By Taylor Adams, Director of Workplace Mental Health at Mental Health America
Mental Health America (MHA) is proud to recognize November as National Family Caregivers Month — a time to celebrate the contributions of caregivers and provide them with the tools they need for their mental health. In 2021, MHA is focusing on parents. As part of MHA's workplace mental health initiatives, we want to celebrate and share how companies support employees and their families.
MHA spoke with Michele Granitz, the Head of Benefits at the National Life Group, a life insurance company and 2021-22 Platinum Bell Seal Recipient, to better understand their policies that support working parents and caregivers. National Life recognizes employees' individuality with a wide array of benefits with programs focused on physical, mental, and financial well-being, "We want to help our employees achieve security for themselves and their families."
Here are five company policies and practices that every employer should consider:
- Understand your organization's employee populations and workforce needs.
The first step in addressing caregiver issues at work is understanding what the issues are. Employers often survey their employees on engagement, team collaboration, and mission alignment. These surveys are also an opportunity for employers to ask about specific work-life balance needs and benefits that improve staff productivity and loyalty. As a first step, National Life sought to understand how to best support their working parents through surveys and verbal conversations:
At National Life, we realized we needed to do more to support our employees, particularly parents. Through surveys and conversations, we went through a revamp of our leave policies. Our policies for the birth, adoption, or placement of a child were not allowing for enough time for the parents to bond with their child(ren). We realized through conversations that we missed the mark for parents who had a child with an illness or disability. Some of our employees told us they were using their paid time off to care for their child(ren). Other employees were asking if they could donate time to help these parents.
- Respond appropriately to employee needs and implement meaningful policies.
The next step after actively listening to employee needs is to respond accordingly. Although addressing working parents’ needs is not a new issue, the U.S. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents according to the Pew Research Center.  Under federal law, employers with 50 or more employees must implement a Family and Medical Leave policy that includes leave for medical concerns and guarantees an employee's position upon return. However, there are no federal regulations that require employers to provide paid parental leave for new parents. National Life not only listened to their employees but took meaningful action to better support their concerns:
As a result of employee feedback, birth mothers now receive an additional six weeks of bonding time along with six weeks or more through short-term disability. We decided to add paid family leave to our benefits so parents could care for their child(ren) without the worry of being paid. The policy also applies to employees who need to care for a parent. We are thrilled to be able to support employees through the emotional times they may face.
- Offer benefits and perks that support working parents.
Every workplace is different, and the supports needed will differ across employer size and industry. Employers need to consider several options when choosing benefits or perks that support working parents with that in mind. The following suggestions range in cost but have proved to be helpful to employees with children or other caregiving responsibilities. Additional supports can include on-site child care or subsidized child care costs, adoption or fertility assistance, and remote or flexible work arrangements.
To support caregivers in a pinch, National Life offers short-term backup care when the regular child or adult care is unavailable. In addition, National Life provides on-site lactation rooms for mothers and remote and flexible work options to support better work-life balance.
- Support work-life balance.
For most companies and employees, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we think about work-life balance. For companies that transitioned to fully remote or hybrid work environments, preparing for the day and commuting to and from work no longer separated work from home and vice versa. Promoting work-life balance in this day and age requires intention on behalf of a company to fully support the integration of personal and professional demands, including caregiving, parenting, and managing personal health and wellness. We understand that it is impossible to fully separate your home life from your work life in today's workforce.
National Life educates and encourages work-life balance as part of their employee surveys and annual mental health training. In response to the pandemic and increasing burnout rates, employees were encouraged to take two consecutive weeks off to decompress and enjoy time with family and friends.
- Share resources that support working parents with company leadership.
Here are a couple of MHA resources to get the conversation about working parents' needs and employee mental health started at your company.
For National Family Caregivers Month in November, MHA is focusing on parents – while not all caregivers are parents, all parents are caregivers. We've gathered a wealth of resources to help parents (and other caregivers) work through the challenges of caregiving, start conversations, deal with a crisis, and address their mental health. Learn more at www.mhanational.org/national-family-caregivers-month.
The Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health is MHA's national employer certification program to recognize leading employers committed to employee mental health. The program includes a comprehensive evaluation of corporate practices that considers all facets of employee life, including employees' responsibilities as caregivers and parents. Learn more and get certified at www.mhanational.org/bestemployers.