Shedding Light on Workplace Well-Being
#evolve Magazine
July 18, 2021

A year-plus of the coronavirus pandemic has workers feeling stressed out and stretched beyond their limits. The data confirms the toll that the last 18 or so months have taken on employees’ mental well-being.




For example, Willis Towers Watson studied the pandemic’s impact on more than 95,000 employees all the way back in May 2020 — just three months into the COVID-19 crisis. Overall, 92% of workers reported feeling some level of anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic. More than half (55%) said they’re experiencing a moderate or high degree of anxiety.

A more recent survey polled 1,425 United States workers at the end of 2020, with 46% of respondents saying they’ve struggled with mental health problems since the start of the pandemic, compared to 39% saying the same a year earlier. Additionally, 11% of survey participants reported experiencing a serious mental illness during the pandemic. That number represents a 4% increase from the end of 2019.

A coalition of companies led by Verizon Media is working to help drive down these troubling numbers.

Verizon Media, Kellogg, Snap and Spotify have formed Mind Together, an initiative designed to shed the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the world of work, and “provide support, resources and education on mental well-being” to employees, according to a press release announcing the alliance.


COVID Still Taking Its Toll

The coronavirus pandemic has caused “a dramatic increase in mental health needs, especially depression and anxiety,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., managing director and the co-leader of Willis Towers Watson’s North American health management practice.

There’s no shortage of research to support such a statement. For example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data finds the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 11% during the period of January 2019 to June 2019 to more than 41% during a two-week period in January and February 2021.

A KFF Health Tracking poll found COVID-related stress and worry taking a toll on many adults’ mental health and well- being, in the form of difficulty with sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%) and worsening chronic conditions (12%).

Who’s under the greatest mental strain during the pandemic? According to a survey of more than 10,120 members of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, the two groups of Americans with the largest percentage of individuals falling into the “high distress” category are those who feel the coronavirus is a serious threat to their personal financial well-being (34%) or their personal health (28%).

The stress employees are feeling — and the associated mental health challenges — won’t be going anywhere once the pandemic recedes, said Dr. Levin-Scherz.

Employers have already begun to respond, and have “increased offering of virtual and virtual mental health services, which increases access [to mental well-being resources], and [companies] will continue multiple modalities of access to care,” he said.

“Supervisors can also play an important role in identifying employees at high risk, and referring them to an employee resource group (ERG) or other resources to address their [mental health] needs.”


Increasing Education and Resources

In a statement announcing the formation of Mind Together, Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan outlined how the initiative aims to improve access to these resources and better meet employees’ mental well-being needs.

“Kellogg Company, Snap and Spotify have joined Mind Together to help eliminate stigma around mental health and create an accessible and positive workplace. Verizon Media has been on a mission to normalize mental health and scale our efforts with brands like Yahoo. Now with Mind Together, that impact will be felt well beyond Verizon Media.”


“Kellogg Company, Snap and Spotify have joined Mind Together to help eliminate stigma around mental health and create an accessible and positive workplace. Verizon Media has been on a mission to normalize mental health and scale our efforts with brands like Yahoo. Now with Mind Together, that impact will be felt well beyond Verizon Media.”


Along with Verizon Media, Kellogg and Snap will lead the initiative as founding partners, dedicated to carrying out Mind Together’s objectives.

For example, the group intends to develop an internal communication toolkit designed to “break down stigmas, increase awareness and inspire a more empathetic and understanding culture” concerning mental health. The organizations also plan to implement a mental health learning program geared toward the workforce, as well as hosting quarterly conversations with mental health and well-being experts and thought leaders.

Throughout the next year, the coalition will meet regularly to develop “a blueprint for leaders on supporting mental health in the workplace from the top down,” with Mind Together members delivering an annual report on progress and key learnings, and to welcome new corporate members.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the state of mental health around the world. The challenges our employees face are real, and providing education and resources to support mental health has never been more important,” said Melissa Howell, Kellogg Co. CHRO, in a statement.

“Kellogg has long provided mental health benefits and programming, but in the past year we have significantly increased our efforts, including partnership with a world-renowned mindfulness expert to facilitate recurring open dialogue around mental health and introducing mental health first aid training.”


Improving Access to Care

There are steps that any organization can take to improve mental health within their own workforce, said Emily Brainerd, U.S. well-being and engagement practice leader at Gallagher.

For example, employers must increase employee access to support, making sure resources are in place for workers to get treatment and help manage mental health conditions.

“They need to provide access for emergency support around substance abuse, misuse or suicide, as well as tools and programs to help an employee practice preventive care for their minds, such as mindfulness and stress management in order to build resiliency,” Brainerd said.

Organizations and benefits and rewards leaders should also play a critical role in creating communications that help workers “quickly and easily” access mental well-being resources when they need them, she added.

Brainerd and Gallagher see employers continuing to rely on technology — company intranets and benefits hubs — for that purpose.

“Employers are also coordinating with partners like health plans, employee assistance programs (EAPs) and third- party providers so they can point employees to additional resources,” she added, “or to make soft handoffs to get an employee to the right resource at the right time.”

Brainerd also urges employers to emphasize mental well- being awareness and education — two key tenets of the Mind Together initiative.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the state of mental health around the world. The challenges our employees face are real, and providing education and resources to support mental health has never been more important.”


“A critical component of this [effort] includes training and education for managers of all levels, as they are often the first point of contact for an employee, and they play a key role in creating a psychologically safe work environment,” she said. “Managers and other leaders within the organization need to be able to support an employee in need and assist that employee in navigating the support that is available.”

Of course, managers aren’t immune to feeling the added anxiety that’s gripped so many employees in the midst of the pandemic. They might also need some additional assistance during this especially trying time, “as they are struggling with the same challenges employees [face],” said Brainerd.

On an enterprise level, organizations have to “tackle stressors head on, in order to lessen the burdens that employees might be struggling with, which results in higher stress levels,” she said.

“This could look like providing resources and programs that could help an employee with financial stress or care- giving responsibilities. It could also look like concierge-type or convenience-related services such as healthy food delivery.

Within the workplace, this might look like creating flexible schedules, strengthening manager/employee communication channels, increasing recognition opportunities and encouraging the use of PTO.”

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