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Why should HR leaders prioritise mental wellness in a hybrid working arrangement?

Why should HR leaders prioritise mental wellness in a hybrid working arrangement?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect and alter our way of life, hybrid working arrangements have increasingly become the default across Asia. In light of this, why should HR leaders prioritise mental wellness?

In the first of Intellect's webinar series where we invite thought leaders, psychologists and the like to focus on mental health & mental wellbeing, we discussed prioritising employee mental health, people's attitude towards WFH, the challenges that have arisen and how HR leaders have adapted to overcome them.

We were honoured to have had on the panel our co-founder & CEO Theo, Dr. Oliver from the NUS Clinical Psychology programme, Alex from the People Team at ShopBack as well as Javen from Horangi.

In talking about work arrangement changes for the past one or so years since the beginning of the pandemic, Alex touched on the experiences on the country, team, and individual levels. One key concern for his team was how to make sure people could thrive in a hybrid environment. Beyond safety and health on the survival front, the People Team at ShopBack tried to be more intentional and proactive in taking steps to intervene and make sure people were able to achieve their potential in such an environment.

Another issue discussed were the global trends and challenges that have emerged relating to mental health in the workplace. Dr Oliver believes that WFH and particularly the hybrid model is here to stay, which allows choice and flexibility. However it still remains that this is a very challenging and difficult period, with rates for mental distress on the rise. In particular, it's the heightened stress that's taking a toll on people's wellbeing. Fear also really kills compassion, which is a point companies and HR leaders will need to tackle and address.

Despite the challenges, there have been some positive changes that are quite apparent. As the pandemic has accelerated change and acceptance, people in the workforce and leaders have also become more aware of and attuned toward mental wellbeing needs and their importance. For companies, taking care of employee mental wellbeing is not only a question of job satisfaction- it also helps ensure productivity levels stay consistent. As Dr Oliver says, "There’s a real business case to make to care about your staff. It’s no question."

To cope with the new structure of the hybrid working arrangement, HR and management have had to seek out ways to help individuals and the company as a whole grapple with various struggles. On this point, Alex says "As leaders we need to take a stand to be proactive and try some new things. And if it’s not working out, iterate from there, reiterate in a way that shows the company is trying in a way that hopefully adds value to [their employees].”

Dr Oliver also suggested some ways that HR leaders can help their workforces cope with issues such as connectedness and isolation. He advises senior management to engage their staff through focus group discussions and pulse surveys, and to take time to understand how staff is doing on the mental wellbeing front through these channels. A strong, authentic and caring message from the leaders that "It's okay not being okay" goes a long way. On top of providing access to resources, he advises HR to encourage employees to seek counselling when they need it by ensuring anonymity, confidentiality, and to stress that it will not affect performance reviews. Overall, happier and more productive stuff translates to better retention for the company.

Alex and Javen also shared some personal advice for HR leaders to give some thought to.

Alex emphasizes that,

"Leaders have to be proactive and intentional in addressing mental issues in the company. In this time, people appreciate little gestures and the small things, such as leaders making the time to have check-ins with them. Don’t neglect these small things because they are critical."

Javen's thoughtful advice also extends a challenge to leaders. He says,

“Light one candle. And that candle is yourself. Allow yourself to reconnect to the present and allow yourself to embrace the fear and uncertainty in the world that we are in. Take that flame and find one other person to light.”

He also makes a very poignant point that can serve as inspiration in this time for all, leaders and staff alike:

“I believe as a collective, we all can start something. So maybe let’s review our organisation to embrace the power of humanity in this period of time.”

Perhaps Dr Oliver's words can best sum up the reason for HR leaders prioritise mental wellness:

"The best investment you can make is in yourself and your staff. Do not just pay lip service to how important mental wellbeing is but really celebrate it and live it. Make sure you care for yourself but also make sure that your staff is well. It goes a long way.”

As we all gear up to face the challenges ahead of us, let us remember to prioritize mental wellbeing, and to truly celebrate and live it.