by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

Facing high rates of absenteeism? Or low rates of employee engagement? If so, you may need to consider how well you’re addressing the mental health needs of your employees — especially in developing different approaches for various demographics, according to Jamie Bierman, SHRM-SCP, regional market director at HR Elements, a partner of VonLehman CPA & Advisory Firm.

Gen Z employees, who are just now entering the workforce, may require a significantly different mental wellness strategy than Millennials and employees nearing retirement, according to Bierman, who recently talked to attendees of a HR Nonprofit Peer Group webinar sponsored by Charitable Advisors.

As a result, human resource (HR) professionals and other workplace leaders need to consider how to strategically develop wellness programs based on the needs of various generations as well as cultural backgrounds, Bierman said.

“The workplace consists of all types of different generations and different types of people,” she said. “A mental health is not a one-size-fits-all strategy or solution.”

One of the reasons driving the need for a multi-faceted approach is that the COVID-19 pandemic further shed light on the complexities of mental wellness. Bierman said that many factors can contribute to an employee’s performance at work. For example, an employee may be facing additional stressors if they are in a caretaking role for a child or an elderly parent.

And with 19 percent of U.S. employees reporting that they are struggling with their mental health, nonprofit organizations and other business naturally will experience negative outcomes such as a decrease in employee engagement, Bierman said. Consequently, organizations will see a decrease in business profitability and overall business results, she noted.

“Having a well-being program at work is the new wellness focus that we need to have,” Bierman said. “We need to remember that work and life are not mutually exclusive. We need to help our employees thrive within their lives. If you have a really bad morning, you’re probably not going to walk into the workplace ready to do a good job.”

The pandemic represented a period of managing stress and the unexpected at higher levels. “As HR professionals, not only are we managing it for ourselves, but we’re also trying to figure out how to help all of those individuals — even though we don’t know exactly what’s going on in their lives,” she said.

Bierman highlighted numerous ways that HR professionals can be more effective in addressing the complexities of assisting employees with mental health programs.

Consider generational differences. Bierman said that differences emerge based upon the generation of the employee. For examples, younger employees — such as Gen Zs — are more likely to prioritize mental health. “During job interviews, these are the people who will ask questions like, ‘What mental health resources do you have?’ ‘How many additional PTO days do you provide for a mental health break?’” The needs of older employees — those in their 40s and 50s — may be significantly different because of their increased responsibilities, Bierman said. “This age group that was seeing the highest increases in stress, anxiety, and feelings of negativity in 2021,” she said. “Many of them are probably in high-ranking positions or are stepping into new leadership roles that are demanding and stressful.”

A third demographic that may be facing mental health challenges are those approaching retirement. “They’re probably stressed for different reasons. It may be because they haven’t been able to retire,” Bierman said. “They may be dealing with fear and anxiety, which will have an impact on their mental health.”

Address racial and ethnic disparities. There are racial and ethnic disparities when addressing the mental health crisis in general, Bierman said. Minority groups typically are impacted by mental stress at a higher level but they’re less likely to use these services, she noted. Reports reveal that Asian employees are 51 percent less likely to seek mental help treatment than their white counterparts. Those numbers are 25 percent less likely among Latinos and 21 percent less likely among Black employees. Less representation of minorities in the mental health field and cultural norms contribute to those varying numbers, Bierman said. Similar differences emerge for gender and sexual minorities, who also experience higher rates of poor mental health outcomes. “They’re going to suffer in silence because, from a cultural perspective, it’s not OK to seek mental health support,” Bierman said. Consequently, HR professionals must build connections, relationships, and trust among minority and underrepresented groups, she said.

Regularly promote employee assistance services. One effective way of addressing mental health, Bierman said, is to promote the company’s employee assistance program (EAP) throughout the year — not just during the onboarding process.

“We often enroll employees and then walk away,” she said. “In many cases, when we talk about EAP, we’re focused on promoting the counseling aspects of it. But a lot of EAP programs can help an employee access resources in their community.”

These can include helping an employee find daycare for a child or adult care for an aging parent or helping them with financial challenges.

“Instead of talking about the EAP only during open enrollment and during the health care portion of your benefit presentation, you can regularly talk about EAP in a weekly news blast or in text message reminders to employees,” she said.

Mental Health for a diverse organization webinar replay. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to the subject of mental health in a diverse workforce. This interactive discussion outlines tips and strategies organizations can take to address the topic of mental health and wellness in a multi-generational workplace. Presented by Nonprofit HR Peer Group. Watch replay

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