With Sari Kalin, Assistant Director, Health and Well-Being Strategy at Liberty Mutual Insurance
Q: It’s no secret that mental wellness has become a big priority over the past year. What do businesses need to be doing now to support the mental well-being of their employees?
The most important thing that employers can do now to support the mental well-being of their employees is to acknowledge that the stress and anxiety that people have experienced during the past year is not going just to disappear.
Yes, many of us may be feeling a bit more hopeful about the future. And at the same time, there’s still much uncertainty about future ways of working, stress around caregiving, loneliness due to being disconnected from teams and social networks, and burnout as the lines between home and work life continue to be blurred by our at-home or hybrid environment. Continued acts of racism and injustice in our country also take a toll on our overall well-being. Employers need to continue to listen to employees to understand their concerns, communicate about the importance of taking care of our mental well-being and continue to provide real support.
That support can take many forms: Open forums for dialog, internal communities/employee resource groups, work policies that provide flexibility, managers who stay connected even in this virtual environment and encourage employees to prioritize well-being, and benefits that support mental health and address some of the root causes around stress, such as financial worries or caregiving. At Liberty Mutual, guided by our values of putting people first and being open, we encourage employees to take care of themselves and show empathy to others who may be struggling. And by having open conversations, we can fight the stigma around mental health, which remains a major barrier to getting support.
Q: Have you noticed any positive new trends? For example, are a growing number of companies already offering their employees new benefits to promote mental wellness? And if so, what are some of the most important developments you are seeing?
There are some positive trends: We are seeing more leaders sharing their vulnerability to help normalize the conversations around mental wellness. And we are seeing employers bring forward new benefits offerings to support well-being and some of the root causes of employee concerns during the pandemic. At Liberty Mutual, we have always been committed to putting our employees first, and throughout the last year, our leaders have communicated authentically and inclusively about well-being challenges. We’ve also worked to promote our existing suite of benefits, as well as rolled out new programs to help employees with some extra stressors they’re facing during the pandemic. Some examples include:
- Stress management: We provide free access to an online stress management program that offers tips and techniques for building resilience, boosting energy, and preventing burnout.
- Sleep: We recently introduced a digital sleep management program after recognizing that sleep issues often accompany depression and anxiety
- Training managers: We’re developing new learning solutions to help our managers lead with empathy and understand how to recognize employees who may be struggling with mental well-being and help direct them to resources.
- Virtual support for mental health counseling: To offer a consistent level of support globally throughout the pandemic, we expanded our employee assistance program, offering ten visits of counseling via the EAP globally; during the pandemic and beyond, these can be delivered virtually. In the U.S., we also offer virtual medical and mental health visits as part of our health plan.
Liberty Mutual is also proud to announce the launch of our seventh Employee Resource Group, Able@Liberty, to foster community, conversation, education, and support for employees with disabilities, caregivers, and family members.
Q: With the pressures that working mothers, in particular, are under, it can be challenging to take time for mental wellness—even though we all know it is more important than ever during times of stress. How do you try to help people step off the treadmill of keeping up with everything and just take some time for themselves?
While Liberty Mutual has always prioritized employee benefits to support caregivers, the pandemic has been an important reminder that they need to be flexible. For caregivers, extra support and resources were important for balancing work and family life throughout this time. That’s why we’ve offered a number of benefits and services to help support our caregiver population, including free access to Care.com, subsidized subscription boxes and tutoring services. We have an internal community dedicated to supporting and connecting parents within the company, and our ERG for women and allies has run an ongoing self-care series to encourage people to take time for themselves. We also offer COVID-19 time-off for COVID-related illnesses for employees or a family member, as well as for COVID-related childcare needs.
Q: Remote work is another new challenge. How do you think we can best support team members working remotely—and recognize those who may need some added support?
Even prior to COVID-19, we had an established work-from-home program that enabled employees to remain connected and maintain strong, productive relationships with each other. This year, we’ve created resources to help employees “connect with purpose” and combat the loneliness of being isolated from colleagues, friends, and family. We are also holding our first global activity challenge this spring to boost social connection and also motivate people to get active, which in turn can boost their mood. Our manager learning solution around mental wellness will be focused on the virtual or hybrid environment, where it can be more challenging to tell if someone is struggling.
Moving forward, we will be focused on how we maintain connections, prioritize well-being, and build engagement with new and current employees.
Q: What have you found to be some of the most helpful mental wellness practices in your own life?
The most helpful mental wellness practices for me are ones that bring me right into the present moment and away from the stress or worries of the day. A few that I practice regularly:
- I like to sing and play music and have found that to be a tremendous source of joy and calm during the pandemic.
- I’ve started a new hobby, birdwatching, that’s extremely mindful. It gets me outdoors and has me paying attention to my surroundings in a totally new way.
- For nights when it’s tough to fall asleep, listening to a body scan meditation can help me unwind.
Sari Kalin, MS, RD, LDN is Assistant Director, AVP of Health and Well-Being Strategy at Liberty Mutual Insurance, where she focuses on identifying strategies and tactics to improve the health and overall well-being of Liberty’s U.S. employees and their families.