By: Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, FAND

Addressing employees’ well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for employers. Each industry will have different areas they will want to focus on. By sharing employer stories of how they are addressing their employees’ well-being, we hope it stimulates ideas for your own employees.

Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) covers southeastern Michigan and is headquartered in Detroit. They are committed to providing the best possible care for patients, communities, and their own 33,000-plus employees. An ongoing challenge in addressing well-being in this industry, is that health care professionals choose this field because of their strong purpose to care for others. Unfortunately, that often means they neglect caring for themselves.

With the new influx of patients and uncertainty about the virus, the immediate concern is ensuring employees can still prioritize their own health. Here are some of the things HFHS provided to care for their employees.

Mental Health, Emotional Well-Being, and Coping

An Emotional Support Team immediately put into place an emotional response strategy that included:

  • Added capacity with an expanded virtual team to continue offering our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with same day or immediate appointments available.
  • Added personnel to cover the 24/7 emotional hotline staffed with behavioral health therapists who could immediately assess, support, and refer callers.
  • Standing virtual support groups via Zoom for each shift.
  • Frequent communications that included tips on managing a variety of emotions.
  • Daily virtual mindfulness sessions and/or tailored support groups addressing specific issues, grief and loss, listening sessions, and peer processing support groups that help teams share and understand their experience.
  • Increased promotion of WorkLife services: an online program available to employees that provides resources for childcare, eldercare, financial, legal, daily living, and more.
  • Development of a peer recovery coaching program with employees trained to serve as personal guides and mentors supporting fellow employees struggling with substance misuse due to COVID.
  • The launch of the “Be There” challenge, encouraging employees to call colleagues rather than utilizing email, to build social connection.
  • Creating a “TRUST” (Treatment that is just; Respect; Understanding and Compassion; Supportive Care; Transparency and the Opportunity to Contribute) Program for peer-to-peer physician support following a traumatic event.

Spiritual Health

Spiritual leaders have long been available to patients, but an effort was put together to make spiritual leaders available for our employees, too.

Sleep Management

Lack of quality sleep can contribute to higher levels of anxiety and weakened immunity. To help employees achieve quality sleep two resources were offered:

  • SleepWell: a virtual program to help employees identify sleep disorders, and achieve and maintain positive sleep hygiene. This program is being updated to include HSHS sleep coaches who lead employees through three interactive sessions to discuss methods for achieving better sleep.
  • Sleepio: an app that offers customized sleep remedies based on an individual’s personal sleep score.

Financial Support/Employee Relief Fund

HFHS employees have a long history of supporting one another during tough times. A COVID-19 employee relief fund was established to accept monetary donations for fellow coworkers in need. Senior leaders donated a portion of their salary to this fund.

Physical Health

  • Weekly step challenge: HFHS organized a company-wide step challenge. Employees formed teams to compete with one another on a weekly basis.
  • Smoking/Tobacco: With a respiratory illness like COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for people who smoke to quit. HFHS makes tobacco treatment counseling available to all employees and eligible dependents by phone or video visit, at no cost.

Wellness Resources

The Henry Ford LiveWell blog shares helpful wellness strategies, each week. While these blogs are available to the public, they are also shared internally. Topics include immune boosting foods, how to properly wear face masks, healthy food bank donations, how viruses can impact heart health, and why self-care is important during uncertain times.

Healthy Restart

In March, while essential employees continued to work within HFHS facilities, many others adapted to working from home. Now, as they transition back into their typical work environment, leadership is providing training for staff to keep themselves and coworkers healthy.

  • Psychological First Aid program: This one-hour virtual class is being promoted and strongly encouraged as employees return to work. Teams are attending the virtual trainings together and discussing strategies to identify stress in coworkers. The goal is to help coworkers watch out for one another by learning and addressing common stress reactions to keep teams safe and healthy.
  • The Path Forward: As employees return to work, they will attend a two-hour virtual and/or prerecorded class that addresses safety, psychological first aid, and policies related to returning to the physical setting.

Frequent Communication

Leadership consistently promotes these initiatives through company-wide communications encouraging employees to get involved. Work-from-home strategies are included in the communications to ensure those working remotely are maintaining health, engagement, and productivity.

By focusing on employee mental and emotional health, as well as sleep related issues, while strategically addressing physical health and financial well-being, HFHS is helping its workforce remain healthy and safe during COVID-19.

What are you doing for your employees? Please share your stories with us at:

Bethany ThayerBeth Thayer is the Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for Henry Ford Health System, as well as a member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Wellness Council.