2020 has been a whirlwind of a year for many Americans. Now more than ever, companies must ensure they are supporting their employees’ mental health and wellbeing, following a major increase in those reporting deterioration of their mental health since the Coronavirus Pandemic began. Adverse mental health outcomes such as anxiety, stress, and depression have been reported and seems to be an intensifying trend.
Factors Affecting Mental Health
The long-term ripple affects of COVID-19, which have proved to be far from over, is a major issue to the continued lowering state of mental health. When people start to recognize that the effects of the crisis itself are leading to long-term consequences, they become discouraged. The uncertainty of of what is going to happen next and how long the repercussions will last are generating worry, anxiety, and fear.
There is a great sense of role overload and loss of routine for many working Americans, who have now had to step in as full-time caretakers and teachers during the shutdown. Taking on multiple roles as an employee, parent, partner/spouse, teacher, and caretaker can result in feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, studies show that routine is super beneficial for mood. As routines continue to shift due to the adverse consequences of COVID-19, there may not be the same sense of predictability day to day that can worsen people’s mood and undermine their motivation. Role overload and loss of routine can certainly have negative mental health consequences.
How Organizations Can Support the Mental Health of Employees
A study conducted by Lyra Health with a sample size of over 1200 employees across multiple industries displayed that a fair amount of employees feel their employer isn’t doing enough to support mental health during the crisis, and this has resulted in numerous workers looking for work elsewhere. So, what can Employers do to support their employees during the continued crisis?
Open Door Policy : Roughly 40% of employees say their employers have not asked how they are doing since the pandemic began. How do companies expect to help their people if they don’t even ask how they are doing? The first step to helping your employees is to simply ask them how they are doing, giving them the option to come forward for help and support if they feel it is necessary.
Supportive Listening: For the employees that would like to come forward and talk about mental health, it is essential that managers practice supportive listening. Manager’s aren’t expected to solve everything all at once, but listening, understanding, and ensuring your employees feel heard is an excellent way to understand your employees and how they are handling the new normal. The sooner one realizes they are not alone in this, the better we’ll be at supporting each other.
Constant Communication: Mental health conversations are rarely a one and done type deal. Regular consistent communication from managers is essential to ensuring employees feel supported. Employees need to know that it is OK not to be OK. They have a team supporting them that cares and wants to see them succeed in every area of life. Communicating that the team supports whatever they need to get better is crucial, as the needs and required support for each employee may differ.
Communicate Available Resources: Numerous employees have reported that their organizations have not proactively shared what mental health resources are available to them. It’s critical to be very clear about mental health resources available at your company for employees to be able to leverage those resources. As we noted above, uncertainty can have negative mental health consequences, so even just knowing what resources are available goes a long way to easy anxiety and stress.
Resources Employers Can Offer
Benefit Plans & Life Insurance
From a strategic point of view, businesses should now consider what will they need to do in the future to retain, reward or for that matter attract replacement of employees.
In our prior blog referencing “golden handcuffs” we address how to deal with your top management by giving them deferred compensation plans, executive bonus plans, and split-dollar arrangements. However, in light of the pandemic, all employees are now placing a considerable amount of importance on job security as well as other aspects that they may not have considered or took for granted in the past. For example, long-term care needs may be a new priority, as people have found themselves as a care giver or needing a care giver when it wasn’t even a thought in the past. It is a gigantic responsibility that can be addressed properly with prudent planning and certain types of insurance. Therefore, benefit plans, life insurance, long term care, etc. should all be reviewed with HR departments and business owners to ensure priorities are being met.
As an individual, it is now apparent that their careers and the income it generates as not always a given and could disappear, so goes the benefits. Employer’s sensitive to these feeling may see the need to reassure or redesign relationship to alleviate these concerns.
COVID-19 has created personal uncertainty for many living in quarantine apart from family, and additional financial stress due to market volatility. This has left the future of some businesses very uncertain. It may be a sensible time to engage in estate planning, as uncertain times tend to generate attention to personal planning. Additionally, recent changes in personal and financial circumstances may not reflect one’s current intentions, or may be out-of-date relative to currently applicable law and financial status. Turmoil and mixed feelings can lead to uncertainty and stress that sometimes only planning or insurances can set your mind at ease with.
Benefits That Cover Mental Health Counseling
The pandemic has upended life as we know it for millions of Americans, causing uneasy feelings of anxiety, depression and grief. Companies need to step up to help their employees by expanding their mental health benefits. In fact, a recent survey of 256 companies by the nonprofit employer group the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions found that 53% of employee are providing special emotional and mental health programs for their workforce in wake of COVID-19. Benefits that cover mental health counseling and mental health treatment are something that all employers should look to add in to their benefits package as soon as possible if they do not already. Benefits such as an employee helpline, short term disability, or ancillary insurance coverages that assist.
Training to Help Employees Recognize Serious Mental Health Concerns
Being able to accurately identify employees who suffer from a mental health illness should be a sincere concern for managers and supervisors inside the workplace. One in every five Americans—44.7 million Americans—currently lives with a mental health illness, and that number is continuing to rise due to COVID.
Managers should always be inclusive and knowledgeable of their entire staff and should be able to quickly recognize when someone is beginning to act out of character or is going through a personal hardship or when someone begins to show signs of depression, anxiety, or a drug dependency, etc. Training regarding communication, understanding different forms of communication, and what types of communication need attention (such as those that indicate suicidal nature) are essential skills in modern organizations as they help bring light to patterns that many might think are normal.
Additionally, organizations can develop and facilitate mentorship and coaching programs to help managers better connect with their employees on a rolling basis.
Partnerships with Health Companies
Exercise is a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. Regular exercise can have profound positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. Employers should encourage exercise, mindfulness and yoga through partnerships with health companies, local gyms, or even doing a work group where an instructor comes on site.
Some Employers such as Amazon, Google, and LinkedIn are partnering with meditation apps such as Headspace, which has more than 45 million users worldwide, to promote and improve employee mental health. Employees have access to hundreds of themes sessions and easy guided meditations on everything from stress and sleep to focus and anxiety.
The Bottom Line:
The looming mental health crisis in Americas workforce poses a serious threat to employers and employees. Employers that approach mental health with compassion, honesty, and openness will emerge from these challenging times as better leaders, better people, and better companies.