HR trends: COVID no longer top office concern — mental health ranks higher

The COVID-19 pandemic is no longer the top office concern, according to a recent survey of executives and HR professionals by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management.

“What was clearly the top priority from 2020 all the way down to 2022 has now taken a step back and is now the fourth most-common priority,” said Alex Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management. “They are talking about how they go about managing it, as opposed to something that is taking lives or having to focus on vaccine mandates.”

What has emerged as a top priority for employers this year, is the mental health of their employees. That is partly because SHRM says companies have more tools and resources available.

“Today we have everything from subscription services to coaches, to other avenues that allow us to even do automated or machine learning coaching when it comes to our own mental health,” Alonso said.

The survey found only 38% of HR professionals believe they had effectively supported employees with mental health challenges in 2022, and 72% say it as one of the greatest external challenges for organizations.

Going forward in 2023, strengthening mental health benefits or coverage is a priority for 51% of HR professionals, a 9% increase over 2022.

When it comes to in-person, in-office demands on employees, companies seem to be backing off a bit. Only 35% of HR managers agreed that bringing back more of the workforce to the office is a priority this year — down from 48% who said so last year — with many managers having seen the benefits of hybrid remote work schedules.

Fully remote and hybrid schedule workers tend to report being happier, but SHRM’s survey also found those workers are more likely than on-site employees to be looking for a new job — 30% versus 21%.

“They are less committed to the workplace because they aren’t in the workplace. So they are jumping for other opportunities to have better opportunities in their own lives,” Alonso said.

Remote and hybrid workers are also more likely than on-site employees to recommend their employer, but only 46% of all employees answered yes when asked if they would recommend their organization as a great place to work. The same share answered yes when asked if they trusted their employer to treat them fairly.

SHRM conducted the survey in November 2022, with almost 1,800 HR professionals and about 600 non-HR employees.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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