How HR Can Support Working Parents

Being a parent is deeply rewarding, but it’s hardly without stress. Likewise, even the most satisfying and pleasurable of careers can bring their share of anxiety. Combine the two ventures and things can really seem hairy. Simply put, working parents undergo unique levels of stress, and over time that stress can impact their mental and physical health, their work-life balance, their productivity, and their job satisfaction.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways in which companies can assist working parents… and many of those ways begin in the HR department.

Supporting Working Parents

Consider just a few quick tips and strategies.

1) Develop a family-friendly environment.

Don’t make your employees feel like their kids are burdens or afterthoughts. Instead, create a company culture in which families are prioritized, and kids are regarded as part of your extended team. Some specific ways you can do that include:

  • Have some workplace parties or events throughout the year that are designed to be inclusive of the whole family.
  • Have a take-your-child-to-work day.
  • Encourage managers and leaders to ask employees about their kids.
  • Offer some flexibility to employees who want to use school vacations/holidays to spend time with their family.
  • Make sure you hold company social events at different times; working parents may not be able to make happy hour, so maybe have the occasional team breakfast or lunch.

2) Support new moms.

New moms, in particular, need plenty of support from the HR team. Specifically, consider doing the following:

  • Allow moms to bring their newborns to work as needed; or allow them to work remotely when possible.
  • Make sure you have a private and comfortable lactation room, and that new moms have enough scheduling flexibility to nurse or pump.

3) Consider family-friendly benefits.

There are a lot of creative ways in which your benefits packages can support working moms and dads. Some examples include:

  • Offer assistance with IVF or other fertility treatments.
  • Provide education about 529 college savings accounts.
  • Share college guidance resources with parents as their kids get a bit older.
  • Consider anything you can do to subsidize childcare.

4) Provide scheduling flexibility.

Surveys show that, for most working parents, the most precious resource of all is time. Here’s a simple way your HR team can support moms and dads: Be flexible in your scheduling, allowing employees to come in early or late as needed in order to work around soccer games, piano recitals, school pickup, etc.

5) Provide paid maternity and paternity leave.

Along with flexibility, the other things moms and dads want is time to adjust to newborns. This is an area where your benefits packages can make a world of difference: Offering paid leave to moms and to dads can be a powerful way to support working parents.

6) Lead by example.

Finally, remember that policies are pretty meaningless if there isn’t also a healthy workplace culture. For example, offering flexible hours doesn’t mean much if your workplace also encourages people to burn the midnight oil. Make sure HR leaders and other executives set a healthy example: Work normal, balanced hours; don’t stay too late; and don’t send after-hours emails.

These are just a few of the steps your HR team can take to support the needs of working parents. If you have any questions about how you can create a truly family-friendly work culture, reach out to WhiteWater Consulting. We’d love to chat!

Understanding Mental Health Problems in the Workplace

Studies indicate that a significant portion of the workforce struggles with mental health concerns; pre-COVID research showed the number eclipsed 20 percent, and it’s undoubtedly grown as the pandemic has increased rates of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Such high figures may come as a surprise to many. The reason for this is simple: There remains a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly in the workplace. As such, many employees choose to suffer in silence rather than reveal their diagnoses.

This stigma presents a significant problem for workers, who may refuse to seek treatment because they fear that doing so could imperil their employment status. It presents a problem for mental healthcare providers, too, who are often faced with the uncomfortable scenario of counseling patients on how to address their problems in the workplace without breaking their secrecy.

The bottom line is that many mental health concerns are unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated. By raising awareness and increasing understanding, however, employees and employers alike can begin to remove stigma and create workplaces that are safe and welcoming.

Common Mental Health Problems

A good place to begin is with a simple review of common mental health problems, and the impact they can have in the workplace.

Depression

Research suggests that close to seven percent of U.S. adults suffer from depression. The question is, what does depression look like in the workplace? Though it is often associated with a low or “depressed,” mood, this condition can manifest differently in the work setting. Common signs of depression include restlessness, nervousness, and irritability. In addition, employees who have depression may be listless, lethargic, withdrawn, and unproductive. Depression can also result in an obsession with aches, pains, and minor physical discomforts.

On average, employees with depression report the equivalent of 27 lost workdays each year… nine sick days, and 18 days reflecting lost productivity. Similarly, research shows that employees with depression are more likely to lose their jobs, or to change jobs often.

Again, a big part of the problem is stigma, which keeps employees from seeking the care they need; fewer than half of employees with depression actually get adequate clinical intervention, according to a Harvard report.

Bipolar Disorder

Individuals who have bipolar disorder tend to cycle between a very high, energetic mood (mania) and a low, listless mood (depression.)

The impact on the workplace can be significant and wide-ranging. An employee in mania may break rules, act rashly, or exhibit reckless judgment. And an employee in the depressive stage may show some of the same symptoms we mentioned in the previous section.

About six million American adults have bipolar disorder, according to one study. According to researchers, employees with bipolar disorder may take as many as 28 workdays each year, and lose another 35 in missed productivity.

Again, stigma keeps many individuals from seeking the care they need; about two thirds of those with bipolar receive treatment, but few get the level of care they really need to keep their symptoms under control.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can manifest in a number of different ways, including difficulty concentrating; fatigue; restlessness; and worry. Employees with this condition may have a lot of insecurity about their role in the workplace and seek constant reassurance.

More than six percent of Americans deal with anxiety disorders, and it often takes up to 10 years for these problems to be recognized and diagnosed.

And, anxiety disorders often lead to other mental and physical health symptoms, ranging from insomnia to gastrointestinal problems. As such, employees with anxiety disorders are likely to take a lot of sick days or suffer from low productivity in general.

Investing in Employee Wellbeing

As we have mentioned in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made mental health issues more pronounced; if ever there was a time for employers and HR leaders to create safe, healthy workplaces, it’s now.

A good place to begin is with basic education: Make sure you’re aware of the common mental health disorders and their effect on the workplace. And begin doing everything in your power to break down stigma and encourage employees to seek proper care.

With any questions, reach out to WhiteWater Consulting today.

Onboarding During COVID-19

In recent weeks, news headlines have painted a fairly grim scene of the U.S. employment landscape; unemployment remains a significant issue, and while the economy has added back many jobs, progress hasn’t been as robust as many had hoped. And, with the virus still surging, it’s hard to predict short-term or long-term fallout.

And yet, we know that there are still companies recruiting, hiring, and welcoming new team members into the fold. It is a most unusual time to be onboarding new employees, to say the least. Many in the HR world are struggling to effectively welcome and train employees, even in virtual work environments.

We’ve got just a few suggestions for ensuring a smooth onboarding process during the coronavirus pandemic.

Onboarding in a Pandemic: Our Tips

1) Be adaptable.

Onboarding processes can be complicated and multi-faceted. You’ll need employees to sign some paperwork, to be briefed on rules and policies, to receive task-specific training, perhaps even to be paired with a mentor.

Those things are all well and good, but the pandemic means your timeline may be a little bit looser, and some of these steps a little harder to accomplish. So, what we recommend above all else is flexibility. Spend some time thinking about the non-negotiable aspects of your onboarding process, and how you can address them as expediently as possible. Also think about the things that add very little value to the employee experience; some of these items you may wish to jettison altogether, just in the interest of a nimble and workable process.

In other words: During these unprecedented times, don’t be afraid to rethink some of your tried-and-true onboarding practices.

2) Embrace technology.

By now, most companies are well aware of the technologies available to them to enable remote work; conferencing and communication tools like Zoom and Skype, and file-sharing tools such as Dropbox.

These same technologies can be invaluable to your onboarding process. In fact, it may be smart to devote your employee’s first day to getting their technology setup in place. Be sure you have an IT person who can walk them through any needed software downloads and configurations.

Certainly, technology can help you collect the paperwork you need without asking your new hire to come into the office; have them scan and email their forms, or use DocuSign as needed. You might also get an HR representative to join them in a Zoom call, clarifying any questions they have about the new hire paperwork.

Finally, consider some of the learning management systems (LMS) available to provide virtual training for your new hires. This will require your HR team to create and upload some company-specific training content, but in the long run, this can be a great investment in a flexible and automated onboarding process.

3) Don’t forget the social component.

Finally, it’s important that new hires be given an opportunity to meet people and feel like they’re part of the team. Again, video conferencing software can make this possible, even during quarantine. Consider using video conferencing to set up mentor meetings or small group hangouts. A few low-key, low-stress socialization opportunities can go a long way toward bolstering team morale.

Questions About Effective Onboarding?

The onboarding process can pose challenges even in the best of times; in the midst of a pandemic, those challenges are compounded. If you have any questions, we welcome you to reach out to WhiteWater Consulting directly.

Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace, Post-COVID

As more businesses welcome employees back to the workplace, HR leaders have understandably prioritized physical health and safety. This is entirely appropriate in the wake of the pandemic: Workplaces can and should do everything in their power to promote hygiene and support employee wellbeing.

It is crucial to remember, though, that employee wellness is about more than physical safety. Mental health is also a significant concern. Keep in mind that many employees will return to work feeling anxious, afraid, or depressed; some will be carrying grief from loved ones they have lost, or trepidation that they might become sick themselves. Others may simply feel nervous due to changes and uncertainty in our work environments.

Mental Health as a Priority

Due to these concerns, it is critical that employers and HR leaders develop their back-to-work plans with employee mental health in mind.

Indeed, mental health is a major source of concern for many business leaders. Businessolver recently published the results of their fifth annual State of Workplace Empathy Study, where they found that CEOs, HR leaders, and employees agree that mental health should be a key consideration in the workplace. And yet, the same study also shows that just 69 percent of employees feel that their workplace is sensitive to mental health concerns.

Digging deeper into the numbers, we find the following:

  • Many employees are afraid to reveal their mental health struggles, with 64 percent saying they are concerned about confidentiality. Their fear is that, in being honest about their mental health issues, they could jeopardize their job security.
  • There is a disconnect between employees and leaders. An overwhelming 86 percent of CEOs give their companies high marks for open discussion of mental health issues… but only 58 percent of employees agree.
  • Similarly, 76 percent of CEOs note that their workplaces offer mental health benefits, but only about half of employees are aware of these benefits! Awareness-raising will be a key issue moving forward.
  • About 92 percent of employees say their companies should do more… and 100 percent of HR leaders agree!

What we see here is that mental health concerns loom large among employees and business leadership; and that there remains much work to be done in creating workspaces where mental health is addressed with honesty and sensitivity.

Take Action

As HR leaders start considering their options for improving mental health in the workplace, especially amidst a post-COVID re-opening, there are a few preliminary action steps that we can commend.

  • Start talking honestly and openly about mental health. Make your workplace an environment where people feel comfortable talking about these issues without fear. This must start at the top: Leaders and executives must be the ones who model transparency and vulnerability.
  • Create support systems in which employees can talk with each other not only about logistical aspects of their jobs, but also emotional ones. This may look like team huddles where emotional issues are expressly raised. It may also mean pairing employees to check in with each other in a more confidential, one-on-one setting (such as a “coffee buddies” program).
  • Finally, it is so crucial for employers and HR leaders to develop benefits packages that include mental health care… and, to make sure the scope of those mental health benefits is discussed openly with employees. Again, raising awareness and rejecting stigma will be important going forward.

Ready to find out more about designing (and communicating) benefits packages that put mental health as a priority? Reach out to our team at WhiteWater Consulting at any time.