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OPM Urges Agencies to Support Feds’ Mental Health

The government’s HR agency this week will host a panel discussion of mental health issues for officials and share tips for managers to support work-life balance initiatives.

The Office of Personnel Management last week urged federal agencies to focus on employees’ mental health and work-life balance after a year where many feds have remained isolated at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo to agency heads, OPM Associate Director for Employee Services Rob Shriver noted that President Biden declared May to be National Mental Health Awareness Month and said supporting federal workers’ mental health is essential to fostering high performance. The importance of focusing on mental health is even greater now, after workers have lived for more than a year of a deadly pandemic.

“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,” Shriver wrote. “The global pandemic has led to social isolation, economic stresses, uncertainty and a sense of loss that have added to daily life challenges. OPM is committed to supporting federal agency leaders and human resource professionals throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond as we prepare the federal workforce for the future of work.”

On Thursday, OPM will host a panel discussion for work-life coordinators and other HR officials at federal agencies on “radical self care, resilience and suicide prevention,” featuring experts from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the Black Mental Health Alliance.

And the agency posted a series of tips for supervisors and HR professionals on best practices to support mental health in the federal workforce, especially “as agencies prepare for a post-pandemic workplace.”

OPM encouraged work-life coordinators to remind employees about benefits available to them, like the Employee Assistance Program, and check in with them “frequently” to serve as a resource to help them navigate their agency-provided mental health options. The agency also suggested that supervisors be understanding and flexible with employees as they prepare to return to the office following the pandemic.

“Be aware that employees may be returning to the workplace with concerns and responsibilities that may not have been present before the pandemic,” the document states. “Flexibilities are encouraged to help employees who may need modified workplace schedules or arrangements to deal with unforeseen circumstances . . . Be sensitive to employee concerns that may contribute to anxiety.”

Key to efforts to the return to physical offices will be approaching the situation with an “employee-focused mindset,” having open-ended conversations about workers’ concerns.

“Supervisors should work to understand employee needs and offer workplace flexibilities when possible,” OPM wrote. “[A] clear understanding of what employees need and expect can assist supervisors in holding productive and transparent conversations with staff. Understanding the common goal of assisting staff in phasing back to the office environment with minimal stress allows supervisors to ask what the employee needs and make that transition successful.”