Ask HR: How Can I Support My Employees’ Mental Health?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP August 21, 2020

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


Question: I'm a small business owner of a mental health group practice. One of the current barriers for employees and for my clients is the lack of robust mental health benefits, particularly telehealth. My question is twofold: As an employer, how can I help employees who do not have mental health coverage, and how do we help our clients better collaborate with their HR about stronger mental health telehealth benefits? - Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: First, I want to commend you for thinking about the mental health of not only your clients but your employees, too. The pandemic has wrought a major psychological toll on workers, employers, and, well, everyone.  

With 45 percent of employees feeling emotionally drained, I'm happy to hear employers like yourself are recognizing the importance of mental health at a time like this.  

Have you connected with your health care provider to determine if your organization's plan currently includes mental health and telehealth services? I ask because some providers who may not have offered these services previously might now due to the unique challenges and demands of the pandemic. 

That said, if telehealth benefits aren't a part of your company's current plan, you may be able to make a midyear change to amend it and add benefits like mental health and telehealth services. You can also consider setting up a reimbursement program for behavioral health expenses, or contributions to an established fund through a flexible benefits account.

In addition, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) often include a toll-free phone number employees can call to connect with a provider for their mental health needs. EAPs also may include additional psychological services such as counseling. 

If you don't, or can't, provide such a program, you may be able to compile resources and information from your local health department to share with employees and clients. 

With the above in mind, navigating mental health resources and benefits for your own employees could serve as a pilot program to what recommendations you provide your clients.


Question: I got laid off from my job of three years due to COVID-19, and I'm starting the job search. I've kept in touch with my references, and I was planning to use them moving forward. My question is: How long are references "good" for, and when should I consider getting new ones? - Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:  I'm sorry to hear you were laid off from your job—but know that things are looking up. As it stands, 81 percent of small businesses have reopened or started reopening. I also want to commend you for beginning your job search—it can be a tough first step to take. 

It's good you're considering your references—people who can vouch for your skills, experience, and talents. While references don't "expire," I do recommend maintaining these relationships even—and especially—if you aren't looking for a new job. After all, if you only care to connect when you need something, what kind of relationship is that?

If you haven't, reach out and mention your layoff and need for a new job. Be sure to give them the courtesy of a heads up that they may be contacted; this will be appreciated and allow them the time they need to prepare for a potential call with a hiring manager.

Periodic check-ins every few months or so can provide your contacts with updates on your career (and theirs!), keep them invested in your growth, and could open doors to new opportunities. As the saying goes, "you never know!"

If you don't know who to list as a reference, think of people who have managed you or worked closely with you—these individuals can best speak to your ability and accomplishments. Colleagues you've left a lasting impression on can champion your successes to prospective employers and help showcase your skill set. Above all, rely on people who understand the unique personality and strengths you bring to the table.

Best of luck!



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