HR Analyst Hot Take: Tips to Improve Employee Engagement in Managing Mental Health

It’s no secret that mental health issues and substance abuse cost U.S. employers $225.8 billion per year. At Total Brain, we recognize that the best benefit programs in the world are nothing without strong employee engagement. That’s why we invest heavily in the success of our customers, working hand in hand to ensure a smooth program rollout and a thoughtful engagement strategy that minimizes the burden on our clients.

Engagement rates vary by customer type and by the level of adoption of engagement program best practices. In addition to our best practices, we wanted to share some employee engagement tips we’ve gleaned from our recent conversation with HR industry consultant and analyst Mollie Lombardi. Here are her recommendations on how to increase employee engagement in managing mental health:

Keep It Top of Mind

The first step in improving the mental health of your workforce is pretty straightforward: ensure your management and employees know about the tools and resources available to them. For example, for many companies around the world, Total Brain is a company benefit employees can use. It’s important the HR and communications teams continuously tell employees about this and other resources available to them, while explaining how these tools can help. Lombardi advises, “Make sure from an HR perspective you’re keeping people aware of the mental health resources available to them.” She warns it is ineffective for HR to just roll out a new tool or benefit offering once and then either try to mandate usage or just hope employees remember to use the benefits available to them.”

One way to do this is by running campaigns throughout the year. Lombardi suggests, “Think about stressful points in your company’s year and make sure communications about the Total Brain app and other tools are front and center at these times.” The key, Lombardi believes, is to “keep these tools and benefits top of mind, make them part of the conversation often enough that when people are ready, they’ll come to them…As their needs grow, they are going to be more likely to respond.” Lombardi continues, “People won’t hear the message until they are ready for or need it; HR needs to just keep communicating.”

Lombardi also recommends identifying visible champions within the company. Find managers or employees that are regularly using the Total Brain app or other tools available to employees, and feature these individuals in your internal communications. Sharing personal experiences, as appropriate, can help reduce the stigma in talking about mental health by normalizing the conversation. Champions’ stories are also humanizing, real-life examples of how the tools you’re making available are actually helping employees in your workplace.

See Managers as Employees First

As HR often uses managers to roll out initiatives, Lombardi counsels, “Hit managers on the employee level. Remember managers are employees, too, so help them see the Total Brain app and other offerings as tools for themselves first.”

It goes without saying, 2020 was a stressful year from both a business and personal perspective. According to the Mental Health Index, the pandemic sent the risk of mental health conditions through the roof, with stress, general anxiety and depressed moods all charting higher. So, there’s a good chance that managers charged with looking out for their employees’ wellbeing may not realize their own mental health may be impaired.

Total Brain’s self-monitoring assessment can help managers see when they’re having an issue or discover brain capacities they would like to strengthen. In either case, the Total Brain app then gives them the self-care tools they need.

Lombardi believes, “The more you can focus on managers as individuals and get them to understand how Total Brain can help them, then they’ll start to adopt it as a tool. They can then be an example and bring others along. It is a really smart way to go.”

Encourage Small Steps

Often the path to transformation starts with just one small step. In this vein, Lombardi proposes advocates get employees to just try one thing. “Don’t try to get people to go in with everything all at once,” she said. This is not only helpful in breaking down the overwhelming nature of adopting a whole system, but it also acknowledges every employee is unique, and different tools will resonate with different people. The key to engagement is meeting employees where they are with the tools they need.

For example, if the employee tries the simple Victory Breath exercise and experiences reduced stress, Lombardi says, “Even if they do nothing else, just that feeling of relief can be enough to get them on board.” Whether the employee chooses to just stay with one exercise or expand to others, the Total Brain app is being used and positively impacting health outcomes.

Talk about Brain Performance

Companies often invest in the Total Brain platform for its many mental health tools, but companies should also communicate Total Brain’s brain performance benefits. Educating employees on how the Total Brain app can improve brain capacities such as focus and memory can increase engagement of employees that think they are mentally healthy.

Lombardi adds, “I always use the line: It turns out our brains are in charge of everything…your emotions, your actions, your decisions…It’s about giving you control back so you are able to be the best you, you can be.” Knowing that, who wouldn’t want their brain to perform better?

Frame Self-Monitoring Like Stepping on a Scale

As a person’s mental health is highly influenced by uncontrollable life events, an employee’s mental health changes on a dime, all the time. Because of this, it’s important for employees to be aware of the fluidity of their mental health. Self-monitoring every 30 days using the Total Brain app is an easy way to accomplish this.

“When people step on a scale to check their weight, they can notice where they’re headed before it gets out of control. It’s the same thing with your brain. When somebody is aware they are starting to feel a little anxious, they can work on it now before it becomes a problem. People are so into quantifying their life – they monitor their steps; they monitor their calories. They have devices telling them all these things about their body. This one is for your brain.”

Lombardi concludes that employees need to understand that using the Total Brain app is “not about diagnosing you, it’s about understanding your risks and helping you mitigate those risks…It’s about continuous improvement.”

Total Brain is helping hundreds of thousands of employees around the world. If you’re an HR or benefits professional charged with improving employee mental health, schedule a meeting to discuss how Total Brain can help. 

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