The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness among employers that their workers are the company’s most important asset. If workers get sick, the company can shut down and, as bankruptcy filings show, even go out of business. More and more, companies are recognizing the value of employee wellness programs to maintain the health and vitality of their workers.

According to Gartner, 66% of organizations introduced at least one new wellness benefit by late March 2020 to aid employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. As employees struggle to live within today’s new normal, leading to an increased amount of stress and anxiety, HR leaders must support employees holistically.

Even before the pandemic, Gartner research revealed that 45% of well-being budget increases were being allocated to mental and emotional well-being programs, indicating organizations were prioritizing employee needs in this area.

Although most employees report heightened threats to their emotional well-being, their social, physical, and financial well-being should not be overlooked. Limited access to gyms and other self-care services, plus concerns around contracting the virus, are leading individuals to feel isolated. Job insecurity, layoffs, and furloughs, coupled with the effect the COVID-19 crisis has had on the economy, are also causing feelings of distress. Supporting employees’ overall emotional and mental health requires HR leaders to provide holistic benefits packages.

As organizations determine how to best support their employees’ mental and emotional health, executives must leverage and maximize existing well-being offerings—making sure employees are aware and can access existing benefits, expanding benefits to virtual channels, etc.—and identify areas that might require additional support such as increasing PTO days for employees impacted by COVID-19.

Organizations should take an employee-centric approach. HR leaders should survey their employees to understand how their needs have changed during the pandemic and where current offerings may be lacking. Progressive organizations are crowdsourcing ideas and guidance on how to support the emotional well-being of their employees.

HR needs to secure the buy-in of all levels of the organization. Steering the emotional and mental health of employees requires leaders to lead by example with simple actions. For instance, leaders can share weekly testimonials, explain how they are coping with the effects the COVID-19 crisis has on them and their loved ones, or announce when they are about to go for a walk to stay ahead in company fitness challenges.

Before the pandemic, employee participation rates in well-being programs were generally low due to employees being unaware of the available benefits and how to access them. HR leaders can use virtual events and message boards to communicate new messages to reinforce the current benefits available and help employees navigate them easily. It is important that companies refocus their communications strategies to create and produce messages that can have an impact during this crisis and support employees.

A 2019 Gartner Well-Being Benchmarking survey showed that of the organizations that offer mental and emotional well-being programs, all provide employee assistance programs while 48% of those organizations offer counselling services and 21% supply mental health assessments.

HR leaders can help their organization look beyond the basic programs and into less common but more successful offers to create efficient mental and emotional well-being programs. A 2019 Gartner Total Rewards Survey showed although support groups are the least common mental and emotional well-being offering, they are the most effective benefit that organizations can offer as they can increase employee engagement 5.5%. Gartner research also found that employee engagement improved 3.1% when organizations offered mental health assessments to employees.

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