Employee mental health has been top of mind for employers during the COVID-19 pandemic and for good reason. On top of the obvious health and economic stressors brought on by the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the racial justice movement that has followed has heightened the awareness around emotional well-being.
Research from Lyra Health illuminated this point, as 83% of 1,200 United States workers reported that they are experiencing significant mental health problems. Further, 65% said it’s affecting their ability to work and just 14% of those in distress have sought mental health care and most are paying for this treatment out of pocket.
“There’s a mental health crisis in the country and there’s a lot of stigma that sometimes prevents people from seeking the care and services that they need,” said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of the Business Group on Health (BGH). “A lot of employers had been trying … to address those challenges in a pre-pandemic environment. Now, with the pandemic upon us, all of those pre-existing issues have been exacerbated and the new issues have come to surface.”
Kelsay said BGH was focused on the importance of employers addressing mental health before the pandemic began. Now, however, it’s a legitimate crisis, as many people who have never experienced anxiety, isolation or loneliness are now dealing with these issues.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in the population who hasn’t had some sort of emotional or behavioral health challenge as we’re all navigating the pandemic,” Kelsay said.
Lyra’s survey found that workers who feel unsupported by their employer are twice as likely to consider a career change. WorldatWork’s “COVID-19 Employer Response Survey” found that most employers are providing their employees with resources to deal with mental health. The survey found that 70% of organizations are promoting employee assistance program (EAP) resources, 68% are sharing tips for physical and emotional well-being and 55% are encouraging social connection (while maintaining physical distance).
“Employers have been doing what they can to support their workforce from an emotional well-being perspective by making sure they have access to programs and services,” Kelsay said. “[Employers are] doing what they can in a very nebulous and rapid situation to keep people informed. There’s been quite a lot of effort around communication and providing support around employees’ emotional health and well-being.”
On top of providing and promoting mental health services, some employers are providing their employees with “recharge days,” which is additional time off that doesn’t count against their paid leave.
Workhuman, for example, recently implemented a policy strongly encouraging everyone in the company to take at least five days off before the end of summer to rest, relax and recharge. Sarah Hamilton, senior director of HR at Workhuman, said the company arrived at the decision after frequently checking in with their employees and determining that they needed to go beyond just encouraging time off. Hamilton said several executives in the company have already taken a week off to reinforce the commitment to the program.
“We just really felt strongly that people need to recharge and they need to take the time off. I think people really appreciated it,” Hamilton said. “Not that they needed the permission — we’ve been very flexible throughout — but I think when it was framed as that’s what was expected of everyone, it put everyone in the same boat and that made people feel less stressed about taking the time off.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a resources page for people coping with stress or mental health issues during the pandemic.
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.