We’re all feeling the impact of COVID-19. The global pandemic has impacted not only the physical health of many individuals but their mental health as well. If you’re anxious, depressed, or struggling to sleep through the night, you’re not alone.
Across the country, we have seen spikes in depression, PTSD, domestic violence, and substance use problems. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the psychological toll the pandemic is taking on Americans. According to the survey, 45% of adults say the pandemic has affected their mental health, and 19% say it has had a “major impact.” A survey by mental health provider Ginger found 69% of employees said the coronavirus is the most stressful time of their career, and 88% said they had experienced moderate to extreme stress over the past four to six weeks.
The research makes one thing clear: The pandemic has greatly impacted daily life as we know it and is taking its toll on all of us. To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in the workplace and because May is Mental Health Month, I recently spoke with Nancy Reardon, Chief Strategy and Product Officer at Maestro Health. Today In: Leadership Strategy
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“Right now, employees are currently experiencing more fear and anxiety than usual. The uncertainty about the state of their health, jobs and the future are causing employees to feel heightened levels of stress,” said Nancy.
This means it’s the perfect opportunity for leaders to demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ mental health and overall well-being. Here are five ways that employers can support their employees during a pandemic, based on my conversation with Nancy.
1) Utilize technology to offer mental health resources
Technology is a great enabler. Employees are turning to collaboration tools and video conferences to discuss work and maintain relationships with co-workers while working from home, which can have a positive effect on employee well-being.
20% of working-age adults report having a mental illness, yet many are unsure if their company offers comprehensive mental health resources. With employees working remotely, now is the time to use technology to provide a variety of mental health programs, such as licensed counselors on call, meditation platforms and virtual education for employees to learn coping mechanisms and stress management.
2) Use this opportunity to reduce the stigma
Often the fear of stigma prevents some employees from getting the help they need. It’s not necessarily an easy topic to discuss, but starting the conversation can lessen the stigma while providing education. Use your employee wellness program to educate and provide resources for self-help and self-care. Bringing in a virtual therapist to discuss ways of recognizing symptoms, improving mental health, and seeking outside help can also be helpful.
“We need to continually reinforce the importance of taking care of your mental well-being as you do your physical well-being. We can’t continue to separate the mind from the body – they are one,” says Nancy.
3) Double-down on communication
Communicating clearly with your workforce about the mental health and well-being resources available to them and showing empathy in a time of crisis can go a long way – not just for the overall well-being of your employees but for the company’s health long-term.
Managers and HR should also communicate consistently about mental health resources offered and covered in employees’ benefits plans, such as counselors they can call, meditation and stress management services and access to employee assistance programs.
The challenges employees are currently facing won’t be instantly resolved when the crisis eventually ends, which is why it’s important to continue communicating about mental well-being even after things return to the “new normal.”
4) Prioritize well-being in your benefits plan
Companies should prioritize their employees’ entire well-being, including physical, mental and financial health, all year round – not just during a crisis. Companies should have these resources built into their benefits plan to show they care about their workforce beyond this period in time. Increased levels of stress lead to more doctor’s visits, which means increased healthcare costs to the employer. By making the overall well-being of your workforce a top priority, company leaders can ensure they emerge as a healthier and more united organization after experiencing a major crisis.
“Educating employees on the mental well-being resources available to them doesn’t just apply in times of crisis or during open enrollment. Proactively preparing your workforce for future mental health-related issues can prevent employees from feeling fear of the unknown because they are equipped with information that can help them navigate on stressors like insurance costs, where to go for doctor visits and which mental health counselors are in their network,” said Nancy.
5) Show empathy and leadership
Employees are feeling a sense of uncertainty and heightened stress right now – about their health, job and financial security. Leaders who show they care about individual employees and provide mental health guidance right now can help boost spirits. Managers should take extra steps during this time to check in with their team on a daily basis about things other than work. Host video calls to keep up employee morale and promote a larger conversation about overall well-being. Remind employees to take mental and physical breaks, exercise and participate in other non-work-related activities to reduce anxiety and improve productivity.
“For some leaders, working from home means being ‘plugged in’ 24/7 and employees can end up with additional work-related stress. By making an effort to let employees log off and go for a walk, spend time with family or just take time for themselves, leaders can better foster a stress-free environment in uncertain times,” said Nancy.
During this time of uncertainty and stress, the need to prioritize individual health and well-being is stronger now than ever, and companies can help by having a caring and empathetic work culture. We must keep mental health as a key focus throughout this pandemic. Leaders who show compassion and put employees’ well-being first during this time will see their workforce continue to be healthy and productive.