At this point, more Americans have experienced adverse mental health due to the pandemic than haven’t, which makes it ironic that the topic still has any sort of stigma. Statistically, poor mental health is now (sadly) the “norm,” in the sense that the majority of individuals are experiencing it, and yet, discussing it still isn’t totally normalized. Advanced Recovery Systems, a company that owns and operates addiction treatment facilities across the country, recently surveyed 2,000 American adult employees about their state of mental health, and how their workplace is (or isn’t) helping. To show you just how prevalent these struggles are right now, the survey found that 75 percent of employees report a dip in their mental health during the pandemic.
Sadly, as many as 32 million Americans do not have access to mental health resources through their employers. You may worry about some groups in particular, such as frontline workers who witness tragedy every day. On the opposite end of that spectrum are the millions of Americans who were mandated to work from home as the virus spread. And though a number of people have returned to in-office work, a good amount continue to carry on their workday from their home office (or kitchen table). While some say they prefer it, 39 percent report wanting to return to an office. And it’s no wonder: humans are made to be around other humans. That reason and others are behind the mental health issues threatening American workers. Here’s a look at how some employers are engaging their teams, and what more they can do.
Provide insurance that covers therapy
When selecting health insurance plans for their employees, companies naturally have to look at cost. If your company didn’t think about budgeting carefully, the whole place could go under, so let’s not judge them too harshly for thinking carefully about expenses when selecting health insurance plans. That being said, saving money now can cost a company big time later. One study by Deloitte found that the annual economic cost of poor mental health in the workplace (think sick days or poor productivity while at work, as well as replacing employees who quit due to a desire to prioritize their emotional wellbeing) can be tens of billions of dollars. So if there is room in the budget for the medical plan that covers mental health providers, it’s probably worth it.
Organize Zoom mixers
While some individuals may love the self-sufficient nature of working from home and actually prefer being removed from all of the other non-work-related communication and activities of an office, it’s important to remember that many employees may have joined the company specifically for the workplace culture. Working remotely can mean losing touch with that culture, even though it could have been an important part of employees’ happiness at their job. Consider organizing virtual mixers for employees who want the social aspect of the office. There could even be regular mixers in place, like virtual Friday happy hours every week. This could be extremely beneficial to single individuals or anyone living alone and working from home currently.
Offer virtual guided meditation
This pandemic has without question instilled a lot of insecurity, uncertainty, doubt, and despair in human beings. Many dreams and goals were dashed or put on hold. For those who were already struggling with depression before the pandemic, things may have become much worse. The research reported by the Harvard Gazette explored how one expert assessed brain activity in depressed participants, before and after meditation. The research suggests that regular meditation can train the brain to stop self-ruminating (fixating on negative thoughts and beliefs) much quicker. Based on this research employers may consider offering regular virtual guided meditation sessions to employees to promote a more positive outlook.
Let sleep be a priority
The Advanced Recovery Systems survey found that 61 percent of surveyed employees report having sleep issues during the pandemic. Research has shown that today’s advanced technology puts pressure on employees to work longer hours, while also affecting sleep patterns, which adversely affects productivity. It’s a terrible cycle, and maybe employers can use this time to correct it. Employers might consider assessing how “on-demand” or “available” they require their employees to be during work hours and off-work hours. Is there room for naps, so long as employees meet deadlines? Could the start time of the workday be pushed back by even a half-hour to allow for more rest?
Leaders can speak up
While this approach may not be right for everyone and is contingent on the comfort level of the leaders of a company, employers might encourage more open dialogue about mental health issues in the workplace – particularly by those in higher management positions. Admitting one is struggling with mental health is an important step to finding help, but the Advanced Recovery Systems survey found that many employees are not comfortable talking to a manager or boss about what they’re going through
. If employers encouraged those at managerial levels to open up about their own struggles with mental health during the pandemic (or any time in their lives), it could encourage employees to speak up, and seek help, as well.
Overshare about resources
Research found that a little over half of the employees who are not at the managerial level know what the mental health benefits offered by their work are, and whether or not their insurance covers such benefits. That’s rather tragic since in many cases, mental health support is available to employees but they just don’t know about it or aren’t clear on how to access it. Employers can take a “There’s no such thing as over-informing” approach here, sending out regular reminders to employees that mental health benefits are available, and detailing how to access these. They could also ask that managers remind their teams of these often as well.
Offer mental health days
The aforementioned Deloitte study found that 78 percent of employees say they have had to miss work due to mental health issues. On a positive note that highlights the importance of mental health benefits at work, 80 percent of employees with them reported improved productivity after receiving some treatment. While money again shouldn’t be the ultimate driving factor for companies, good finances are a necessity for any company that hopes to thrive, so this news can be an economic motivator to add mental health support to employee benefits packages. In the end, everyone will benefit from it.
Should companies choose to implement tools such as virtual guided meditations, virtual mixers, enhanced medical plans that include mental health support, and more, it’s important they understand that they won’t see results overnight. The Deloitte study did show that most companies needed to wait about three years to see a return on investment (ROI) on the mental health benefits provided. That ROI looked, overall, like better employee productivity. However, when the ROI began to kick in it was quite obvious and strong. Here are some other statistics to show how valuable patience can be in this area: 30 to 40 percent of short-term disability claims pertain to mental health issues as do 30 percent of long-term disability claims.
Assess your managers
Employers can send out regular surveys to employees to assess management styles. In the same way, at the end of a school year, students fill out teacher surveys for the principal to assess classroom environments, employees could take quarterly management surveys. These reviews could ask questions that give company owners a sense for how comfortable employees feel opening up to their managers, and how their leader’s management style affects their mental health (i.e. is it stressful? Encouraging? Demeaning? Supportive?) This is a smart way to determine if productivity issues are stemming from individuals or from the overarching spirit of a team created by the leader.
Lead by example
Ultimately, promoting better mental health among employees will be an uphill battle if the company culture doesn’t promote a healthy work-life balance. So company owners might encourage those in managerial positions to lead by example, and make choices that show they prioritize such a balance. This can mean sticking to a sharp out at 5 p.m. every day to ensure everyone can have dinner with their families or enjoy extended sunshine during the spring. It can mean not sending or responding to emails after work hours, so employees can feel present while with their loved ones. It can also mean that, as a company, mental health days are offered and seen as an important part of the overall wellness of employees.