Americans' mental health rating is at a 21-year low, primarily because fewer than 1 in 4 U.S. employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their well-being—the lowest percentage in nearly a decade, according to Gallup research.
What follows is a tale of how two organizations addressed mental wellness and launched effective well-being initiatives over the past two years in the midst of the pandemic. In both cases, the companies' efforts had a significant positive impact on their organizational culture.
Gallup's Well-Being Strategy
Gallup is best known for research and polling; the organization uses data to drive decisions, which prompted it to focus on wellness research long before the pandemic. In fact, the initiative to implement well-being at Gallup began 50 years ago with flextime and other workplace best practices, according to Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace well-being at Gallup, who said the company's well-being policies were built on an atmosphere of trust.
"Trust is established first by meeting basic employee expectations for engaging work—a clear role and expectation, meaningful ongoing conversations, and accountability," Harter said. "Being recognized when you do excellent work, having an opportunity to do what you do best, opportunities to develop and grow."
When work expectations are met, "there is trust, which opens the door to have meaningful conversations about the blend of work and life—well-being conversations" between manager and employee, one to one, Harter explained.
"Most people come to work wanting to make a difference," he noted. "Great managers remove, rather than create, barriers to high performance and personal fulfillment in work."
For example, managers should help their employees achieve optimal performance by involving them in setting their own goals, which engenders a sense of trust. "This low-hanging fruit is often ignored," he said, adding that employees with goals, measurable objectives and the resources to get the work done have greater trust in their organization.
Gallup promotes mental health through a comprehensive, multifaceted wellness approach built on science, said Harter, who added that its five elements of well-being are:
- Career well-being: liking what you do and being motivated to achieve your goals.
- Social well-being: having supportive relationships and love in your life.
- Financial well-being: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
- Physical well-being: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.
- Community well-being: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.
"Separating these components from each other creates an imbalance," Harter said. When individuals score high in each area, this results in what Gallup calls "net thriving," which translates into employee well-being and mental wellness.
Gallup uses the Clifton Strengths tool to measure the five elements of well-being. When employees are "thriving in well-being, they will show up differently at work," Harter said. "That difference manifests itself in greater confidence, proactivity rather than reactivity, taking ownership and engagement."
Using the tool, employees respond to questions that measure the five interrelated wellness components. They can then see their own assessment results, which provide a solid understanding of their well-being strengths and weaknesses. The resulting self-knowledge is the first step toward "net thriving," Harter said.
Technology also is leveraged to provide well-being support at Gallup through a tool called Wellbeing@Work. Employees use the tool to assess their status on the Clifton Strengths scales. For employees with low scores in any of the areas, the tool offers a personalized "pathway" to move toward health, Harter explained. Recommendations include personalized guidance and direction to specific, relevant employee benefits, many of which have been underutilized in the past, he said.
Chevron Offers a Different Approach
At Chevron, concerns about the mental health of its workers led the company to emphasize "mental health and resilience with global initiatives that are uniquely office- and site-based," said Marissa Badenhorst, vice president of health, safety and environment.
Prior to the pandemic, Chevron was undergoing a major business transformation. Employees were aware of these changes, but the pandemic increased the level of uncertainty. Badenhorst noted that "Chevron's existing strong policies and foundational programs already emphasize safety, health and well-being." Consequently, Chevron was able to pivot smoothly to address pandemic threats, including mental wellness, she said.
"Chevron has always ensured that workers have a safe space to work," she explained. The company's employee assistance program (EAP), now in its 52nd year, is a free, confidential consulting service for employees, their family members and retirees worldwide. In 2019, the team launched "Let's Talk…Mind Matters," a multiyear enterprisewide mental health initiative designed to increase awareness of available services and reduce associated stigmas.
"Let's Talk…Mind Matters" emphasizes the importance of establishing a strong, sustained community of support for employees, and encourages managers to share personal stories with their teams, promote utilization of well-being tools, and participate in mental health events and programming. During the pandemic, Badenhorst said, Chevron added four initiatives to further enhance its well-being support for employees:
- Strengthened social well-being and belonging through employee participation in affinity groups and employee networks.
- Provided an ongoing safe physical environment for physical well-being for essential workers and those who remained onsite.
- Offered additional tools for employees, regardless of location, to manage personal health challenges for mental and emotional well-being.
- Encouraged employees to be involved in and volunteer safely to support well-being in their local communities.
"Giving back to the local community results in both a healthy self-image and positive community relations for Chevron," Badenhorst said.
To be sure, a challenge at Chevron is that commonly used wellness tools aren't always applicable in the context where Chevron's workers operate, she explained. Digital tools need to be mobile as well as culturally appropriate to address a diverse, global workforce. To ensure engagement, Chevron partnered with vendors to deliver customized approaches that integrate with existing local efforts.
For example, Chevron launched the meQuilibrium (meQ) program to provide 24/7 mental health support to its global workforce. The meQ app is available in 14 languages to Chevron employees, their spouses and their dependents, and designed to help users manage stress, overcome negative thinking and make healthy lifestyle choices.
In 2021, Chevron also launched the Enterprise Health Index, which allows all business units and operating companies to complete an assessment resulting in an aggregated health index score available on dashboards. Based on these outcomes, the units set future health and well-being goals, identified pockets of well-being excellence and shared those successes and learnings organizationwide, Badenhorst said.
Chevron also committed to consistently collecting employee feedback, including through pulse surveys on health and well-being, work/life balance, leadership, and learning and development. The goal is "to create a feedback-rich environment where workers do not have to wait for a survey to offer opinions," Badenhorst noted.
Employees can also access training on respectfully giving and receiving feedback. "Chevron seeks a work culture where all people feel connected and respected, all of which can impact mental health and well-being," she said.
There are common elements shared by Gallup and Chevron in their approaches to mental wellness and overall well-being, but, in the end, culture is most critical. A kind, trusting and respectful culture is one in which wellness flourishes, experts say.
HR professionals should ask themselves how their organizational culture supports employee mental health and well-being, how it's measured, what resources the organization should provide, how technology can be used to increase employee access, and what new policies are needed to encourage employee mental health and well-being.
Deborah Waddill is an HR technology consultant, an adjunct professor at George Washington University and author of Digital HR: A Guide to Technology-Enabled Human Resources (SHRM, 2018, updated in 2022).