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Thriving Together Through The #Mental Health Pledge

December 27, 2023by Barbara Flynn0

By Katie Navarra


In the course of just a few days, Kristi Safranek, the director of human resources at Lawrence County Memorial Hospital in Illinois, had one team member who had to arrange hospice care for their mother and then learned their son was in a nearly deadly car accident. The stress of either event would be overwhelming, but the pressure of the two stacked on top of each other was tremendous. The employee used the hospital’s employee assistance program (EAP) services, which are free to team members and family members even if they are not on the hospital’s medical insurance, to find quality care for both their mother and their son, according to Safranek.


“We work in health care,” she said. “Our employees and team members must be healthy physically and mentally to take great care of our patients. “Personally, it has always been important to me, and I am constantly communicating with our C-suite and our board members to ensure that they don’t lose sight of how important the mental health of our team members is.” This commitment to employee mental health inspired the Lawrence County Memorial Hospital to sign the #MentalHealthPledge, a joint effort between SHRM and Thrive Global in 2021 to bring HR and business leaders together to reaffirm their promise to prioritize employee mental health and well-being. More than 110 companies, including 50 high-growth businesses and startups, signed the pledge.


In a short SHRM Research survey* of pledge signatories, nearly all (97 percent of the 42 respondents who completed the survey) indicated that mental health and well-being were very or extremely important at their organization. Organizations began laying the groundwork for offering robust well-being programs to employees in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as economic times get tougher and individuals’ caregiving responsibilities increase, companies are providing additional resources to support their employees.


“Caring for our employees’ safety, health and well-being will always be a priority,” said Michael Fraccaro, chief people officer at Mastercard, which signed the pledge. “At Mastercard, we call it having ‘our hand on your back’ by supporting our employees with the resources, benefits and flexibility we offer.”

Here’s a look at the programs several organizations have introduced to expand their mental health benefits in the last two years since taking the pledge. This is not a comprehensive list of each organization’s suite of offerings, but a glimpse at some of their recent and innovative programs.


Mental Health Champions


Sometimes an individual who is experiencing a hardship is unsure what resources are available or may not recognize early indicators of stress. To help team members find support as early as possible, Mastercard launched a Mental Health Champions Network, a 12-hour certification program to help employees recognize the signs of stress, burnout or mental health concerns in their colleagues and connect those individuals with the appropriate support in a timely and empathetic way.


More than 150 employees completed training, Fraccaro said. Other resources available to employees range from well-being sessions on Thrive to one-on-one counseling sessions and integrating the Thrive application into Microsoft Teams—giving employees real-time insights and simple steps to manage their mental health and well-being throughout the day.


“We’ve seen immense value in people raising their hands to help and in bringing mental health and well-being into our ongoing conversations,” Fraccaro said. “It’s been a key component for many of our leaders’ messages to their teams and our wider employee base, serving as a constant reminder that taking care of our mental health and well-being is critically important.” Other mental health benefits at Mastercard include free confidential counseling sessions through the Employee and Family Resource Program, meeting-free days, four weeks of work from elsewhere, and a flexible approach to hybrid work.

In SHRM Research’s survey of pledge signatories, nearly all organizations (about 9 in 10) offer EAPs, and most (more than 8 out of 10) offer mental health coverage as part of their health care plans. Three-quarters of organizations offer workshops on mental health or offer mental health apps. Just over half provide mental health support groups.


“We firmly believe that well-being fuels performance,” Fraccaro said. “The last few years have tested us all in unimaginable ways, and we know that when employees feel supported, they can bring their best selves to work, pursuing purpose-driven work and delivering for our business, customers and each other.”


Mental Health Support for the Highs and Lows 


Negative situations often take a toll on people’s mental health. But even good news, like an expanding family or a job promotion, can affect mental well-being. After a promotion, an employee struggled to see how she would add value in a new role, explained David Ard, senior vice president of employee success at Slack and Salesforce. The individual’s concerns impacted her confidence to the point she considered seeking a different position within the company.


“With the support of her BetterUp coach, she was able to talk through her feelings of self-doubt and start taking concrete, action-oriented steps toward her goals,” Ard said. “Coaching not only helped her tackle imposter syndrome but also boosted her confidence, allowing her to thrive in her new role.”

In addition to offering coaching, Ard said the company expanded how employees can access mental health services by adding a wide range of virtual providers. Employees now have access to self-guided resources that provide tools and strategies to support their mental well-being.


“We also introduced Thrive Global for Slack, which provides well-being tools and exercises, embedded in the flow of work, that help combat stress and burnout within the workplace,” he said. “At Salesforce, we provide free therapy for employees and their families through Lyra Health. And we’ve teamed up with BetterUp to offer individualized coaching for our employees to help them perform their best at home and work.” The company also offers employees up to $100 monthly for activities that support their well-being, such as gym memberships, massages and cooking courses. “Prioritizing employee mental health is crucial for our organization because we recognize that our people are our greatest asset,” Ard said. “It is our goal to set employees up for success in work and life.”


A Campaign to Normalize Mental Health Conversations


The stigma around getting help for mental health often makes seeking care challenging. Changing the dynamic and creating a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up goes hand-in-hand with providing support.


“At Bluebeam, we believe in creating an environment where all employees can feel safe being their authentic selves, including their struggles and challenges,” said Staci Armao, the company’s director of employee experience. “A supportive, inclusive environment around mental health is not only the right thing for employees, but it helps create an environment where people can thrive, which, of course, has a positive impact on the success of the organization.” In SHRM Research’s survey of pledgees, most organizations report using benefits open enrollment and internal newsletters to inform employees about mental health resources. Because workers may feel apprehensive about discussing their need for these services in large groups, one-on-one talks with direct supervisors and managers, plus specialized training from HR, were identified as good ways to promote well-being resources.


In 2019, the company launched mental health awareness training, manager training and a communications campaign about mental health. Doubling down on those efforts in 2022 and 2023, Armao led a team of certified mental health advocates who helped create a supportive environment for the Bluebeam community.


The communications campaign focused on normalizing talking about mental health; developing ways to enhance well-being throughout the company; highlighting tools and resources; and coordinating and promoting participation in well-being activities such as supportive coaching, an online course for managers and a series of well-being roundtables. These activities provide a safe space for people to share challenges, resources and encouragement to stay well. New resources are being added.

“In 2023, we created a resource page for employees going through perimenopause/menopause and started to normalize the conversation around that stage of life, as it can have far-reaching impacts on women in the workplace,” Armao said. “We also offered a menopause workshop to provide education and support and offered seats to Elektra Health, an app that provides one-on-one menopause coaching, a supportive community, and education and resources.”


A Caregiving Concierge


Today more than ever, employees are looking for a fully human experience at work. In other words, they are seeking a work experience that fits into a great life, rather than a life that needs to fit into work, according to Amanta Mazumdar, vice president for total rewards, Americas, Hilton. The goal of enabling team members to thrive personally and professionally has fueled multiple expanded and new well-being benefits and programs designed to meet the changing times. For example, in a 2021 global employee survey, Hilton received overwhelming feedback that team members were juggling professional responsibilities while caring for themselves and loved ones. This inspired an expansion of existing initiatives and the creation of a Care for All Hub.


The hub is designed to provide team members and their loved ones with resources for self-care, as well as enable care for others, including sick, disabled or elderly family members, children, and pets.

“In the Care for All Hub, they can explore articles, podcasts and eCourses organized by type of care; access various Hilton benefits; and hear from fellow team members—all in multiple languages,” Mazumdar said. “[It] is available to all 460,000 team members globally and designed to guide team members and their loved ones through all stages of life.”


To more fully support employees, Hilton announced a caregiving concierge offering via Wellthy last year. It’s available at no cost to eligible corporate, owned and managed property team members in the U.S., U.K. and Ireland, and provides assistance for negotiating complicated logistical and administrative tasks related to care, such as finding the right in-home aide, contesting medical bills, evaluating care providers or finding care options for veterans. “We’ve found that our offerings are making a meaningful impact in their lives,” Mazumdar said. “For example, we have saved our team members 25,000 hours of time with Wellthy’s caregiving concierge. That’s time that can be used caring for or spending with their loved ones.”

Additionally, Hilton announced a new resource to support those who are experiencing or caring for someone with substance use disorder, and the company is in the process of introducing a Crisis Care Concierge to help team members when they are going through a loss and experiencing the most challenging times of their lives, according to Mazumdar. “With mental well-being being such a prominent part of our team members’ lives inside and outside of our properties and corporate offices,” he said, “we must focus on offering practical solutions and meaningful support around things that matter most to them.”


A Pledge to Continue Evolving


Meaningful employee benefits evolve over time, requiring team member feedback and considerations of financial and societal changes. Each of the organizational leaders featured here noted that their work is not yet done and that they are committed to expanding and updating offerings based on employee feedback and needs.

Barbara Flynn

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