In anticipation of more employees returning to the office and in the spirit of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, the Office of Personnel Management issued a tip sheet for agency human resource staff to better support employees at a vulnerable time.

“The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is dedicated to increasing the understanding of mental health to foster a healthy and supportive work environment. Awareness of mental health supports for federal employees is an important element of protecting employee well-being and sustaining a high performing federal workforce,” Robert Shriver, associate director for employee services at OPM, wrote in a May 13 memo to HR directors.

“Generally, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual achieves his or her own potential, copes effectively with the normal challenges of life, and can work efficiently and productively. The global pandemic has led to social isolation, economic stresses, uncertainty and a sense of loss that have added to daily life challenges.”

In addition to communicating with employees about the usual resources available to them – such as the Employee Assistance Program and mental health treatments offered through Federal Employee Health Benefit plans – OPM encouraged agency work-life coordinators and HR professionals to be as communicative as possible about office safety procedures and available work schedule adjustments to ease any potential employee anxiety.

“Put a plan in place to communicate and discuss agency defined procedures and processes regarding return to work protocols. Help empower employees and help alleviate potential anxiety by keeping employees informed on agency procedures,” the tip sheet states, encouraging managers to be aware that employees are likely dealing with more stressors than they did prior to the pandemic.

The sheet also advises managers to approach employees for input about current office procedures and work-life needs, by asking what kinds of supports those employees need and where their deepest safety and productivity concerns lie.

OPM encouraged HR offices to be especially responsive and sympathetic to dependent care needs and the side effects of grief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we strive to overcome this global pandemic as a federal community, work-life coordinators and supervisors are uniquely positioned to highlight agency Employee Assistance Programs as an effective and available resource to support employees who may be grieving,” the tip sheet states.

“While everyone grieves in their own way, it is common to experience difficulty concentrating, physical reactions such as headaches or lethargy and other side effects that may impact an employee’s performance in the workplace.”

Work-life coordinators and HR employees will also have the opportunity to attend a virtual work-life event May 20 focused on topics of self-care, resilience and suicide prevention. Chief human capital officers and HR directors will receive an email with access information.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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