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What Companies Get Wrong with Wellness Checks

The perfect storm of the pandemic, isolation, economic crisis and social unrest has impacted everyone in different ways, and for many, these stressors can weigh heavily on mental wellbeing. In fact, 53% of U.S. adults reported their mental health has declined since March, with some of the top symptoms including difficulty sleeping or eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening chronic conditions. 

Employee mental health is closely tied to productivity and engagement, meaning the decline in mental health may also significantly impact business bottom line. Increased anxiety and depression are also correlated with increased accidents and mistakes at work.  

With many employees working remotely, signs of mental health declining are much more challenging to spot. As a result, many employers are pursuing a renewed focus on the mental well-being of their employees and conducting regular wellness checks.  

Below, we share essential steps for an effective wellness check. 

 

Start at the top 

With colder weather ahead, Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Depression may cause a continued decline in mental health, which is why it’s crucial that managers begin to have mental health check ins now. It's even more important for the companies that don’t already practice open communication or vulnerability, because check-ins require a level of comfortability, which takes time to build.  

While training managers to perform effective wellness checks, it is important to first check in with management themselves to gauge their mental health and assess if they are ready and able to reach out to support others. Since March, the largest decline in employee engagement was among those in managerial or leadership positions, meaning wellness checks need to start from the top and be continued at every level of the organization to ensure each person is receiving regular touchpointsIf managers begin performing wellness checks when they themselves are struggling, this may add unwarranted stress and result in burnout. HR should continue to perform their own wellness checks with management regularly. 

 

Axe email 

Make video calls the norm if you can. While it takes an investment of time, talking live over chatting or emailing with your employees is what sets great leaders apart. To know how your people are doing, you need to look into their eyesjust as you would if sitting down in person. This means turning off your self-view (you wouldn’t be looking at your reflection when sitting in a one-on-one with your staff) and closing other tabs on your screen.   

Even before an employee expresses struggle, make it known what mental health resources are available to them. This should include education on benefits that support mental health, such as teletherapy, and include third party recourses, such as the Calm meditation app or a list of good self-help booksProvide management with a regularly updated list of resources that they can recommend during their wellness checks. 

 

Ask the right questions 

Especially if wellness checks are not an already established part of an organization’s employer/employee communication, it is important to take steps to ensure that the conversations feel authentic and genuine. Employees are not likely to disclose emotional challenges or be truthful about their engagement level if they feel the information could be used against them or like their manager doesn’t genuinely care. In order to make wellness check-ins as natural as possible, management should lead with vulnerability and empathy, setting the precedent for open conversations. 

A few examples of questions that managers could ask include: 

  • How are you feeling about your workload right now? 

  • What is your stress level like right now? 

  • How is your partner doing, and how is work going for them? 

  • How is your family? 

  • How are you feeling about the holidays coming up soon, do you have any plans? 

  • How are you feeling about the winter coming up soon? 

  • Is there anything I can do to help support you right now? 


 

Notice the nonverbals 

Emotion is often communicated nonverbally, emitted through tone of voice and facial expressions rather than words alone. While conducting a wellness check via video call there are several important nonverbal cues to take note of. Notice if someone seems to want to say something but doesn’t want to interrupt you. Notice if their expression or body language seem to contradict what they are saying, for example saying “I’m doing well” with a straight face or frown. Also notice if they are repeatedly shifting their gaze, which can be a sign of discomfort. Much of the same physical cues one might notice in an in-person meeting may present themselves through a video call but need a keener eye to notice when transmitting through a screen.  

Address what you are seeing in a non-accusatory way, acknowledging that your understanding might be limited by not being in person. By saying “Just through what I can see of your expression through the camera, you seemed like maybe there was something else going on, so I wanted to check in” you can give them a chance to dive deeper or explain a misunderstanding. 
 

Integrate other teams 

Depending on the organization and team, it may be appropriate for employees to have leaders they do not directly report to reaching out to conduct occasional wellness checksThis may include a skip level manager, a member of HR, or a more tenured peer that the employee has an established relationship with. Having another person to connect with other than the one they directly report to may help to ease tension and open conversation a bit more, especially in case the employee does not want to disclose certain concerns directly to their manager. This should not replace wellness checks from their manager but can help in building community and a strong support system virtually. 

It can also be helpful to create wellness initiatives on the peer to peer level. Consider doing a “Wellness Wednesday” or weekly tradition for members of one team to reach out to members of another team simply to see how the other is doing. This not only can be beneficial to the employees’ mental health but can also serve as a culture building event to keep remote teams connected. 
 

Use an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) 

Wellness checks serve as a tool to improve relationships and create a support system but are not a replacement for mental health services. Use wellness checks to identify an employee’s stress level and take note of who might need more frequent check ins or an EAP. An EAP is a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee's performance. As a part of most benefit packages, an EAP traditionally assists workers with issues like alcohol or substance abuse; however, most now cover a broad range of issues such as child or elder care, relationship challenges, financial or legal problems, wellness matters and traumatic events. EAP services are also usually made available to the employee's spouse and children, if needed.  

 

How businesses respond to this mental health crisis will have a lasting impact on employee behavior including engagement, productivity and loyalty. Employers have the unique opportunity to help employees address mental wellbeing and integrate work and personal lives in a meaningful way.  

If you’re looking for skilled leaders to help lead the charge in supporting employee wellness, we can help. Get connected here 

 

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