Navigating Mental Health in the Workplace: The Importance of a Strong Employer Brand Relationship

How we work can impact our physical and mental health, both positively and negatively. Acknowledged by the U.S. Surgeon General, the global pandemic has brought the relationship between work and well-being into the foreground.

Over the last few years, companies and organizations worldwide have been grappling with changes in the economy, staffing, and business needs. A distinct lack of clarity and transparent communication through these transitions have led to significant uncertainty among candidates and employees, adversely affecting their mental health. According to recent surveys, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states, "76% of workers in 2021 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, a 17% increase over the previous two years alone.

Several major companies have recently decided to call their employees back to the office at least three days a week. While this may be the right choice for some employers, a reported six in 10 fully remote employees are "extremely likely to change companies" if that remote flexibility is taken away, according to a Gallup study conducted in 2022. Although remote work remains desirable and has many benefits when it comes to flexibility, autonomy, and work/life balance (not to mention limiting the separation anxiety of our pandemic puppies), we should be careful not to overlook the potential for the negative impact that diminished social interaction can have on an employee's mental health. We as humans are a highly social species, and loneliness can be as damaging to our mental health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day can be to our physical health. As the mental health epidemic continues to rise both in the U.S. and globally, it is more important than ever that companies be intentional about how they foster their employment relationship with candidates and employees in today's rapidly changing work environment.

How do we define what exactly is meant by the employment relationship? At exaqueo, we help clients build the employer brand relationship (EBR). This is how an individual thinks, feels, and experiences employment with an organization. This relationship is based on perception (candidate) or lived (employee). Its four dimensions include your relationship with your organization, coworkers, leaders, and the work itself. Foundationally the EBR is rooted in trust, respect, value, and care. It’s a complex relationship that employers must pause and assess in order to maintain and strengthen. 

When aiming to support mental health in the workplace, a strong employment relationship consists of something other than an organization simply having a standalone well-being program, such as an EAP (employee assistance program), and calling it a day. An EAP program alone is insufficient to support an employee's mental health. Instead, it is the culmination of the employment experience; the steps the organization is taking combined with how coworkers treat one another, how leaders choose to react and interact by checking in, providing feedback, and leading by example, as well as how the work itself leaves employees with sentiments of pride and excitement, instead of feelings of burnout and stress.

This approach has required a shift from traditional ways of thinking about employment as a quid pro quo transaction to intentionally viewing employment as a grounded and honest relationship focused on common goals. These goals aim to help build and strengthen the employment experience, allowing the organization to realize its goals and growth potential.

Relationships matter, and healthy relationships allow for connection, safety, security, and growth – things most candidates and employees seek. However, relationships also require work and maintenance to promote psychological safety and eliminate the potential for toxic work environments. Prioritizing the employer brand relationship allows organizations to uncover how it feels to work at a company day-to-day, as well as gain insight into the attractors and realities of the employee experience. 

Here are three ways you can support the mental health of your candidates and employees that will in turn strengthen your EBR:

  1. Seek to understand. Conduct research to gain insights from your candidates and employees to better understand how they perceive and experience the employment relationship. Discovering attractors and realities can not only help a company understand what changes will improve those relationships, but will also support the hiring of talent who are aligned with the company’s values and style of work.  
  2. Elevate employee stories. Although we are seeing progress in the current conversations around mental health, there is still a stigma attached to this topic. As more and more job seekers look for workplaces that support mental health, sharing authentic employee experiences has become more important and influential for attracting and retaining talent. 
  3. Leaders, be intentional about how you show up - it matters. Employees are better equipped to bring their ‘whole self’ to work when they can witness vulnerability modeled by leaders. Show your team that you’re human and that it’s ok to not be ok. As a leader, discussing mental health/well-being can be tricky to navigate, but continuing the conversation is essential. To create a more welcoming and safe space for these difficult conversations, try these language prompts to help you show up for your team with empathy and support:

          When you are ready…

          Feel free to…

          I invite you to…

          In your own time…

          You are welcome to…

Navigating how to support the mental health of candidates and employees is no easy feat, but it is critical to strengthening the foundation of the employment experience. 

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