By Meredith Derby Berg
Pandemic concerns might be waning somewhat in the United States, but ongoing distress has underscored the importance of keeping mental health in check. And in this critical moment, many footwear firms have put a priority on supporting the overall wellness of their employees.
“Mental health is arguably the worst pandemic the world has ever faced,” said Kenneth Cole, founder and chief creative officer of Kenneth Cole Productions. “Because of the related stigma, two out of three people affected don’t seek help or care.”
Experts said that it’s important for employers to recognize that for people who suffer from mental illness, such as depression, productivity is often affected.
When it comes to corporate leadership and mental health, executives who lead with empathy are going to have the most success in making their workers feel comfortable and connected during challenging times, said Marilyn Puder-York, a Stamford, Connecticut-based executive coach and psychologist. This, in turn, will help improve the overall wellbeing of employees. If this communication is done well, it can increase loyalty and reduce anxiety, even during a tumultuous time, she said.
“What leadership has to do is assuage the anxiety that the teams or the staff have in an organization when it is going through traumatic changes due to an external factor,” said Puder-York. “There has to be a balance of truth telling, empathy and realistic optimism. You tell the truth, you understand that this is an anxious time, that we’re all impacted one way or the other, but there is hope that people can re-enter work and the jobs will come back.”
There is an expectation that the retail industry will see a post-pandemic sales bounce, though hiring at least for now is not as robust as forecast, according to government figures.
For employee morale, it’s also important to periodically check in with teams to show appreciation for their work and to show concern for how people are faring, said Puder-York. During those meetings, ask if people need referrals to an employee assistance program or other support services.
Puder-York also suggested improving mental health benefits to include substance use disorder, general therapy or psychiatric therapy, or adding mental health coverage overall if it’s not already a component of the company’s benefit plan.