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A year-plus of the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on workers’ mental well-being.
The data confirms as much. 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 these troubling numbers down.
Verizon Media, Kellogg, Snap and Spotify have formed Mind Together, an initiative designed to shed the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the workplace, and “provide support, resources and education on mental well-being” to employees, according to a press release announcing the alliance.
In a statement, Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan outlined Mind Together’s purpose.
“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.
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.
“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 caregiving 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.”
About the Author
Mark McGraw is managing editor of Workspan.