How Facebook is redefining mental health acceptance at work

To honor Mental Health Awareness Month, Facebook’s New York City office hosted the cast and lead producer of the Tony Award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen”, as well as other mental health experts, for two panel discussions: one focused on mental health in children and teens and one centered around mental health in the workplace. Influential in the creation of these panel discussions was Renee Albert, director of Facebook’s Life@, otherwise known as the social media mogul’s benefits program.

During Albert’s chat with Ladders, she gave insight into how Facebook is moving beyond what a company should be providing for its employees and diving into what it can offer to solve employee’s issues and make work even more enjoyable.

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“It really isn’t that much to give back and when you give in ways like that…your people show up in such a different way because they actually feel like they’re cared about,” Albert said. “That’s ultimately how we define our benefits.”

Facebook has three core principles for its mental health strategy: increasing awareness, improving access to care, and creating peer-to-peer support.

Albert explained each principle to Ladders, outlined below, but encouraged any company leader who is looking to improve its mental health strategy to reach out to Facebook’s Life@ department for advice.

Facebook is working to increase awareness and reduce stigma for mental health

The ultimate goal of this first principle is to get to a place where employees feel comfortable talking about mental health issues in the workplace.

“A lot of it is around the culture and having a culture where people aren’t going to be penalized for having the conversation,” Albert said.

An important initial step is to have key players who are willing and brave enough to share their stories first. With such a large team, it was important for Facebook to create a platform where employees from different seniority levels and offices around the world would feel comfortable sharing their mental health stories.

“That diversity of allowing people to share that started to then make it really safe so we just had this natural flow of people starting to say ‘You know, I really want to open up,’” Albert said.

Fittingly enough, Facebook used #OpenUp as their tagline to encourage their employees to share their mental health battles, coping mechanisms, and success stories.

Facebook is improving access to quality care

The first part of improving access to quality care is providing employees with the flexibility to obtain quality care. Facebook doesn’t promote working from home but encourages employees to work the hours that best suit them, including allowing them to easily shift their schedule in order to attend a therapy session or doctors appointment.

The second facet of improving access to quality care lies in actually providing employees with helpful care plans. While many employers offer three free therapy sessions to employees, Facebook doesn’t believe that is enough to actually figure out the root of an employee’s issue. Instead, Facebook partners with a mental health provider called Lyra to provide each dependent with 25 therapy sessions at no cost.

“We’re seeing that people are actually using that benefit, but we’re seeing lower productivity costs…we’re seeing presenteeism,” Albert said. “So, we’re getting all of that back because people are happy to be at work and there’s a sense of well-being.”

In addition to offering 25 free sessions, Facebook’s Menlo Park office in California always has 12 or 13 on-site counselors. The counselors weren’t originally a part of Lyra’s network, but Facebook worked with the provider to get the on-site counselors covered for their employees.

“We as a benefits team within an organization are responsible for redefining the marketplace and trying to do that in innovative ways,” Albert said. “We have that opportunity to see if it works, and when it does work, we have a responsibility to share that back with other employers to bring them along.”

Facebook is using the workplace community to create peer-to-peer support

In an effort to create a culture of openness, Facebook turned to Workplace, an online team collaboration tool created by Facebook. September 2017 saw the launch of Facebook’s #OpenUp campaign, which encouraged employees to share their mental health stories, struggles, and successes in a company-wide group. This group was such a hit that it sparked the creation of smaller internal groups for people at Facebook that were facing or had faced similar struggles in life.

The groups gave employees the “opportunity to find support, show up as an ally, and ask other people to share their stories,” Albert said.

Rafi Romero, a Lead Software Engineer at Facebook, was one of the initial employees to share his story in the group after wanting to be upfront about his mental health issues at work for a long time.

“My experience with #OpenUp turned out to be one of the most terrifying and equally one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done,” Romero said. “I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was both of those things.”

Albert’s three-prong approach for smaller companies

  1. Create focus groups and figure out the actual issues. Albert suggests that employers create focus groups and challenge employees to discuss the actual problem that they need solutions for.
  2.  Don’t be afraid to redefine what quality care looks like. Albert suggests looking at options to partner with vendors in the marketplace. By partnering with Lyra, Facebook is able to provide increased access to quality care to its employees.
  3. Influence senior leaders to create a culture that allows people to open the discussion. Albert pointed out that employees are already having conversations about mental health, they might just be afraid to bring that topic into the office. “We’re naturally having that conversation, we just need to make it safe in the workplace,” Albert said.

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