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Mental Health: Apps and Advocates, but also Purpose, Empathy and Volunteering

When Belgin Ertam, HR leader for GE in the MENA and Turkey region, talks about mental health, she lists off a number of topics, including some unexpected items, such as company purpose, leadership empathy, and employee volunteering.

That’s because GE recognizes that the breadth of what impacts or encompasses mental health extends far beyond what happens at work, to include home, family and the wider community.

“When we say mental health, we are not only considering psychological health, but also financial health, physical health and all the other important factors that have a direct impact on mental health and happiness,” said Ertam, who is Vice President of HR for GE in the MENA and Turkey region, and Director of Global Organization and Talent Development at GE International Markets.

For example, one of the important discussions leaders have with employees in the promotion of wellness is “purpose.”

“Purpose and meaning are clearly linked to mental health. Employees want to know ‘Why am I here? How does my job support the larger purpose of my organization?’” Ertam said.

“Sometimes we are so busy and so focused on the specific requirements and deliverables of our roles, we don’t connect the dots; we don’t rise up above the trees to see the whole forest so there is an opportunity for leaders to help them do just that.”

She continues, “Leaders can help employees understand how their role is linked to the broader purpose, so the employee can realize, ‘Wow. What I actually do is super important to the organization, to our customers.’ That feeling makes people more satisfied, motivated and engaged, less stressed and happier. And of course, all of these are linked to good mental health,” she said.

Worldwide, the pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of mental health. At GE, it allowed existing wellness initiatives to shine.

For example, several years before the pandemic, GE had developed a network of Wellbeing Champions, now totaling more than 500, who are employees within the various businesses and geographies who help drive mental health messaging, raise awareness of GE wellness tools, and otherwise serve as a resource for colleagues.

“These champions reflect our view that mental health is not just the role of HR,” Ertam said.

During the pandemic, the Wellbeing Champions organized a number of campaigns reflecting the evolving needs of employees. One was called “It’s okay to not feel okay,” launched in May 2021. It helped “normalize” the reality that many people were facing psychological issues in the wake of the pandemic but didn’t realize how common the feeling was.

This May, the Wellness Champions launched “Find Five to Thrive.” The idea is to encourage employees to “step back and take time to do something to heal or strengthen yourself,” and then log the time. It could be watching a wellness video, taking a walk, stretching, doing yoga, or any other activity that was rejuvenating.

So far, nearly 1 million minutes have been logged by employees. To add to the happiness quotient, Ertam said, the campaign linked the logged minutes to certain targets, which, once met, would trigger a GE Foundation donation to an NGO focused on children.

“And that makes people happier, since we are thinking, ‘Not only am I doing something to make myself happier, my minutes are having an impact at a larger scale, with a bigger purpose,’” she said.

Leaders are not only helping employees see the big picture; they also are connecting more with employees.

“GE has always had a culture of strong leadership development and high expectations for our leaders. Over the past four or five years, those expectations increasingly emphasize the emotional intelligence piece and the wellness of employees. Leaders are expected to regard their teams more as family, to show empathy, and to understand what they are going through. They are there to help them solve issues so they can bring their best selves to the organization.”

GE also supports employee mental health with a number of specific tools and programs. The GE Employee Assistance Program helps any employee or member of their family with all types of needs. It provides counseling and referrals for mental health issues, as well as for any other health concerns, as well as many non-health matters.

The goal of this service, Ertam said, is to support employees in resolving problems beyond the workplace, so they aren’t burdened and can bring their full selves to their work.

GE offers even more instantly accessible support in the form of digital tools and mobile apps, such as meQuilibrium, which offers resilience and stress management support, and Grokker, a video-based, holistic well-being and challenge tool.

Ertam says she regularly uses Grokker for healthy cooking, exercise, and wellness videos.

But she also looks to another GE institution to support her wellbeing: GE Volunteers. While employees are gratified to know their company supports communities in need through the GE Foundation, they also are appreciate its support for GE Volunteers, which helps employees give back to the communities in which they live and work.

“We are happier when we get involved and have the opportunity to help others,” she said.

For example, when Turkey – Ertam’s home country – experienced a major earthquake several years ago, GE Volunteers sprang into action. “All of us came together, collecting clothes and other needed supplies, and some then travelled to the affected areas with what we had collected and to offer help.”

More recently, following devastating flooding in Pakistan last month, GE Foundation made a USD 100,000 grant to help rehabilitate healthcare facilities in the country’s northwest. The Foundation will also match donations made by employees. And as in Turkey, GE Volunteers in Pakistan have stepped up to help personally, including the head of GE Healthcare in the country, who has taken a week off from work to volunteer and help with rebuilding work in his hometown.

As we focus on wellness this World Mental Health Day, GE knows it’s critical to pull together many pieces of the puzzle to positively impact employees.

Read more here about how GE supports the mental health and wellbeing of employees across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey region.

Business: Corporate, Healthcare

Country: MENA, Pakistan, Turkey

Keywords: Apps, Employee Assistance Program, Health, Leadership, Mental Health, Pandemic, Purpose, Wellness Champions

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