The reality is that COVID-19 is killing about 3,100 people per day in the U.S., using the seven day average. As a result, this places a major strain on our healthcare system, but you already know that. What you likely do not know, is that the mental health and substance implications resulting from COVID are equally if not more devastating, according to health experts.
In a study sponsored by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in June of 2020, a whopping 40.9% of 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers, report having experience disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance abuse, and elevated suicide ideation. In addition, many regional health systems are reporting that their behavioral health units have been full for months, which is far worse than what they were experiencing on their COVID units.
Let’s think about these numbers for a moment as they relate to the workplace, your business, and your employees. If at least 40% of workers are burdened with a mental or behavioral health condition, on top of the current moment, how can one possibly expect them to be productive and effective?
Answer: Employees who are unhealthy often have attendance, behavioral and performance issues and simply can’t perform as they should.
Q: What Are Employers Doing Now?
If we are being radically honest, most employers do not actively try to reduce stress in their workplaces, nor help employees with their mental health in a measurable way. Some may contract with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and promote the “three free visits” benefit via a few posters around the office. But generally speaking, most employers simply don’t do anything to try to reduce stress and promote mental health.
Imagine this: What would an employer do if 40% of employees regularly hurt themselves on a piece of machinery, sustaining a worker’s compensation injury? The employer would, of course, be motivated to fix the machine. Our simple question is this: why not respond the same way to mental health challenges as we do financial and safety challenges in the workplace?
Ask yourself: Am I personally satisfied with 40% of employees potentially suffering and not being all that they can be in their professional and personal roles? When you consider this, you can begin to see how costs and more money factor into the issue.
Answer: This one is obviously complex. But the main barrier to accounting for mental health issues in the workplace that we have come across, has tended to be that employers simply don’t understand how to. Or they do not know where to start in terms of promoting mental health at work.
What should employers do to promote awareness about and resources for mental health and stress management?
Regardless of your company’s size, there are things you can (and in our opinion, should) do to help. The workplace is an optimal setting to create a culture of health because:
- Communication structures are already in place
- Programs and policies come from one central team
- Social support networks are available
- Employers can offer incentives such as the ones listed below, to reinforce healthy behaviors.
Action steps employers can take now include:
- Adopting a policy statement on the organization’s commitment to helping its employees with mental and behavioral health challenges.
- Sharing mental health statistics around the office so that employees don’t feel alone in their struggles, or circulating resources where individuals can obtain this on their own.
- Making mental health self-assessment tools available to all employees.
- Offering free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional, followed by directed feedback and clinical referral when appropriate.
- Adopting attendance and time off policies that allow employees to take time off for mental and behavioral health issues for themselves as well as their family members.
- Adopting the attitude that someone saying, “I’d like to take a mental health day” should be a perfectly acceptable request for time off!
- Providing free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs.
- Distributing materials, such as brochures, fliers, and videos, to all employees about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and opportunities for treatment.
- Hosting seminars or workshops that address depression and stress management techniques.
- Incorporating short break times for practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation, to help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation.
- Creating and maintaining dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation activities.
- Providing managers with training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression in team members.
- Encouraging workers in a sensitive, private way to seek help from qualified mental health professionals when needed.
- Giving employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.
- Surveying your employees to ask them what would help them to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace. Their answers will often surprise you!
- Creating an employee health and wellness committee, whose charge will be to identify and improve stressors that negatively affect the workplace
- Have some fun!
What do you do personally to promote fun and reduce stress in the workplace? Remember, you create the culture of your company. Simple ideas like offering a yoga class, crazy hat days, office door decorating competitions, and casual days cost little. But in the end, these very tactics can help to reduce stress in the workplace and pay off with large dividends in addition to better mental health for everyone.
There is no reason for you, or your employees, to suffer from the negative impacts of mental health challenges alone. This is especially true, as many of these problems can be lessened with the right assistance, resources and follow through.
For additional information on how to promote mental and behavioral health in your workplace, don’t hesitate to consult the experts.
Ask for Tom Hubric, President of Hubric Resources at (610) 670-7878 x101 or Email email@example.com.