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Opinion

Mental Wellbeing Must Be An HR Priority in 2021 (and Beyond)

The first step to building kinder and more empathetic teams and businesses.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

So many different words come to mind when I think about 2020. It was, after all, a year characterized by tremendous change, uncertainty, pain, and loss but it was also a time of growth — both personal and professional — and reflection.

What is perhaps most telling is the fact that many of you reading this — HR leaders and practioners — played a crucial role in driving and guiding others through this change.

As offices shut down and employees were sent to work remotely, HR teams were thrust into the spotlight. All of a sudden, the future of businesses all over the world hinged on the actions taken and strategies devised by HR teams and the way in which employees adapted to this tsunami of overnight transformation.

For many, working from home was a dream come true. On the surface, it meant less time and money spent on travel, a potential rise in disposable income, and the possibility to have a better work/life balance. The reality, however, is markedly different.

Mental wellbeing: the data doesn’t lie

Studies have shown that remote workers have worked longer hours — and what’s worse, their employers often expected them to do so.

The lines between professional and personal became increasingly blurry, leading to employee dissatisfaction and in some cases burnout.

A survey published by TELUS International last year found that 80% of Americans would consider quitting their current position for a job that focused more on employees’ mental health.

Worryingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the research revealed that 75% of US workers struggled with anxiety at work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other world events. This is not OK.

The data largely echoes what many of my conversations with employees revealed throughout the year. The expectation to work at all times, coupled with the added pressure of taking on extra duties due to layoffs, took its toll.

COVID-19 has resurfaced the need to talk about mental wellbeing and this is something I’m grateful for. In some instances, being at home, seeing colleagues’ children or spouses interrupt Zoom calls, has brought home the fact that we’re all human, imperfect, and simply trying to do our best.

Moving into 2021

The stigma around mental wellbeing has lifted and while some companies made a real effort to look after their employees it’s important that this carries on into 2021 and beyond.

I won’t bore you with stats about how a happier workforce is more productive, but with many of us returning to work today, I wanted to take the opportunity to remind you that mental wellbeing should be one of your priorities going forward.

Not simply because health should always be prioritized but also because I strongly feel that businesses have a responsibility to create a culture that values and supports employees, both in and outside of work.

This is key when it comes to attracting and retaining talent but it’s also a good place to start in our quest to create a kinder and more empathetic world.

Let’s embrace the lessons learned in 2020 and leverage them to look after each other.

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