A Strategic Approach to Mental Health in 2021

With January behind us and 2021 in full-swing, studies indicate that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to significantly impact the mental health of employees across the country. A recent study conducted by Total Brain states that not only are the effects of Covid continuing to produce depression and anxiety, but the numbers are steadily rising. The study shows that there has been a continued dip in emotional awareness that began to decline in December. If set apart by age, 20-30-year-olds show the highest risk of depression disorder rising over 50% since Covid-19 came into effect. So what should businesses do with data like this? Essentially it should be used as a huge wake-up call on not only how you treat your colleagues and develop your culture, but also how you train leadership on awareness in the workplace. Whether your team is working from home or coming to the office each day, it’s vital that businesses adapt to a new form of communication and support for their employees.

What’s Affecting your Employee’s Well-being?

While there are many triggers that set off mental health problems for employees, one of the main ones associated with the workplace today is the fundamental fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus and becoming ill. Radical changes to how we live our lives continue to impact these fears. Everything from lockdowns canceled events and social distancing to economic disparity and job uncertainties also add to the anxiety. Along with the devastating things happening around us, the ongoing shift to remote work has caused a “bubble” like effect that has had major negative effects on an individual’s social life.

The Collapse of  Work-Life Boundaries

At the beginning of the lockdowns, many individuals felt that it was a dream come true when they were able to work from home in an almost permanent state. Everything from less travel to more flexible schedules seems to allow for an easier way of life resulting in more focused work and family time. But as Zoom meetings began to cannibalize each day, and uncertainties regarding business decisions began to loom in the back of employees’ minds…a harsh truth also became evident. Over time employees began pushing themselves outside of the normal work hours to be available and supportive due to a lack of awareness and schedules; Causing employees too often times work radical hours that negatively affected their mental health. Working hodge-podge hours throughout the day caused employees to always feel behind and lose the gratifying feeling of completed projects. 

Along with the stress of trying to function in a new work environment, many employees have not utilized their vacation days due to travel restrictions and the ever-looming fear of getting sick. Not only because of travel issues but many individuals feel that they can’t take time off due to the stress of job security in a highly competitive job market.

Employees who have returned to the workplace are experiencing anxiety and other mental health-related issues. Workers who deal with clients and/or work closely with others are concerned about their safety and contracting COVID. This seeps into their personal life with the fear that they may unknowingly put their family at risk of getting the virus.

Employers Increasing Efforts to Keep Workers Healthy

Whether your colleagues work at home or are in the office, it’s essential to create a safe place for those around you and step up to help those coping with mental health issues. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  • Be on the lookout for frequent physical complaints, increased anger or irritability, persistent sadness, excessive worrying, or reckless behavior. These changes are not as easy to monitor with remote work as with onsite workers so you have to be sure to regularly check in with remote workers by phone or video-conference to assess and respond to these concerns.
  • It is important that a work-life balance is supported and encouraged by senior leadership. Help remote workers establish work-life boundaries to avoid burnout and maintain healthy productivity. Establish employment practices that promote employees’ turning off email notifications and engaging in personal activities and hobbies that will help separate and define their own work-life balance. Employees should keep one another aware of when they are available and away from work to set necessary boundaries.
  • Establish meeting-free afternoons. Some companies even introduced a monthly mental health and wellness day, providing employees with the day off or even a Friday afternoon early release.
  • Ensure that workers who are experiencing burnout know to reach out to the HR department. It’s important leadership understands the employee benefits offered and actively communicates and encourages employees to utilize all of the well-being resources available. Surveys have indicated many workers are nervous about taking this step, thinking that reaching out about a mental health issue could negatively impact job security. Mental health conditions are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and federal law requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for workers with such disorders.
  • Increase the number of online counseling sessions workers can access through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Let your colleagues know about apps and subscriptions for self-care.
  • Ensure a safe office environment, following CDC and OSHA COVID-19 safety guidelines so that employees feel that your company is doing all they can to keep them safe.

Start the Conversation

One of the most supportive things you can do for your colleagues and your business is to be open and empathetic about the struggles that many are going through. Start the conversation about how 2020 has impacted all of us. Communication will help normalize the issues people face, which begins with leadership and extends to management throughout the organization.

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