Integrating Mental Health and Wellness Solutions into the Role of the CHRO

By Lyn Currie

Employees have had to grapple with a new and stressful reality over the past few years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: uncertainty in their job, adapting to a work from home environment, and child and elder care scenarios, and more. This in turn, has created an anxious and exhausted workforce. And then there’s the increased sense of isolation, both physically and mentally as employees no longer have the same connection to their colleagues.

In part one of Waterstone’s series on the evolving role of the CHRO, we looked at some of the pronounced shifts that HR leaders have seen in their roles since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically:

  • the redefinition of the CHRO as an operational leader;
  • an increased focus on employee health and wellness; and
  • new learning and development priorities.

In part two of the series, we look at how HR leaders are working with their teams to address mental health and wellness issues head-on – and with a new sense of urgency.

Many of the leaders we spoke with stressed the importance of addressing this situation head-on and with a real sense of urgency. David Cooper, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at goeasy Ltd., shared that while their organization had been developing a wellness strategy for many years, their efforts were not at the level that was required to handle a pandemic.

“But one of the quick thinks we were able to do was turn on a virtual healthcare platform, so the idea there was, number one, it’s a very high utility platform when everyone was homebound, and doctor’s offices weren’t accepting visits,” he explains. “But the other thing, and the reason why we made this decision, is the platform we went with advertised, and absolutely have followed through on, an ability to triage mental health issues.”

As a result, their team was able to spring into action and address employees’ increasing wellness needs. “We turned this [platform] on in the middle of a pandemic and when companies are scaling back in their expenses, we actually made the investment in a virtual healthcare platform,” says Cooper.

In addition to this new platform, Cooper’s team pulled together a fulsome mental health awareness seminar. This was fully supported by the executive team and they shut down the entire company in order to deliver the training to their employee base.

The goal of goeasy Ltd., as Cooper describes it, is to develop resilient performers. Helping to support mental health, no matter where one is on the mental health continuum is a strong commitment that their organization has made to their employees.

Similarly, at Insurance Insight Inc. Sona Castellarin , Vice President of Human Resources, found the need to be more formal and deliberate about such topics as mental health and the isolation that can occur from working remotely. Communication is key, and Castellarin and her team continue to find ways to engage employees and to find a way to keep culture alive.

“We are reminding everyone of all the resources we have available for mental health, including our Employee Assistance provider,” says Castellarin. “We also have a ‘walk for vacation’ program, so we’re reminding people to use that now that they’re all working from home.” The program encourages team members to get up during the day and get away from their desk to go for a walk. It not only allows people to earn additional vacation days, but it gives them a much-needed mental break, “…because we’re recognizing that business time and personal time can blend,” she says. In fact, employee burnout from that blending of work and personal time is one of the things Castellarin says is keeping her up these days.

As we move further into this new reality of working, HR leaders are focusing attention on “COVID-fatigue” and how to integrate mental health and wellness solutions as a necessary imperative to every business strategy for the long term.

What programs and tools have your team implemented to help support the mental health needs of your team during this extraordinary time? Share your stories and help us explore and understand the changes happening in HR today.

Lyn Currie is Managing Director for Waterstone’s executive search practice.