Employee mental health should always be top of mind for organizations, but now more than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about difficult circumstances for some and isolation for many.
Nearly half (47%) of United States employees reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, according to a survey of 1,558 employees by Teladoc Health. When including employees that have been laid off or furloughed, the number jumps to 61%. Thus, it’s incumbent upon employers to find ways to support their employee base’s mental health needs during an especially disruptive time.
“It’s never been more important for employers to deploy and leverage the assets and resources they have that help employees deal with the many outcomes and emotions that come from the pandemic,” said Cara McNulty, DPA, president of behavioral health and EAP at Aetna.
The early returns have been somewhat encouraging, as 27% of employees indicated that their employer has been proactively responding with mental health resources and support. WorldatWork’s “2019 Inventory of Total Rewards Programs & Practices” survey found that 97% of organizations offer an employee assistance program (EAP) and, according to WorldatWork’s “COVID-19 Employer Response Survey” many organizations (70%) have promoted those EAP resources during the pandemic.
Additionally, the WorldatWork survey found that employers are sharing tips for physical and emotional well-being (68%), encouraging social connection while maintaining distance (55%) and making tools available for virtual workouts, yoga and mindfulness (31%).
McNulty said it’s important to not only provide these resources for employees, but to also make sure they’re being communicated effectively.
“It’s not enough to just say ‘we have EAP available.’ You have to explain to people what it is, why it would matter to them and remove any barriers,” McNulty said. “Now is not the time to white-knuckle through this. You should make sure employees not only have the information, but they know that it’s OK to not feel OK.”
While employee isolation is a significant concern during the pandemic, so is the idea of burnout, which could be increasingly likely to occur with employees working from home. Employees who aren’t used to working from home might find it difficult to separate work from regular life, which can also take a toll on a person’s mental health.
This is why it’s important to practice “self-care,” McNulty said.
“It’s really important to set up healthy boundaries around your work time and communicating that with your company and leaders to make sure that works,” McNulty said. “When you’re working from home, sometimes work is happening all the time, because they don’t know how to set up those strong boundaries. Reminding people the importance of getting really good sleep, eating well, getting fresh air, exercise and meditation is something all employers should be doing for their remote staff.”
While the pandemic has no doubt caused increased levels of stress and anxiety, Teladoc’s study revealed that it has also increased the awareness and dialogue around mental health. And with that has come increased utilization of these resources, which is a welcome sign for employees and employers alike.
“This is hard and scary and there’s still some unknown,” McNulty said. “Right now is the time for us to open up and talk more blatantly about the importance of mental health well-being and that it’s OK to need help.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.