,” says Notermans.