CHROs About To Face a Depression Pandemic

Image credit: iStockphoto/Srdjanns74

COVID-19 is making our employees more depressed. It means that CHROs need to cater to a different state of mind as they invite their employees to hybrid working, to the office, or keep them at WFH mode.

According to Gartner’s report “Support Well-Being in 2021 and Beyond,” 29% of over 5,000 surveyed employees feel that they have depression. Nearly half (49%) of employees reported participating in a mental well-being program in 2020.

“The need for well-being support has skyrocketed since the pandemic struck, giving organizations a new mandate to offer more and better programs,” says Carolina Valencia, director in the Gartner HR practice. “Organizations, more than ever, must respond to all facets of the individual, from the physical to the emotional, and address some of the new stressors that have emerged over the past year.”

Not enough

Employers are responding. Gartner’s research found 87% of businesses provided flexible work hours to employees acting as caregivers for family members. Additionally, 26% gave employees paid time off (PTO) for childcare, and 21% gave PTO for eldercare.

Additionally, a Gartner survey of 50 HR leaders revealed 64% of companies provided new well-being offering to support their staff, while 34% of companies expanded access to their existing offerings.

All these measures are well and good, but research shows that they are not enough and need to be sustainable.  Only one-quarter of companies reported that they plan to maintain the programs introduced during the pandemic for the foreseeable future. If CHRO leaders are not looking to sustain programs beyond the pandemic due to the financial difficulties and lingering stress, workforce depression will persist even after the outbreak subsides.

The struggle to adapt to a digital-first environment is adding to the depression pandemic. “Already stressed and fatigued, employees are now dealing with a deadly combination of digital distractions, virtual overload, and being ‘always on’ as organizations try to replicate the physical world in a virtual or hybrid environment,” says Aaron McEwan, Gartner vice president of HR advisory in Australia.

He urges CHROs need first to acknowledge that new ways of working will impact employee’s mental health. “The pandemic is far from over. Its long-term effects will continue to place employees at risk of mental health issues if we don’t adjust for the damaging impact of hybrid work.”

Personalize and self-diagnose

One way to approach workforce depression is to stop looking for a blanket program for all employees. Personalized support is crucial.

Research shows that less than half of employees (46%) feel that their company’s well-being programs are personalized. Gartner advises companies to take specific steps to align support with demand — such as offering more choices. Currently, only 19% of employees working for companies with mental well-being programs report having access to five or more offerings.

Having the right tools to navigate challenging moments on their own can also help. For example, companies that are doing more for their employees’ mental well-being encourage them to self-assess their well-being. It allows employees to benchmark themselves, map out a development plan to enhance their well-being, and easily hold themselves accountable for their wellness. More importantly, it encourages employees to seek out offerings the employer already provides, says Gartner.

CHROs should not just focus on the pandemic. Instead, Gartner advises them to use this opportunity to establish programs, processes, and guidance in advance of whatever unexpected event comes next. These efforts should empower — but not force — employees to discuss subjects they may otherwise be nervous about bringing up, including mental health challenges, resolving the tension between employees, and emotional health issues.

Don’t forget the managers

Equally important is having the managers ready to engage their employees on mental health issues.

A critical Gartner research finding showed that only about half of employees (49%) agreed their manager understands their problems and needs. Here, easy-to-understand information that defines the involvement expected pf managers can help.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear to employers and employees that work and life cannot be treated as two separate constructs,” says Valencia.

“If employers help support employees with all aspects of their health during turbulent times more effectively, not only do they have better lives, but they perform at a higher level. In fact, organizations that provide holistic well-being support can boost employee discretionary effort by 21%, twice as much as companies that provide only traditional (physical and financial) programs,” she adds.

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Srdjanns74