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Happy New Year? The Continued Plight of the Pandemic on American Workers’ Well-Being

January 29, 2021

By Elise Thorpe, Principal at Lovitt & Touché, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC Company

Elise was featured on an episode of our web series "Navigating the New Normal" to discuss this piece. Click here to view the video on YouTube.

As we rang in the New Year, we all not-so-secretly hoped 2021 would be better. That somehow everything that happened in 2020 would be gone with a snap of our fingers at midnight on New Year’s Eve and all would be back to normal. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Although several COVID-19 vaccines are now available, distribution and increased vaccination levels will take time to achieve. At the same time, the coronavirus continues to spread across the country with cases climbing daily.

Most employers still do not have plans to reopen their offices until the second or even third quarter — hoping that will be enough time to allow the majority of their workers to get vaccinated and ensure everyone’s safety upon returning to the office.  

What does all of this mean? More of the same — for the time being. Employees will continue to work from home and experience social isolation from coworkers, friends and family; manage multiple roles simultaneously such as parent, teacher, spouse and employee; and remain in an environment where the lines between ‘work’ and ‘life’ remain blurred.

Taken together, all of these experiences will continue to wear on the mental state of American workers.

Preparing For A Mental Health Crisis

In August 2020, MetLife’s mental health survey reported two in three employers believe a mental health crisis in the U. S. will be here within three years, and nine out of 10 employers state they are unprepared for such a crisis.

Rather than be caught flat-footed, employers must prepare for any looming mental health crisis by focusing on programs and benefits aimed at building employee resiliency and improving mental well-being. It is imperative to do so as the emotional state of many employees will continue to worsen while the pandemic continues.

Employers should consider enhancing benefits such as expanding Employee Assistance Programs to include more than just three in-person visits, as well as provide easy access to telemedicine or virtual health visits with a behavioral health component. Employers can also promote and even subsidize the cost of mobile apps that can further help employees by:

• Providing sleep, meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques to improve sleep quality and reduce stress,

• Enhancing cognitive function with daily “workouts” and games,

• Improving communication and analytical skills as they find themselves in a more complex and blurred environment.

While all of these benefits and resources can support employees with their emotional well-being — and many employers already are implementing them — more must be done.

Employers must provide a holistic approach to well-being that addresses not only physical and mental aspects but also financial and social components. According to the same MetLife study, 74% of employees are concerned about at least one aspect of their well-being as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A holistic approach will help employees better manage the crisis and, in turn, maintain productivity and support their employer’s mission and goals.