May 25th, 2021 | Sterling

From Pre-employment Screening to Post-employment Interviews: Strategies for Making Mental Health & Wellness a Priority Throughout the Employee Lifecycle

Mental Health Awareness Month

Have you noticed a rise in public service announcements related to mental health and wellness recently? One reason for the increase is because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The American Hospital Association explains that “May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience.”

The topic feels even more relevant today. 2020 was an exceptionally challenging year on the mental health front. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression rose from 10% in 2019 to 40% in 2020. Many have struggled with the isolation required by social distancing restrictions or the economic uncertainty arising from reduced hours or job losses. That’s why Mental Health Awareness Month is an ideal time for employers to look at how policies and procedures that put people first can make a positive difference, from work-life balance and job satisfaction to engagement and performance.

De-stressing the job search with efficient recruiting and screening processes

Ongoing efforts to reduce the stigma of discussing mental health have been working. A 2021 Trends Report by the American Psychological Association points out, “Even pre-pandemic, employers were already learning to be more proactive in identifying symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other disorders.” Furthermore, notes the article, a 2020 survey found that nearly 50% of large employers provide managers with training on recognizing mental health issues, with another 18% planning to start similar programs this year. When organizations actively work to reduce the stigma of mental health difficulties and allocate resources to support the mental health of employees, they empower people to have candid discussions about mental health issues.

Even before a job prospect becomes an employee, employers and staffing agencies are part of an experience that can have an impact on mental health. Do you remember what it felt like when you received a sought-after job offer? The nerves you had before your interview turn to excitement at the new opportunity ahead? Knowing that an employer wants you as part of the team can be a real confidence booster. When the hiring process doesn’t move along in a timely fashion, however, it can actually add to a potential hire’s anxiety. Consider two important parts at the start of the process: recruitment and screening.

With mental health awareness a top-of-mind issue for employers and employees alike, organizations should consider highlighting work benefits that support good mental health from a recruiting perspective. Websites and job postings can, for example, highlight the ability to take mental health days. Speaking to work-life balance is another way to generate interest among candidates, particularly now that remote work is so prevalent. While many employees appreciate the flexibility offered by remote work, many find work-life balance harder to maintain because of the always-on nature of email. By acknowledging that stress and related mental health issues come from both job-related and life-related challenges, employers and staffing agencies demonstrate mental health awareness and give potential recruits an even more positive first impression.

Likewise, employers can optimize screening to make the hiring process more streamlined and less stressful. First, take a critical look at the current process. What is the experience like for candidates? Where can it be simplified to be less stressful or frustrating? How does it align with and reflect the corporate culture, values, and brand?

When someone is actively seeking a job — be it full time, part-time, or contingent work — waiting to hear back from potential employers can increase anxiety. Implementing technology-enabled ID verification, for example, helps to both simplify and accelerate the process. Shifting to a criminal background checks that leverages digital technologies helps to keep the process moving along. This enables employers to make well-informed, safer hiring decisions, while eliminating the protracted wait that can raise prospective hires’ anxiety levels.

Creating a safe space where employees can thrive

Fostering positive mental health remains critical after employees are hired too. While background checks are one part of building great cultures and developing a safe workplace for employees and customers alike, employers should also consider the ongoing employee experience and develop a workplace culture that supports employees’ health and wellness. What does that look like?

  • Encourage open conversations about mental health — and not just during Mental Health Awareness Month. This helps to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. If someone seems stressed, overly tired, or just out-of-sorts, it’s okay to ask if they need help.
  • Recognize that everyone needs a break to reboot and recharge, whether it’s from a physical health complaint or mental fatigue. These needs may be further amplified by the current remote work landscape and the myriad of additional challenges it has produced. Reassure employees that sick days aren’t just for when they feel sick. In fact, failing to address growing stress levels or anxiety can lead to more serious health consequences in the future.
  • Make mental health resources available to employees in a way that they can access them easily — and anonymously. Not everyone is comfortable discussing personal issues; knowing that they can turn to mental health resources without being tracked can help them overcome reluctance, possibly paving the way for them to start having conversations. These resources should be communicated during Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond.

Prioritizing employee mental health in everyday ways

Mental health awareness may take the spotlight in May, but the need doesn’t evaporate the other 11 months of the year — a fact that has been made abundantly clear in the past year. Even as the pandemic eases, employers cannot ease up on mental health awareness. As KFF notes, “Almost overnight, the Covid-19 pandemic presented many workers with a whole host of concurrent risk factors for poor mental health and substance use problems, including generally high levels of uncertainty and fear, an overload of news and information, changes to workplace processes and demands, changes in household dynamics, financial and job security concerns, potential worsening of existing health conditions, and difficulties linked to caregiving.” These stresses won’t disappear overnight.

When it comes to supporting good mental health, employers need everyone on board — from the C-suite to managers to staff. What’s more, they need to consider how the needs of on-site staff may vary from those that work remotely.

All signs suggest that remote work is here to stay, albeit probably not to the same extent as during the pandemic. As a result, employers may need to fine-tune mental health resources to make them relevant for workers whether they are on-site or remote. Do the resources you currently offer directly address the challenges that someone who works from home faces? By acknowledging how different experiences contribute to positive or negative mental health, employers continue to reduce the stigma, provide valuable resources, and enable honest conversations.

Celebrating employees is a way that employers can focus on the positive. Think about the feeling you get when you’re having a rough day and someone gives you a compliment on a job well done. There’s real value in making employees feel seen, heard, and encouraged. By making employee appreciation a regular part of the work experience, employers don’t just provide a momentary mood boost, they help foster a sense of community and engagement. A number of Gallup polls have shown that recognizing employees for the value they bring to an organization encourages higher productivity and reduces worker burnout. Gallup emphasizes that in today’s hybrid work environments, “having a culture of recognition may be as essential to the overall health of your workforce as a gym discount.”

Interested in exploring how employers and staffing agencies can integrate mental health awareness not only during Mental Health Awareness Month, but into touchpoints along the employee lifecycle? Check out the Sterling blog, and watch a recent Sterling Live episode specifically on working parents and mental health: Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube.

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