Throughout the pandemic, mental health has become top of mind for organizations looking to retain and satisfy talent.
But now, as companies ask — or in some cases, require — their workforce to come back into the office, employers must balance this shift with overall employee well-being.
Throughout 2021, four in five employees surveyed for Mental Health America’s Mind the Workplace 2022 report said that workplace stress impacted their relationships with friends, family and coworkers. 56% of employees surveyed by the nonprofit mental health advocacy group said they were likely to look for new jobs, compared to 40% in 2018.
With this in mind, companies are taking different approaches to workplace wellbeing this Mental Health Awareness Month and in general, as many employees come back to the office for the first time in years.
Nike on Friday announced that it will once again close all of its offices worldwide for a week in August to give its employees additional time off to recover and rest. The announcement coincides with Nike’s return-to-office plan, which began last week. Nike is currently working with a “3-2 flexible work model” which allows employees to work remotely up to two days a week.
Lululemon, which plans to reopen its offices in June with a hybrid work set-up, will give employees four additional paid days off this summer after a successful inaugural run in 2021. The company plans to gradually shift to the new hybrid model, so that employees have time to adjust as needed.
Like other companies, Lululemon offers a range of mental health benefits for employees year round, including psychological counseling, an employee assistance program and financial benefits for fitness and meditation classes. In October, Lululemon launched a new center to support these physical and mental wellness programs.
Programs like these have, in most cases, become more commonplace in the pandemic corporate workforce. Almost 23% of workers said their employer had launched new mental health services during the pandemic, according to a February survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults by the Harris Poll for Fortune.
On top of existing programs, companies such as Saks, Nordstrom, Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus Group and more have announced a series special events for employees for Mental Health Awareness Month this May.
These resources have taken on a new sense of urgency in the modern workplace, especially amid a persisting labor shortage in the U.S. About 4.5 million people quit their jobs in March at a rate of 3%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number represents a series high and highlights the need for employers to tune into the needs and preferences of their workforce.
Many of the departures can be attributed to stress at work, compounded by pandemic challenges, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
“Stress at work can have broad, negative consequences for employers and employees alike, including loss of productivity, high turnover and repercussions for the employee’s physical and emotional health,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD., the CEO of the American Psychological Association (APA) in a statement regarding a recent study on workplace stress. “A workplace that pays attention to worker well-being is better positioned to recruit and retain engaged and productive staff.”
In other words, tuning into your employees’ mental health is more than a nice benefit to attract more workers. It’s a business imperative.
Neiman Marcus Group, which has allowed employees to work fully remotely throughout the pandemic, said this flexible working policy has boosted employee retention rates and happiness. The luxury department store chain, which also owns Bergdorf Goodman, said that its goal is to allow employees to determine their work schedules and office set-ups to maximize effectiveness.
“The past two years of the pandemic have shined a light on the importance and urgency of maintaining our mental health,” said Eric Severson, NMG’s EVP and chief people and belonging officer.
At Adidas, U.S. employees are required to come into the office for three days or more a week but can also take an extra two weeks per year to work remotely from anywhere. To help employees transition back into the office, Adidas, which has a hybrid schedule, is offering its employees free food, raffles and activities in its U.S. HQ in Portland, Ore. as well as offering mental health resources and free virtual therapy sessions.
“We are happy to be back together as one team but recognize the transition to a hybrid work environment may be a big adjustment for employees,” said an Adidas representative. “Our goal is to foster a work environment where all our people feel safe, understood and empowered.”
Nordstrom is also aiming to offer “different workplace models” to provide flexibility to its employees.
“We know that in order for our employees to best serve our customers, all of our employees need to feel supported not only in their career development but their personal wellbeing,” a Nordstrom spokesperson said, adding that the company offers counseling and online therapy resources as well.
Kenneth Cole, which is also operating in a hybrid working environment, noted the delicacy required to approach work-life balance in an office setting. In addition to standard paid time off, the company offers employees a mental health day in an effort to accommodate employees.
In an interview with FN, Cole noted the importance of paying attention to the mental health needs of a workforce.
“Businesses have to understand that [mental health programs] are not a cost. It’s not an expense. It is an investment that pays itself back,” Cole said. “When you invest and put in place [mental health] programs, you have a better work environment, better culture. Your recruiting gets easier, retention gets easier. And I think people are realizing that that mental health is something you just have to deal with.”