Mental Health Awareness Month In A Post-COVID World With Maggie Smith

Ever wondered how we can tackle mental health challenges, especially post-COVID? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Tune into our engaging conversation with Maggie Smith, an HR veteran from Traliant, as we traverse the ever-evolving landscape of mental health awareness. We delve into the profound impact of the global pandemic on mental well-being and spill the beans on the crucial role employers play in buttressing their employees’ mental health.

We’ve got you covered on the best strategies to approach mental health and well-being in the workplace. We share insights into effectively conducting surveys, creatively utilizing employee assistance programs, and monitoring progress to ensure that mental health initiatives hit the mark. Hang tight as we also explore the value of continuous employee engagement and ponder the potential for further action, all with the goal of fostering a psychologically safe workplace in a post-COVID world. So, strap in for a valuable and thought-provoking discussion on maintaining mental well-being in our new normal!

Listening Time: 24 minutes

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Maggie Smith
HR Executive Traliant

A versatile results-driven human-resources executive with solid business acumen who translates business vision into HR initiatives that enhance performance, profitability, growth, and employee engagement. • Passionate about building and supporting a diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive culture. Developed, implemented, and led proactive HR programs for complex, multi-site, organizations undergoing rapid growth. A skilled business leader that is able to draw clear connections between people efforts and business goals.


Mental Health Awareness Month In A Post-COVID World With Maggie Smith

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Maggie on from Tri Reliant, and our discussion today. Our topic today is Mental Health Awareness Month in a post covid world. So what I love about this and what I love about what Maggie and I are gonna talk about is we probably thought about mental health in a way pre covid during Covid and post Covid.

But we’re gonna focus on the post covid stuff, but I wanna kinda get her take on kind of the evolution of mental health awareness. So Maggie, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and

Maggie Smith: Trilight? Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Sure. So I have been in human resources 25 years now.

Really? A generalist background.

William Tincup: Maggie, at one point you stopped saying years, you know this, right? Has anybody told you this? No. Enlightened me. So do I say decades? You [00:01:00] just for a long time. At a certain point makes me sign number. Yeah. It’s it’s ageism at a certain point and it starts to work against you.

It’s crazy. I don’t know what that point is, by the way. It’s all opinion, but definitely

Maggie Smith: past it.

William Tincup: You’ve got a lot of wisdom.

Maggie Smith: Thank you. There you go.

William Tincup: Yeah, go ahead. Tell me a little bit more about

Maggie Smith: you. Sure. So I spent most of my career working in healthcare and also dabbling in the software industry, which is essentially what reliant is. We produce training compliance software for other companies where HR people are. Our perspective buyer.

In many cases were branching out to also sell, e h s compliance training. So I found my way to tra reliant two years ago and a. Stepped into the role as their first official human resources professional and [00:02:00] really spent a lot of time that first year for sure, hopefully creating a psychologically safe workplace where employees felt free to bring their whole selves to work where they felt free and empowered to share.

Their opinions, ask questions things of that nature. That was really my goal. We’ve done a lot of work in that area.

William Tincup: So teaching people about mental health. So much of this was taboo just a few years ago. Like it, it feels like covid is like dog ears, right? So it feels like a long time ago, but it really wasn’t that long ago where people didn’t feel like they could talk about things.

Maggie Smith: That’s so true. Yes. I think, that’s, if you had to look at it one silver lining of covid, I think that it was that, we were all experiencing this mental wellbeing impact together at the same time, going through this journey, being iSolved [00:03:00] and, one good thing about the media in that case were they were really shining a light on the impact.

Of Covid on mental wellbeing and really forcing people to take a close look at that. And people in particular, meaning

William Tincup: employers, right? If you want to get a great have a great employee experience, you wanna get the most out of employees, you wanna retain employees, then you gotta entertain the all the things that are going on in their world.

And absolutely. The worry and I, and you get to see it frontline. So I want to ask you about this. My, my worry while we were going through Covid is, first of all, I love the discussions. I love being able, people would tell would talk about the things that were, that they were struggling with, et cetera.

So there’s a lot of openness. My fear was, is that once Covid was done, whatever that looks like, that we would regress. Yes. Did you, first of all, did, was that legit fear or have you seen any of that in your world?

Maggie Smith: I agree that it would [00:04:00] regress, and I would also add to that and say, but there’s still so much work to be done.

I’m really glad that mental health continues to remain in the spotlight, because I think that not every employer has really taken a close look at that and really come to an understanding of what they could do to really support their people, support their employees’ mental health. I think because it was.

Taboo and taboo for so long and stigmatized, like Covid helped flip a switch, but then didn’t really, there was no real guidance for employers, right? Okay, now what do we do? And I think some employers are still struggling with that.

William Tincup: Yep. I think pre covid it would’ve been we have an e a p, yeah. Here’s if you have a problem, go here. Which, and how many people actually took them up on that, which, you’ve managed hr so you know how that, how EAPs work. Like in a post covid world now, [00:05:00] what should they be thinking about? So for the, all the HR leaders that are listening, what, how should they be thinking about it?

Either, currently, but also the next layer, the next step of mental health for their employees?

Maggie Smith: I would say the e a p though, I wouldn’t just count them out. Nope. They can be an incredibly value resource, but I would add that not all EAPs are created equal. Oh, yeah. A lot of times employers get a free a e A P that kind of comes apart, belongs to some other benefit offering.

Let’s say they buy short term disability insurance for their employees and then that. And sure, we’ll just toss in a free e a p and I would say, you know what? You get what you pay for. So take, if you have an E a P that was like that, maybe it’s working for you, but I would encourage you to please take a close look at it.

What are the offerings that they have? What are the things that they cover? How are they willing to [00:06:00] partner with you? And certainly if you do have an e aap, you really need to consistently message to employees and remind them how to use that e a P, how to access that e a p. We’re fortunate. We have a great E A P.

Partner and we invite them in to conduct trainings for our employees. We also partner with a woman who’s not at all affiliated with our E A P, and she comes in and leads a guided meditation once a month for our employees. Yesterday she did that, and then she also presented on a workshop on, managing stress.

So I think it’s also looking at what other resources are available to you. How do you make them available to not only available to employees, but package them in such a way that employees will think, oh yeah, okay, I’ll check that out. Because if you’re saying, oh, it’s mental health awareness month, and we’re having [00:07:00] this, training, or whatever the case may be.

People employees still may feel reluctant to attend an event like that. They may right. Feel concerned, oh, if I show up at this, is my employer gonna think that I need help in some way? So I think it’s really constantly also searching out resources that are available to your employees and connecting them to those various

William Tincup: resources.

I love that you talk about it on the benefits side as well is it’s way finding, so it’s, you gotta. You gotta make sure that people know that it’s available to ’em. So there’s a, Hey, we have access to all these things, by the way, Here’s how you use them. Cause you know that, that old saying what a benefit is and a benefit unless people use it.

Exactly. Yeah. So we, we want consumption, which is, I think sometimes counterintuitive to a lot of the other C-Suite folks is we want consumption. Yes. Yeah. Need, why have a benefit if [00:08:00] people aren’t consuming it. And so you gotta communicate with employees. And also you mentioned earlier, psychological safety and kind of creating a safe space.

It goes hand in hand, right? So you communicate that something is there and it’s available to ’em, and you give ’em space and again, privacy and the things that, that, that would be helpful for them to consume and use the services that you have.

Maggie Smith: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s just a real sharing of resources for people and mental health is, still unfortunately remains difficult to navigate if you’re having and being impacted by a mental health crisis, either yourself or your family member.

It could be difficult to know where to start to access care as

William Tincup: well. Oh, a hundred percent. And again, like I said, either yourself or a family member, and sometimes you don’t even know you’re going through it, like you don’t, you just kinda, it becomes normal, right? It just becomes like absolutely whatever.

Normalized in your life and you just [00:09:00] that’s the way it is. Yes. Yeah. What is, have you seen any relationship with some of the folks that you work with or yourself with? ERGs? Or SIGs or something like that where we, you pull like-minded people together and allow them to discuss and, help them.

Have you, is there any crossover between erg, SIGs and mental health?

Maggie Smith: Absolutely. So what we did this past year, and we’re gonna, we’ve only done it once so far, but we’re gonna offer it again, is our counselor from our employee assistance program. Came in and joined us online and facilitated a group for people, ex employees, experiencing grief.

And, really, certainly I’m not a therapist, I’m not qualified, to facilitate that. As many other HR people certainly would not be and shouldn’t attempt but really, turn to the professionals and open it up to the group to attend. And we had an [00:10:00] overwhelming amount of people participate in that.

I was surprised. We also had an e a p counselor. Facilitate two different groups for parents. So you know, there was, parents of younger children and then parents of older children, cuz certainly the challenges can be different. So we did that, really tapped our employee assistive program to have a counselor come in and that says something, like I said, we will be offering again.

William Tincup: So a great question, lead into like, how do you as a HR leader, how do every year you go through the same process, right? So of putting all the benefits things to get together. How do you know what they need? Next or now I,

Maggie Smith: I’m a big fan of anonymous surveys.

Just something as simple as Survey Monkey. Really presenting. And sometimes people, employees don’t necessarily know what’s out there? That’s right. And so really giving them different options, naming those options in the survey, describing [00:11:00] what those options each mean. Oh, cool.

And look and that’s really how we’ve made. Most of our decisions here at Reliant and really ask we, so for example, the groups example I just shared a moment ago, that was something that we did a survey on for employees, and then that’s how we wound up with the two grief specific groups and parent group.

William Tincup: Oh, I love that. I lo I love that. Have you felt any resistance or do you feel like HR has resistance with the rest of the C-suite, especially finance, but the rest of the C-suite around things like mental health, like we’re. We’re trying to actually help people ha live better lives, live and know, again, you said earlier, bring your whole self to work.

We want them to be happy and healthy and productive. But there’s been kind an over indexing on productive without the other stuff. Have you felt, have you either faced or have you seen folks faced [00:12:00] kind of some resistance from the rest of the organization?

Maggie Smith: I, I’m fortunate here at Chian in that I have not.

But I have encountered that in the past where, I think sometimes there’s this idea from C-Suite or senior leaders where they think oh yeah, okay, mental health month. That’s great. Let’s you know, let’s sure go ahead and do something for the May. How many days

William Tincup: is it 30?

31, done. Yes.

Maggie Smith: Exactly. And I. Yes, certainly we’ve had mental health awareness events here at Reliant during the month of May, but it’s really something we’re talking about year round, right? So you need leadership to understand, hey it, it would be great if we could all schedule our mental health crisis, for May, and then we can work around that.

But that’s, it’s, come on, that’s not realistic. I think really, I. You can’t, you gotta tie the message back to the bottom line for, senior leadership and really point out the dollars [00:13:00] and cents. And certainly I. There’s data out there to support that.

William Tincup: So everyone’s, every one of your friends that’s in HR and everyone that’s listening is they’re on their own journey in terms of with their company and any of them themselves and kinda what they went through with Covid, et cetera, how do they, like you, were giving advice to a friend or peer. How would they audit where they are on their journey?

Like, how do they know that they’re doing a great job or that there’s things that they need to, like building blocks that they need to put in place? Like where do you, where would you suggest they start?

Maggie Smith: I’m gonna definitely go back to the survey and suggest that, they do that survey and check in with people.

Certainly. And then really also I would say if you have an employee assistance program, certainly it’s confidential. They’re not gonna be able to access who ask, who accessed the aap, but the eap, if you have an eap, they’re gonna. Track numbers for you that they are going to [00:14:00] be willing to share with you on, how many employees accessed them.

What were the reasons, let’s say it was anxiety, for example, or depression. And, get that data from your ap. If they’re not sharing it with you, ask them, how do I access that? And that’ll give you a barometer as well. It’ll tell ’em you, how many people are using the AP and what are the reasons for it.

And also, if you built, if you’re an HR professional and you’ve sat back, thought about the year ahead okay, mental, may, let’s start there. Mental health awareness month. What are we gonna do this month? What aspect of the employee assistance program are we gonna promote?

You could look back on that data and see, okay, I cut the point across, the access C a P increased, which isn’t a bad thing you want people to use. The resources that you’re making available, you’re gonna wanna ask your employees, and some employees are very [00:15:00] open and will share. I’ve had employees share on calls, you know what I called the AP and it was very helpful.

Or they helped me find a specialist for this issue my family was facing, and that’s great. So

William Tincup: one of the things you ju you just said that really made me, it made me think of, tying it back to the bottom line and for the rest of the, the board, the rest of the executives, et cetera.

Because I think they look at benefits generally speaking and mental health tucks in somewhere into that as a cost center. Rather than an investment. And I think this is one of the things that we’re trying to change, minds around like this, especially with, again, folks that went through Covid the younger generations.

They start here. If you don’t have things in place around mental health or wellbeing or wellness, et cetera, then they just won’t apply to the job.

Maggie Smith: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s true.

William Tincup: So how do you [00:16:00] again, conveying back to the rest of the C-suite that this is an investment in people not a cost.

Of course, money is being spent and we can’t have all the benefits in under the sun. We get that, but this is actually going to help us recruit and retain talent and so it’s an investment.

Maggie Smith: I think, really I would appeal to them to give HR leaders a chance. Give them the op, give them the money, give them some budget and opportunity to invest.

And then, the numbers will, tell the, tell a story. So here at Reliant last year, we had five people voluntarily exit the organization. And wh, which was great, that this happened during the Great resignation. Five was the number I could certainly live with, and they all left for an opportunity to further their career that we didn’t have at Tri Lion at the time certainly said to them, Hey, that’s great. Congratulations. Best of luck. Left the [00:17:00] door open to them. So I think that, that tells a story. Additionally, reliant recently surveyed our employees for an opportunity to make Ink Magazines 2023 list of best places to work and we made the list.

So again, I think that tells the A story as well, certainly. We didn’t make it the year before, I’ll tell you that. We applied, we didn’t make it. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t think we were ready. We were still building a platform for our employees and educating them on the resources that were available to them.

And, that’s what we spent the better part of last year doing. And I would also say there are, I’ve talked to HR people who have said, Ugh. I’m only one person, I’m a department of one. I don’t have a budget, for mental health type things. I would say get creative. There’s ways to do, meditation, session with your employees that don’t cost [00:18:00] money.

Find out what resources are available. In your area that support mental health? Is there a social worker school, for example? So there are a lot of ways to do things without a big budget and that you could even try those first, and once you demonstrate the impact it’s had on employees, you can really certainly make a good case for those.

Additional. And so certain things don’t even cost money, like being a flexible workplace doesn’t cost money.

William Tincup: And it’s interesting because we were both talking about mental health awareness month. You already went through that and said, yeah, we’re doing mental health awareness year round.

It’s nice that it’s in May. It’s cool. And it got me to thinking about do folks. Both employees and executives do. Do we have a standard definition of what mental health is like? Do you feel. Like when I’m thinking about it, I know where my [00:19:00] mind goes, right? But I’m not sure where, where someone else goes with it.

And so do you think we need to actually help build some definition around what it, what is

Maggie Smith: mental health? I really do. I think that people don’t understand that. Really, you can think of it as a pyramid, right? Like Maslow, you have those basic needs at the bottom, but then as you move up that.

Think about, those other social determinants of health, right? Think about wellness holistically. I think that people, I think you make a great point because I think people still hear mental health, mental wellbeing, and because of, prior stigmas that still exist, were making progress.

I would say that. But there’s still stigmas that exist around those. I think you have to, as an HR professional, certainly roll things out and you don’t really wanna like package everything under, oh, [00:20:00] it’s mental health. But it could be, something that you’re rolling out to support an employee’s person physical health, for example, or their financial security.

And those are two types of things we did this past year. We had a. Physical wellbeing move more challenged. Last month in February, we had some resources talk about financial wellbeing. And I think all of those things do come together to make up one’s mental wellbeing. So I think, I don’t think such an ex a definition exists.

But I would encourage people to really think about it holistically.

William Tincup: I love that. One of the things you touched on a little bit is with benefits, all benefits we have to try. So I love how you gather data and then you can right size what you’re gonna the array of things you’re gonna put in front of employees for the next year.

It’s also, there’s a try and fail part of this. Yes. You know what I’m saying? [00:21:00] Not all. Oh yes. Not all benefits are equal. You nailed that, but also not, at least the best intentions, we pick things, we roll ’em out, we communicate ’em, we drive track, and they don’t, it just, there’s not an uptick, there’s not as much consumption, et cetera.

And that’s okay. That’s a part of, yeah. That’s a part of the bit.

Maggie Smith: Absolutely. And I’ve certainly done that here at Reliant. I think my first year I put in a platform to support physical wellbeing, and it was a separate platform people had to log on to. No one logged onto it, the contract.

I just let it expire and no one said, Hey, what happened to that? Cause no one was using it. And that’s okay. You just introduce something else and try that, and you, there are options available out there to people that they can, could try them without a huge commitment. So like for us, we went to a different platform for our wellness challenge.

It was our move more challenge. [00:22:00] And, that one worked. So yeah, I think that’s how you learn what’s gonna work best for your population. Yeah.

William Tincup: Yeah. The the old consumer marketing axio is more of a B2C axiom, though. The moment that, your get to know your customers is the very moment they change.

Yes, true. And so true of employees. It’s a, always, it’s a fluid. Relationship. So last question is gonna be a kind of futuristic thing. Where would you, if you had a magic wand, where would you like to see us take mental mental health awareness?

Maggie Smith: I would love it if everybody really, every employer really embraced that and really came to understand what that meant.

There’s definitely not a one size fits all. So to your point, you’re gonna try things, they’re not gonna work, and that’s okay. I think it’s continuously checking in with your employee base, and when you survey people though, it is critical to get back to them. It’s critical to share.

The feedback or they’re gonna be like why would I do [00:23:00] this? Nothing changed. And even if the, somebody suggested something and it wouldn’t work for the organization right now, tell them that, that’s still an answer. You’re still closing the loop with them. So I would really like it to be an ongoing part of the conversation, and I think the more that employers embrace it, rather than resist it.

The better off will all be. We can come together, share ideas, best practices, and I just think it’s just, there’s, so we, I’m happy with the progress that’s been made, but I do feel so much more could be done.

William Tincup: Drops. Mike walks off stage. Maggie, thank you so much for your time and your wisdom.

Thank you. All righty. And thanks for everyone listening until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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