How Responsible Is HR for Employee Wellbeing?


Employee wellbeing and mental health are top of mind as Human Resources leaders attempt to win the war for talent in a historic labor shortage. But this is new territory, and HR leaders are trying to figure out their role, what’s appropriate, and what employees need most. But how much of an employee’s mental health and wellness is the responsibility of employers? Where do they draw the line? Who must they help?

“The company has the opportunity to support people. I think that it should be an imperative,” said Jessi Crast, Advanced Researcher at Limeade Institute, during the HR Exchange Network’s recent webinar, “Psychological Safety for Today’s Workplace.” “Even if you are just thinking of it in terms of talent attraction, making it clear that no matter who you are or what you do here, we want to take care of your mental health. We’re here to support you. We have this great support system. I think it’s super important to offer it to everybody.”

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Wellness Support for Talent Attraction

Some HR leaders are suggesting that this is an “employee economy,” which means companies should treat workers like customers. Two out of five employees don’t feel that their employers are doing enough to support their well-being, according to MetLife’s 2021 benefits survey. And three in four employers overestimate their employees’ mental and financial health. In addition, 85% of people said their emotional wellness has declined since the COVID-19 outbreak began, according to a 2020 Harvard Business Review survey.

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Clearly, the issue of mental health and wellness is one that employers can’t afford to ignore. In the latest HR Exchange Network’s State of HR report, mental health and wellbeing (13%) was the third biggest challenge, behind the labor shortage (16%), and retaining talent (15%). In addition, 19% of HR leaders said burnout was the biggest consequence of the pandemic. And burnout (28%) and the blurring of work and personal life (28%) were the top challenges of employee engagement.

REPORT: State of HR

That’s why 40% of employers expanded mental health benefits in 2021, according to the KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey. Traditional wellness benefits include enhanced health plans and Employee Assistance Program offerings of mental health services. Some have begun offering no work mental health days and opportunities for stress management assistance.

Avoiding Burnout

Many provide the chance for activities that might help mind and body, such as yoga or meditation. University Federal Credit Union offers its employees the option to take breaks in a zen room with virtual reality headsets to help with stress reduction.

“It helps us demonstrate how we care about our people,” said Rhonda Hall, Vice President of HR and Organizational Development at University Federal Credit Union, during the HR Exchange Network’s Recruiting and Talent Acquisition online event.

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Nowadays, HR is taking the initiative to set up boundaries to ensure improved work-life balance. For example, a company might set rules about when you should write emails or call an employee or schedule meetings.

Throw Out the Old Playbook

“The assumption used to be that it was up to the employee to figure out work-life balance,” writes Ravi Swaminathan, Cofounder and CEO of TaskHuman in Fast Company.

At HR Exchange Network’s HR and Future of Work online event, Diane Albano, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at Globalization Partners, said employers must walk a fine line to balance the need for privacy with providing mental health and wellness support. At Globalization Partners, the Human Resources team leads with a “heart-oriented, people-first strategy,” she says.

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“We have people spread all around the world,” said Albano. “We have lots of different meetings with different venues for sharing. It helps to keep that people connection, so people don’t feel left out.”

Fast Company stresses the need to clearly define mental health, which describes a clinical assessment of a person’s mental state of health and often involves a diagnosis and treatment, and mental wellbeing, which is preventative and requires active cultivation of positive habits in daily life.

Looking at the issue of mental health and wellness through that prism may help HR leaders to define their obligation to employees. Providing enhanced mental health benefits packages and opportunities for stress reduction to avoid burnout are necessities. Life is more complicated than ever, and the point everyone agrees with is that employers should offer support for wellbeing because it will help their teams function better and be more productive. It’s also the right thing to do.

Photo by RODNAE Productions for Pexels

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