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We’re All Human: Mental Health in the New Era of Work 

Sheri Bronstein, Chief Human Resources Officer, Bank of America 

I’ve worked in Human Resources for over two decades, and never has the “human” part of HR felt more critical than over this past year.

 

I’ve had colleagues break down in tears on the phone. I’ve been in meetings with stressed parents bouncing babies on their laps and have watched in awe as teammates band together to support one another as we grappled with this global pandemic. And on top of that, amid a national reckoning on racial justice, we’ve listened as our colleagues shared their grief in response to centuries-long oppression and inequality.

 

In a year of extraordinary pressure, prioritizing mental health and emotional wellness has never been more important. For me personally, finding ways to support the wellbeing of our more than 200,000 teammates around the world – while parenting two teenagers separated from school and friends – has kept me up many a night. Here are some of the most effective coping mechanisms and resources I’ve found, which are helping me to look after myself, my family and, I hope, my team.

Practice mindfulness, meditation and good sleep habits: 

On some days it seems impossible, but taking a moment to unplug and breathe can help to release tension and take control of the waves of stress as they come. While there are an abundance of apps and online tools to guide you in practicing positive emotional health, I particularly like myStrength – a mindfulness app that we’ve offered to teammates at no cost to help them curate personalized activities to support their mental and emotional wellbeing. Taking a moment to stop and breathe might seem small, but the benefits are extraordinary. Sleep is another often overlooked wellness habit, but it is essential to recovering from any mental and physical strains of the day. And turning off cell phones, the television and other distractions at a reasonable hour to get a good night’s sleep has been critical for myself and my family. I also use a wearable sleep tracker, which has been a really great way to monitor my sleep quality

Connect with colleagues:

 

Use a portion of your meetings for personal check-ins to share how you’re feeling or ways in which you’re coping. While your employer may have programs to encourage these discussions through established Employee Networks, regular touch points throughout the week are just as important to maintain a positive headspace. Not only is this camaraderie healing, but it can help bring a new dimension to your work life. Connecting with colleagues who are facing similar life experiences, whether united by parenthood, ethnicity, disability or other factors, can lead to a greater sense of inclusion and understanding.

“Not only is this camaraderie healing, but it can bring a new dimension to your work life.” 

Turn toward confidential counseling:

 

Everyone needs someone to talk to, whether you’re struggling with the day-to-day or navigating a major life event. Just as many jobs became virtual this past year, so has access to care. At Bank of America for example, we expanded many of our resources to be accessible in a remote setting, including Teladoc® that provides online access to free behavioral health consultations and our Employee Assistance Program, which offers 24/7 confidential counseling to help our teammates manage stress. Encourage your colleagues to leverage the resources available to them.

 

Find strategies that work for you:

 

Worrying about my children, while busy at work, is manageable some days, then completely overwhelming the next. This is normal. And I know my challenges pale in comparison to those of so many parents and caregivers. That’s why we rolled out a new program, Thriving Families, developed in partnership with Thrive Global that provides expert guidance for families who are working, living and – for many – learning virtually in the home. These best practices include science-backed strategies that can help build skills like creating healthy routines, setting boundaries, improving communication and more.

 

Be kind to yourself:

 

Missed a deadline? Messed up on a project? Feeling guilty that your child watched too much TV while you had to work? Feeling underwater but ashamed to ask for help? It’s time to look at the big picture of what you’re experiencing and give yourself a break. Pandemic or not, no one is perfect, and trying to be flawless isn’t healthy. Strive to be your best and give yourself some grace when things don’t go as planned—we’re all different. We’re all human.

Celebrate the progress:

 

While the pandemic is not yet over, the expansion of vaccine access as well as treatment regimens fill me with optimism that we are starting to turn the corner. As parts of the world begin to slowly reopen, celebrate the big – and little – things we’re able to do again when you can. For me, that’s spending time with family and friends whom I’ve deeply missed over the last year, as well as starting to work from the office more frequently and see my colleagues in person (with masks on of course!). Practicing gratitude is a valuable antidote to the challenges we’ve all been living through. While it may feel like many countries are finally heading towards better times, the mental health impact of the past year will have far-reaching effects that can’t be underestimated. It’s important that we don’t lose ground on the renewed focus on mental health coming out of the pandemic. By continuing to guard our work-life balance and prioritize self-care, we can empower one another to be our best selves at work and at home.