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Opinion: Holistic well-being: A new standard for workplaces

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We have lived – and learned – a lifetime in the past three years thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are navigating a new reality, fundamentally changed forever, and as employers and businesses, it is imperative that we are informed and prepared to meet the needs of our current workforce and the workforce of the future.

Brain health and emotional health are at the core of all that we do – in our personal and professional lives. Historically, the term mental health has been associated with great stigma, and only used for “those” with a diagnosed mental health illness. Meanwhile, as business leaders, we focused on business and rarely intentionally invested in the whole health of our employees, including brain health.

While mental health care, i.e. brain health care, is for those of us with diagnosed mental health illness, it also is for all humans, because we all have brains. Every human brain needs and deserves intentional and daily care for optimal performance. While the bottom line is important in business, it is directly influenced and impacted by the well-being of the workforce. When our employees are not well, our businesses are not as well as they can be.

This was true even before COVID, a previously unknown disease turned pandemic, which deeply impacted our world. Humanity was overwhelmed with uncertainty, rapid and constant changes, and death. Our survival systems were overwhelmed while also trying to maintain regular duties and responsibilities. As a result, elevated stress, depression, burnout and overwhelm led 47.4 million employees to quit their jobs in 2021, according to a MetLife 2022 Employee Benefits Trends Survey.

As humanity was impacted and changed forever, so too was work and employment. The pandemic accelerated trends toward flexible work arrangements, work/life balance, financial well-being and mental health in the workplace. One of the fundamental lessons learned is the necessity for businesses to care for the holistic wellness of the workforce, including physical, financial, mental and social health.

It is clear that rather than responding with mental health care as a Band-Aid after a crisis has occurred, we must take a proactive approach. We must be innovative in how brain health is cared for in all settings – including our workplace. A successful plan for accomplishing this includes strong benefits and an employee assistance program, as well as more cultural and social tactics.

Benefits are among the key aspects of the employee experience, alongside purpose, culture, training and development, scheduling and vacation policies, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Our employees want benefits to work together in ways that suit their unique needs and enable them to succeed professionally and live their best lives outside of work. To boost key employee outcomes of social health, job satisfaction, loyalty and productivity, the MetLife survey reminds us it is our responsibility as employers to strengthen the whole employee experience. This may include creating purposeful work, prioritizing flexibility and work/life balance, initiating social and supportive culture, providing professional development and training, and establishing wellness programs and benefits.

The payoff? Employees are 74% more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, 51% more likely to say they intend to be at their organizations in 12 months, 74% more likely to be resilient, 59% more likely to feel engaged and 53% more likely to be productive.

The time is now for us as business leaders. It’s up to each of us to set the precedent of holistic wellness in the workplace and for all industries to meet the expectations and needs of our employees from all generations, races and gender identities.

Dr. Shelly Farnan, a licensed clinical psychologist, is vice president of Be Well Initiatives at Burrell Behavioral Health. She can be reached at shelly.farnan@burrellcenter.com.

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