Wellness in the Workplace Series:
Mental health is out in the open, and it is not just limited to gymnast Simone Biles and tennis pro Naomi Osaka. The global pandemic has resulted in a more open discussion of isolation, burnout, anxiety, and depression in the workplace. Employers have responded by engaging in a national dialogue on mental health and creating programs to address these issues. While many of the programs were designed to navigate the pandemic, quite a few will become a key part of an organization's talent acquisition and employee retention strategy. In this series, we have examined how business leaders in different industries are addressing mental health.
We conclude our series with Heather Tomas, Vice President of Human Resources and Communications with Total American Services at TotalEnergies, a highly respected French multinational oil and gas company which produces and markets fuels, natural gas, petrochemicals, polymers, and low-carbon electricity. TotalEnergies is the world’s fourth largest energy company and operates across the entire energy value chain, from exploration and production to processing and distribution to its network of service stations. TotalEnergies serves more than eight million customers worldwide. The company is committed to better energy that is safer, more affordable, cleaner, and accessible to as many people as possible.
What pandemic-related mental health issues have emerged in the workforce?
There have been significant increases in emotional distress, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and feelings of isolation. People are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than ever before because of compounding stressors related to the pandemic, such as emotional and physical isolation and feelings of despair, often from losing loved ones to the virus. Then you have family-related anxiety with lack of childcare and remote learning challenges for school-aged children and their parents. In the energy industry, we saw tremendous stress in the past year due to the drop in oil prices coupled with a decrease in demand that resulted in mass layoffs, creating additional work-related stress.
There has been an increase in the intensity of emotions. Mental health issues have always existed in the workplace, but the pandemic amplified their impact and visibility. Most people say they know at least one person suffering from significant stress and anxiety and, for many, that stress and anxiety negatively affects their well-being and ability to do their job well.
Humans have this unique ability to adapt, but it is hard to feel any sense of normalcy when there is no end in sight. People naturally want predictability and to feel in control.
How will TotalEnergies’ career-development programs change due to the pandemic for both virtual and on-site employees?
Fortunately, professional development for employees has continued throughout the pandemic. We quickly pivoted from traditional in-person training and development offerings to going 100% remote which proved to be highly successful.
When it comes to internal job mobility, our company has many Talent Developers dedicated to helping employees realize their potential and fulfill their aspirations. They have continued to play their role of career advisor and coach to both employees and managers throughout the pandemic. With a shift to more virtual and hybrid working arrangements going forward, it will be imperative for employees to take a more active role in their career development. They will need to actively seek connections, establish their network, and be proactive when learning about the business and other parts of the organization by keeping an eye on how the company is doing and where those career development opportunities lie.
In general, what can employers do to encourage mental well-being and improve worker resiliency among its employees?
Employers are going to need to normalize and encourage the mental well-being of their employees. They can do that by increasing the awareness of mental health issues and providing resources to help individuals. Fortunately, there is a growing awareness of the importance of mental well-being and being able to talk more openly about it in the workplace.
Employers can also help their managers identify signs of emotional distress in their teams. They can find opportunities to create awareness and train all employees on stress management and developing resilience as part of everyday life. They can also promote a culture of respect and flexibility that encourages and allows employees to reconnect and recharge outside of regular working hours.
Embedding awareness and proactive attention into the day-to-day fabric of the business are strategies we will see more of going forward when it comes to normalizing mental health and work-life balance.
These are great points; what specifically is TotalEnergies doing in this regard?
We were fortunate to have many events that brought employees together before the pandemic. We had company-wide picnics and volunteer opportunities, holiday parties and employee meetings just to name a few.
Once the pandemic hit, we pivoted quickly to virtual events. The silver lining of hosting virtual events is that you can include more people. For our holiday party, we a streamed a live band that people could enjoy at home with their families. Our employee mentoring groups hosted virtual escape rooms and scavenger hunts. Instead of our usual company-wide volunteering day, we asked people to volunteer in their local communities or pick up trash in their neighborhoods and to send pictures for our virtual wall.
We have devised a multi-pronged approach to influencing the culture that places a greater value on work-life balance. We have continued to encourage the use of the employee assistance program. It is an excellent resource for confidential, anonymous support with a third party. We have adopted a tone of support and empathy for what individuals may be going through; we have been patient and flexible with requests for time off and adjustments to workload.
We strive to ensure our managers are equipped to carry out these cultural initiatives, that they regularly check in with their teams, make sure people feel supported and connected, and that they stay informed about the organization's status through frequent communications. One way we are encouraging employee connection is through our Yammer social networking service. With Yammer, employees can keep in touch and post about fun, non-work-related topics. It's a fun way to bring people together and maintain some levity throughout the day.
There will be many opportunities to help employees and sustainably equip managers to lead people through uncertainty by assisting them in developing resilience within their teams and managing a workforce that will be partially in the office and remote. We are moving past the initial onslaught of the pandemic where we had to quickly create programs and into the new normal where these initiatives are developed and managed for the long term. It's a fascinating evolution that employee mental health is becoming more of a priority for organizations. We are witnessing a change that wasn't there just five years ago.
Any final advice?
Be kind. You don't know what people are going through, and the more we integrate thoughtfulness into the daily fabric of our lives as leaders, the more impact we will have.