From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces across the globe acted quickly to help ensure the physical safety of their employees: closing offices, encouraging telework wherever possible, and helping to make sure front-line workers have the equipment and protocols they need to avoid getting sick. But there’s a much deeper, and potentially longer-lasting effect on workers that must be addressed: mental health.
May is Mental Health Month in the U.S., and this week also kicks off Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. The need for mental health care, support and resources is becoming top-of-mind for employers, as the trauma and anxiety that can be caused by the pandemic may last well beyond the physical threat of the virus.
“On one hand you have rules in place to help keep yourself physically safe and healthy,” says Christina Salcedas, director of education for Aromatherapy Associates, one of WBA’s Global Brands. “But then you might get to a stage where you take a moment to think, ‘Oh my God, I’m just not coping well at all.’ When you get to that point, you need some additional support and resources to help.”
The Global Brands team not only anticipated the need for increased mental health support for its worldwide staff, but also had the pieces in place to create an employee mental wellness program. Thanks to a webinar series already in development by Aromatherapy Associates that was originally intended for external client use, they were able to quickly roll out an adapted version for colleagues.
“With these sessions, we wanted to look after the people who look after people,” Salcedas explains. “There so many things that we do to look after our customers, and we wanted to make sure we looked after our Global Brands family as well. It just made sense.”
Salcedas worked with her colleagues in Global Brands Human Resources to develop a mental well-being program for staff, which includes topics such as Working from Home Well, Working from Home with Children, and Coping with Anxiety and Stress with Aromatherapy.
Because therapists at Aromatherapy Associates are not mental health professionals, they made sure to lean instead on their specific area of expertise in developing these sessions, focusing on the benefits of aromatherapy and highlighting a few of their most relevant products.
“One of our blends that does really well is our Forest Therapy Collection, which is for people who find the outdoors relaxing, but now find themselves trapped in a concrete jungle,” says Salcedas. “We can take that idea and expand it to working from home, telling colleagues to make sure there’s a plant or something green near their desk, or to have the scent of the outdoors around to feel more at ease.”
“Relaxing and coping through aromatherapy is obviously their expertise,” says Suzanne Buck, senior HR manager for Global Brands. “But we also have sessions that help with managing sleep, best practices for working from home and staying well through times of stress.”
Buck and the HR team at Global Brands started considering rolling out virtual wellness sessions for staff in November, but when COVID-19 began to spread, they saw the impending need and made sure things came together quickly. They worked to make the sessions specifically relevant to the challenges their staff would be facing during the global crisis, from different exercises and breathing techniques you can do from your desk in your home office, to strategies to help manage childcare while working.
The sessions, which have been both well attended and well received by the Global Brands team, have run since the beginning of April and are continuing into the summer, providing support throughout the pandemic.
“It had always been a little hard to get people to join webinars,” Buck admits. “But within the first two weeks of this series, we already had staff asking us to open up more slots and wondering if we could increase the frequency.”
As initiatives like these continue to pop up as a result of the pandemic, there’s also an added benefit: an increase in conversations around mental well-being.
“Here in the UK, I’ve really seen people start to become much more aware of the need for mental health support,” says Salcedas. “There’s much more openness to it now, thankfully, and people are more willing than ever to take advantages of the tools and techniques we have to offer.”