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Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MWWPR, one of the largest independent public relations firms in the nation.
Research shows that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health issue experienced by people in the aftermath of large-scale traumatic events, such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Along with comorbid mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, PTSD can significantly impact people’s day-to-day life for months and even years after a traumatic event.
As the U.S. surpasses 500,000 lives lost to Covid-19 in a single year, it’s clear that the pandemic is one of the most consequential large-scale traumatic events in recent history. Research suggests one-third of Covid-19 survivors may suffer from PTSD, while prolonged quarantining, economic recession and social inequities will have a significant impact on mental health in the general population.
Even after vaccines make it possible to live life “normally” again, people will carry a lot of emotional scars that will make life feel anything but normal. They will not only have to wrestle with practical matters such as whether it’s safe to ride the subway or sit in a conference room without a mask; many will also be grappling with existential issues about whether they want to return to the same job or even the same career.
After a year of social isolation and 24-hour workdays that have all but obliterated work-life balance, mental health can no longer be an afterthought; it needs to be agencies’ major imperative right now. Protecting employees’ mental health will be at least — if not more — pivotal to the growth and health of organizations as traditional healthcare has been.
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Effective mental healthcare isn’t simply transactional; it requires an organization-wide shift toward a mental health mindset that tackles issues beyond the pandemic, such as the staggeringly high suicide rate of Gen Z. Today’s high-speed, high-stakes world has created a rolling crisis culture where the next political, environmental or economic catastrophe is always around the corner – and businesses need to be ready for anything.
Adopt a people-centric approach.
A lot of agencies talk about being client-centric, but it’s impossible to be client-centric without being employee-centric, too. Today’s agencies need to adopt a people-centric approach that fosters client and employee satisfaction in tandem, because when you have happy employees, you will have happy clients and vice versa.
Employee happiness is not just a nice-to-do; it’s a must-do. The easiest way to find out if you have a happy client is to talk to your employees. If they’re not happy at work, I can almost guarantee you the work is not good.
This is why it’s more important than ever to survey your employees on a regular basis. Your employee satisfaction score will correlate to your client satisfaction score with little or no deviation. Low employee satisfaction scores signal the need for a bigger paradigm shift that connects their physical and emotional well-being to the quality of their work.
Surveying employee happiness means taking stock of the complete person – the issues they’re dealing with at work and at home as well as how they’re coping with the post-pandemic return to normalcy, which will be at least some degree of a shock to the system for most people. Agencies need to build a strong foundation to support a whole series of long-term issues in a mental health house of cards.
The return to work means customized plans.
With President Biden’s announcement that all Americans will have access to a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of May, your employees’ anxiety will begin to accelerate dramatically. “What does this mean for me?” “Will I have to go back to work five days a week immediately?” “What do I do about childcare, separation issues, dog walkers?” These are real issues that will demand a steady, understanding and customized approach to each employee. It’s critical not to underestimate what a difficult and confusing transition this will be for many people and their families. Few skills will be as important for you and your managment as strong Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
Provide on-demand mental health services.
In the old days, visits with a mental health professional were expensive, time-consuming and laced with stigma. Today, people can meet with a licensed therapist or mental health professional over Zoom from the comfort and privacy of their own home or office. Digital services have both democratized and destigmatized mental healthcare and they are a must-have for modern companies.
In addition to frequent, on-demand wellness visits with licensed professionals, agencies should also invest in webinars, seminars and other educational tools and resources. Mental health should be at the top of the list of priorities from a management and an employee perspective. It should be an ongoing conversation that flows in both directions.
Take time to regroup.
When you’re running an agency or business that depends on client satisfaction, it can be difficult to take time away to regroup. But instituting mental health days is a critical business imperative that will boost employee morale, help retain employees and pay dividends in their work.
For instance, in addition to our on-demand, confidential mental health services, my agency recently instituted the “Friday Freeze” to encourage employees to disconnect early on Fridays and mandatory company-wide mental health days to coincide with three-day national holiday weekends so people can truly maximize their time to rest and reset.
Instituting agency-wide mental health time, whether that’s an entire day or just an afternoon, means scheduling offline time no differently than you would schedule your most important meeting and making it clear to clients when you’re unreachable except in the case of an emergency. Taking time to recharge your batteries means you’ll be firing on all cylinders when you’re back on the job.
Agencies can no longer afford to sweep mental health issues under the rug. If you don’t see the problem, you’re not looking for it. In a post-pandemic, rolling crisis world, every business must prioritize mental health in order to attract and retain not only the best employees but the best clients.
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Author: Michael Kempner, Forbes Councils Member