How 3 NYC Tech Leaders Are Supporting Employee Mental Health This Winter

November 16, 2020
employee mental health
photo by rawpixel.com for shutterstock

As the season of ice and snow quickly approaches — and the coronavirus shows no signs of abating — mental health and wellness will become increasingly important for remote workers everywhere. 

Whether it’s creating a safe space to cast aside the stigma associated with mental health or offering a variety of programs, these three New York-based companies are making their employees’ mental health and well-being a top priority. 

At fintech company Better.com, supporting employee mental health means offering a variety of virtual programs like yoga, cooking classes, physical therapy and more, Senior Benefits Manager Kara Benton-Smith said. 

For Movable Ink, a visual experiences platform, SVP of People Katy Huber said they’re also supporting team members through classes and programs and have even taken one of the company’s core values — empathy — to new levels. 

At information technology company Neustar, supporting employee mental health means following a set of guidelines to engage and create conversations between executives and employees, Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Carey Pellock said. 

Built In NYC caught up with Benton-Smith, Huber and Pellock to take a deeper look into how they’re preparing for the colder months and the support they’re offering employees to ensure they stay happy, healthy and productive, despite the challenges ahead. 

 

Kara Benton-Smith
Senior Benefits Manager

Using its proprietary technology, Better.com aims to fix the broken homeownership system by removing the middleman and any unnecessary charges and fees. To help support mental health and well-being, Better.com offers employees a work-from-home stipend so they can purchase supplies to make their home office as inviting as possible, Senior Benefits Manager Kara Benton-Smith said. 

 

As a socially distanced winter approaches, what perks or benefits will your company offer to support employee mental health? Are you planning to offer any new or additional resources? 

Benefits and perks are plentiful here at Better.com! Some include telehealth counseling services, employee assistance programs (EAPs), virtual workouts, yoga, cooking classes, and more to ensure employees’ mental health is well supported.

However, Better has committed to offering perks and benefits that specifically speak to the mental strain many are experiencing during this unprecedented time. These include programs like virtual physical therapy to ensure needed rehabilitation is not interrupted, and a work-from-home stipend so our employees can still enjoy lunch on us and get the supplies they need to make their workspace at home as inviting as possible. For our working parents, Better Birds is our virtual activities program for children 10 years old and younger to help support parents while they balance work, virtual schooling and parenting at home. In 2021, we will be partnering with Spring Health for a more personalized approach to mental health support.


How are you preparing your managers to support the mental health of their direct reports and recognize if or when those employees are struggling?

Support for employee mental health at Better is approached holistically, in that there are so many factors that can impact one’s mental health and overall well-being. Managers are regularly encouraged to check in frequently with their teams, host virtual hangouts to better gauge how their direct reports may be feeling and where additional support may be needed, be it professionally or personally.  Sometimes simply asking, “How are you?” opens a flood gate of sharing! We are committed to equipping managers through our partnerships with organizations like Bravely to ensure they, along with all our employees, are supported on how to best navigate these conversations. Our generous PTO policies allow employees to take time off to recharge, with the full support of managers.
 

We strive to be a safe space for employees to speak up, be heard and know that support is just a click away.”


How do you create a sense of psychological safety and encourage people to speak up if they need support?

I think what is amazing about the culture at Better is that the conversation about mental health and well-being is simply one that we are always having and encouraging our employees to have. For example, ensuring our colleagues in California are safe and aware of the support afforded to them due to the recent wave of wildfires, or providing tips for all employees on how to avoid burnout before it hits. 

Additionally, we have made an effort to foster a safe space to have conversations on social issues, including the launch of our ongoing racial equity speaker series that discusses the causes and effects of racial inequity on our employees most vulnerable to racial injustice. 

Overall, Better is focused on supporting the whole employee. We strive to be a safe space for employees to speak up, be heard and know that support is just a click away.

 

SVP of People Katy Huber for Movable Ink, a visual experiences platform, knows that prioritizing wellness means prioritizing people. Huber said that through a wellness bundle for its employees, as well as roundtables, an emphasis on communication and other initiatives, the company has taken an active approach to support mental health. 

 

As a socially distanced winter approaches, what perks or benefits will your company offer to support employee mental health? Are you planning to offer any new or additional resources? 

We’ve recently rolled out a wellness bundle for all U.S. employees and plan to launch it to our global employees in early January. The new bundle includes meditation and virtual therapy apps, like Headspace and Ginger.io, virtual physical therapy, and digital, at-home workouts through Aaptiv. Physical health is just as important as your mental health!

Even before the wellness bundle, we’ve been very focused on offering weekly wellness programs to keep our employees engaged, including guided meditation, yoga and workout classes, cooking classes and virtual visits to animal sanctuaries. But, providing support for our employees has always been a priority for the company. For example, employees and their families have access to two different employee assistance programs, which not only provide resources for mental health support but also legal counseling, financial planning, and healthcare advocates and virtual health resources.

 

On the management front, how are you preparing your managers to support the mental health of their direct reports and recognize if or when those employees are struggling?

A focus on the difference between culture and climate has been a staple in our management training, even before going fully remotely. This portion of our “Emerging Leaders” program is of utmost importance, especially now. One of the key takeaways is that as a leader, you can fully own and quickly change the climate for your team through communication and action. From there, we focus on communication tools to better equip managers for those interactions (e.g. techniques on how to check-in, how to recognize signs of stress on your team and much more). This empowers managers to support their teams on an individual basis.

Some managers have committed to starting their weekly or biweekly meetings with the “What color is your flag today?” question. Inkers answer authentically and truthfully without fear of judgment: red (not good, do not enter), yellow (proceed with caution) or green (all good). Other managers have worked with their teams to prioritize their schedules and move internal meetings to provide a bit more space for people to step away. It is important that we recognize that all of our employees are impacted differently and have individual needs.
 

A focus on the difference between culture and climate has been a staple in our management training, even before going fully remotely.”


When discussing mental health as a company, how do you create a sense of psychological safety and encourage people to speak up if they need support?

Empathy is one of our core values and we’ve really embodied it at every level over the past six months. When we first went remote in March, we emphasized this in all methods of communication to increase transparency and open dialogue. We held multiple roundtables for the company where people shared their experiences, struggles and found support and connection during this challenging year. We create a sense of psychological safety by keeping this top of mind, and we’re being enough to have awesome Inkers who have shared their stories.

From this, and other feedback from the Inker population, our learning and development team created a biweekly newsletter with targeted e-learning courses, articles, podcasts and media focused on managing stress and mental health. We also created and launched new training and content specific to mental health and asking for help, including e-learning courses on “Resilience & Grit” and “Time & Energy Management.”

Mental health is a constant topic for our company all-hands meetings as well as leadership meetings. We’ve also instituted mandatory once-a-month “Take a Break” days between now and the end of the year for all employees.

 

Carey Pellock
Chief Human Resources Officer & Executive Vice President

Information technology company Neustar enables trusted connections between companies and people through solutions in marketing, risk communications, security and registry. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Neustar implemented a series of guiding principles in order to provide its employees with mental health support, Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Carey Pellock said.
 

We’ve tried very hard to change the stigma associated with mental health by naming the components that go into being mentally healthy.”


As a socially distanced winter approaches, what perks or benefits will your company offer to support employee mental health? 

As we enter our eighth month as a mainly remote workforce and the winter season, we will continue to follow the six COVID-19 guiding principles we put in place at the start of the pandemic: keep our people safe and healthy; be proactive and decisive; seek input and feedback broadly; be sure to live our values; don’t take unnecessary risks; and be proactive about mental health.

These principles, paired with our mental health pillar framework — physical health, relaxation, balance and getting help — have served us well. These foundational systems have and will continue to be our guides to supporting mental health at Neustar.

 

How are you preparing your managers to support the mental health of their direct reports and recognize if or when those employees are struggling?

Training. We realized that, even with all of the right tools in place, if our managers did not know how to use them and how to identify and build skill sets to address mental health, our solution would be incomplete. 

So we set out to create appropriate support systems for our managers. We engaged mind share partners to help equip our managers with core skills to support the mental health of their teams and employees. Then we involved our talent development team to provide resources and create training that our managers could access and utilize when needed.

 

How do you create a sense of psychological safety and encourage people to speak up if they need support?

We’ve tried very hard to change the stigma associated with mental health by naming the components that go into being mentally healthy. We’ve also talked a lot about mental health. We have a monthly all-hands meeting and it’s on the agenda every single month.

Another very helpful aspect has been executive engagement. Each of our executive committee members has adopted a mental health pillar and were tasked with finding ways that were authentic to them to engage our people and create a conversation. 

Finally, our CEO has talked openly about the ways he has worked on his mental health. While these have all started to break down the barriers of a one-time taboo subject, we know that integrating this topic into our culture and being consistent over long periods of time is the only way to truly address mental health.

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