As the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be nearing its end, we are beginning to get a glimpse into the new, post-pandemic normal in the world of employment. So far, we are seeing many employees experiencing reentry anxiety (various feelings and concerns about returning to work in person), tensions around vaccination status of other employees, employees considering or actively seeking new job opportunities, and employers struggling to retain and recruit a highly skilled workforce. And all of this is occurring while more employees are suffering from mental health concerns, in some cases caused by the aforementioned and, in other cases, possibly a contributing factor.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one in four adults experience some form of mental illness in any given year. And this past year or so has seen even higher levels of mental illness. The Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that in the first half of 2019, 11% of adults reported symptoms consistent with diagnosable anxiety or depressive disorder. By July of 2020, that number had increased to 40%. This statistic clearly demonstrates the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state of mental health. And many of the other events and affairs that have transpired at the same time, including racial injustice, political polarization, and a rash of mass shootings, have certainly impacted mental health as well.
In addition to what is happening on a global, national, or even local level, organizational culture can also contribute to the mental wellness deficit we see among employees. In their book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, authors Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia refer to “the leadership crisis,” They say that seven out of eight employees in the US feel their organizations do not care about them. They also describe that many organizations place the importance of profits over that of their employees’ wellbeing and indicate that these dynamics often lead to higher levels of stress and burnout and lower levels of resiliency and mental wellness in employees.
The best way to reduce the impact of the various factors impacting employee mental health is to build an organizational culture that proactively supports employees in achieving and maintaining mental wellness. Organizations that focus on mental wellness are more likely to be employers of choice because people want to work for organizations that care about their wellbeing.
In a survey conducted by Headspace in 2020, 53% of workers reported a belief that mental health benefits are now an essential employer offering. To support employees in building and maintaining mental wellness, employers should provide and highlight mental wellness benefits, resources, and offerings. Below are some suggestions for doing so:
- Help lessen the stigma of mental illness by talking about it and reminding employees that it is normal and okay to struggle with mental wellness. This is most effective when it is driven from the top-down.
- Seek information to understand how employees are doing and feeling with regards to mental health. Consider including questions about employees’ mental wellbeing in employee opinion surveys.
- Train and support leaders in speaking to and interacting with employees to reassure employees that they are valued and instill a sense of job security.
- Offer and highlight an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs provide mental health counseling for employees and often include other services such as childcare and eldercare resources, legal services, financial assistance, and grief counseling.
- Have a Wellness Plan. Consider including components such as physical exercise, meditation/mindfulness, and emotional, financial, and social wellness.
- Provide flexibility in scheduling. Some examples include flex schedules (for example, 4-10s, where employees work four ten-hour days per week), the ability to work remotely or in a hybrid environment (where employees have the option to work from both the office and/or from home), and/or allowing choice around the timing of when work gets done.
- Offer training and support to help employees recognize stress and burnout and build skills to aid themselves and others in minimizing stress.
As always, if you have questions or would like our help in your efforts to support mental wellness among your employees, don’t hesitate to reach out to us – we are here to help!