Microsoft’s HR head: Managing your mental health in a crisis

There’s a silent battle raging through our organizations – one costing more than money

Microsoft’s HR head: Managing your mental health in a crisis

There’s a silent battle raging through our organizations – one which is tearing apart our top talent, destroying productivity and, ultimately, causing extreme distress.

The COVID-19 crisis has only served to heighten employee mental health struggles. According to Willis Towers Watson, three in ten employees suffer from extreme stress or anxiety– with 300 million people globally dealing with depression.

Add in the unstable COVID-19 element to the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Unprecedented times
HRD spoke to Carolyn Byer, Microsoft head of hr and ‘speaker at HR Tech Summit Toronto, who explained the role leadership should play in protecting employees’ psyches.

“We are in unprecedented times,” Byer told HRD. “As I was assessing my own feelings and worries, I immediately thought of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.”

Read more: What will HR tech look like in a post-COVID world?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology which details humanity's various needs and how much onus individuals place on them. Basic needs sit at the bottom of the pyramid, followed by safety needs, belonging/loving needs, esteem needs and, finally, self-actualisation.

Needs at the bottom of the pyramid must be met before you can enjoy needs further up the top – the ultimate end point is achieving one’s personal and professional goals.

Emotional health
“At Microsoft, we recognize that it's not just about your physical health – it’s important to safeguard emotional and financial wellbeing,” continued Byer.

Read more: After COVID-19, everyone’s back to the office!

“This means anything from mental health benefits to your employee assistance programs. Right from the very beginning, our message to our employees was if you're not comfortable coming into the office, then please work at home.

“Once the schools were closed, we quickly told our employees that they could take two weeks off to look after their children. Now, obviously, this has gone on and so we've actually now implemented a formal leave. Our employees can take up to an additional 60 business days during which we’ll pay them 100% of their salary.

“We made sure all of our resources sat together on a platform - including tips on setting up your home office, how to stay fit at home, webinars on dealing with isolation and uncertainty etc. We also enhanced some of our existing offerings to an include the ability for employees to purchase ergonomic office equipment and apply that to their fitness credit.”

Read more: Facebook engineer fired for shaming colleague on Twitter

Financial woes are a main area of concern for employees – with Neyber’s Financial Report suggesting that 62% of workers have constant anxiety over money. A further 45% admitted they typically spend all their salary before the next pay day – a worrying trend in the face of mass COVID-19 redundancies.

Money worries
“From a financial perspective, we let employees know that there would be bonuses this year,” added Byer. “Most recently, we guaranteed a 90% pay out on our sales employees’ income for the fourth quarter. I appreciate that not all companies can make these investments during these uncertain times, however you can still make certain trade-offs in order to really connect with your people in a different way.”

The old proverb of spinning a crisis into an opportunity is an overused one – but perhaps in this pandemic it’s one which HR leaders should really get behind. Company culture is one of the only threads connecting stressed-out employees and overly anxious CEOs – our value systems, how we treat our people, will be remembered long after COVID-19 has gone.

Read more: Are you investing in a strong people culture?

And it’s not just current workers you need to consider – company culture is a deciding factor in candidate interest. A report from Jobvite found that 15% of candidates have turned down a job offer because of a company’s culture.

People talk – so if you’re not acting responsibly as a leader, it’ll come back to bite you.

“This is an opportunity to connect to your company's culture and mission,” continued Byer. “At Microsoft, we've always said that our strategy will evolve but our mission and our culture will be long standing. Microsoft's mission is to empower every individual and organization on the planet to achieve more.

“Our technology is really supporting our first responders, our humanitarian and government agencies, as well as our family and friends. And although we talk about the anxiety over job security, it's a time to remind our team that the work that we're doing is important – and that Microsoft, as an organization, will do the right thing in taking care of our employees.”


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