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While the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on all segments of the world and the workforce, ample research has revealed women experienced the brunt of it.
The main culprit was an elimination of work-life balance for many working mothers, as the onus of child care fell to them with school closures occurring across the globe. This, of course, led to an uptick in stress and a decrease in well-being for many of these working moms.
A CVS Health survey from April revealed as much, as 60% of the women in the study said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their overall levels of stress, and nearly half (46%) said they are experiencing significantly more or somewhat more stress compared to this time last year. In fact, women said they have experienced fear or concern about the impact of COVID-19 on their family’s or friend’s health (66%), their health (60%) and their household’s financial situation (49%).
The CVS study found that when compared to men, women are more likely to agree that they often do not prioritize their own mental health because they are focused on taking care of others (45% versus 38%). When looking specifically at moms, nearly one quarter (23%) said that as a result of the pandemic, they have experienced difficulty providing the necessary caregiving to their children — a higher proportion than the general population of American adults (13%).
“A year into the pandemic, it’s clear that women are just one of many communities hit hardest,” said Cara McNulty, president, behavioral health and employee assistance program, Aetna, a CVS Health company. “When stay-at-home orders from the pandemic were put in place, many women quickly recalibrated their daily routines to care for children and family members, often while also managing work responsibilities and at-home duties.”
Given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, now is as good of a time as any for employers to communicate their well-being resources to employees while also considering beefing up their offerings to better support working mothers. McNulty said that in addition to highlighting the mental health and well-being resources available to employees, such as employee assistance programs, employers should also work to foster an environment that allows women to feel comfortable expressing any feelings of being overwhelmed or burnt out.
“What’s your culture driving,” McNulty said. “Is your culture driving a precedent where people don’t feel like they can show up and be themselves? Do your employees feel like they can talk about how hard this has been? Creating the cultural norm of sharing and talking and making sure people know it’s OK not to be OK is critical.”
Additionally, organizations that are in a position to provide more flexibility to their employees, whether through increased remote work or flexible work hours, should do so, McNulty said. This creates less of a burden on female employees with child care responsibilities and encourages them to remain in the workforce.
“It’s about being creative so we don’t have women completely stepping out of the workforce, because it’s not good for any business,” McNulty said. “We know that when companies take this cultural approach, embed flexibility and share the resources they offer, women stay in the workplace, are more productive and you have better outcomes.”
While there’s been plenty of negative effects from the pandemic, one silver lining when it comes to mental health has been an increased acceptance and awareness around people sharing their struggles. This, McNulty noted, has made employers more proactive when it comes to their employees’ well-being and it has invigorated a conversation that was long dormant due to social stigmas.
“What we need to press on is that this isn’t just because of a pandemic. Our mental health and well-being needs to be taken care of just like our physical health and well-being, spiritual health and well-being and social health and well-being,” McNulty said. “It’s an imperative part of our total well-being, so advancing the conversation and making it socially acceptable in communities to talk about your own mental health and asking for help is really important and the pandemic has helped catapult that conversation.”
Aetna and CVS Health have rolled out a toolkit of well-being resources during the past year to assist those struggling with their mental health. Those programs are listed below.
Here 4 U Sessions for Women: According to CVS Health’s data, 60% of moms agree their mental health would benefit from more support for at-home responsibilities, such as cooking, finances, cleaning, child care and education. A dedicated set of Aetna’s Here 4 U sessions — free, online, peer support sessions offering a safe place for conversations — will be available to the public this month for women to talk about how they are doing emotionally given these obstacles. Separate sessions will cater to women, moms, Black women and moms of children with special needs. Individuals can sign up here.
Women’s Mental Health Resource Kit: Women want to take control of their mental well-being — but 42% agree they need help navigating the complex mental health care system or identifying a mental health diagnosis. To begin, Aetna Resources For Living’s resource guide describes the mental load many women are facing, when it’s more than stress and resources to help.
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.